Kingfish - the art of jigging

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Without doubt, jigging is the most effective way to catch kingfish on lures. This is due to the amount of area that can be covered by this type of lure, Jigs can be cast out far and dropped down deep, covering a range of territory.

To do well at jigging, anglers need to sort out: a) good territory; b) a suitable outfit; c) proven lures; and d) an effective technique.   Having a reasonable amount of stamina and fitness can also be to your advantage.

The Territory

To catch kingfish, first find a place where they swim. This is a lot easier in the more northern areas where kingfish may reside all year-round, but for the more southern regions it will be necessary to wait until they arrive with the warmer water in the summer months. Kingfish seem to prefer water temperatures of 14 -15°C or higher.

Having ascertained that the water is warm enough, next find some suitable habitat. Kingfish thrive in areas of current, reef and white water, as well as around structures (both natural and man-made) and in close proximity to schools of potential food fish. Obviously, the greater the number of afore-mentioned attractions in the area, the more likely it is that kingfish will be present.

When jigging the water must be deep enough to allow jigs to sink down for a while before being retrieved. I particularly like the following structures, particularly if they' re positioned in strong tidal locations and have schools of baitfish present: wharves, bridges, and navigational aids (buoys, posts and channel markers), along with natural structures such as submerged reefs and pins in 30 to 100 metres of water.

Just why kingfish frequent such locations is not hard to fathom. These types of structures break up tidal current, providing shelter for smaller fish and so become regular feeding stations for bigger fish. As large, strong predators, kingfish use these structures to help mask their bulky presence from their swimming food.
Remember that on deepwater structures, kingfish will tend to be positioned on the up-current (exposed) side of reefs, wrecks and pinnacles.

The Outfit

Effective kingfish jigging outfits are generally based around rods and reels that suit 15kg mainline. This is a compromise 'breaking strain' a trade-off between a poundage that lands virtually everything (brutal, heavy and cumbersome to use) and a lighter weight, which tends to result in too many fish busting off. (Please note: this calibre of tackle often proves insufficient when fishing places like the Ranfurly Banks, the Three Kings, and White Island).

Choosing the right combination of rod and reel is critical, especially the reel. Although large, good quality spinning reels can work, freespool (overhead) type reels are better. All should be strongly built and reliable, take at least 300 metres of 15kg nylon, have a fast retrieve, and be castable. These qualities narrow down the options dramatically, but in the past, I have used various models from Daiwa, Penn, Abu, Shimano and Newell, as all these manufacturers have excellent examples in their range.

Remember that the bigger the reel's spool circumference, the slower the ratio has to be to still retrieve line quickly. For example, a reel that holds 300 metres of 15-kg line will need a retrieval ratio of 5 or 6:1 to be effective. But a larger reel (holding, say, 600 metres of 15 kg) will only need a 4 or 4.5:1 ratio to recover the same amount of line per turn of the handle.

To some extent, an angler can compensate for a slow rate of retrieve by winding the reel's handle faster. I have noted with interest that those anglers winding faster with lower retrieve reels often outlast others using reels with very high-speed retrieves. This is because every wind made forces the lure through the dense medium of water. The quicker the ratio, the faster the lure is pushed through the water and the harder it is to turn the handle. Just like the gearing on a bicycle, a lower gear ratio makes things easier when pressure comes on. Therefore, it is my opinion that medium sized reels with a 5:1 ratio are a good compromise between speed and power. The 'power' part is necessary after the kingfish has been hooked and is being played.

In all cases, it is in your interest to make sure that the reel of your choice is filled to capacity, to maximise its retrieve rate.

Suitable rods should be around two metres in length, with fast tapers and plenty of power in the lower butt section. Treat overseas brands with a little caution, not because they'll break, but because they tend to be a little optimistic with their recommended line weights. For example, a rod rated at 20 to 50 pounds, is generally a 20- to 30 pound rod and may even be a nice16 pound rod in the right hands! The use of 50-pound line, however, will often have that same rod whipped over like a wet noodle without the appropriate amount of lifting power.

It's a good idea to have a light tip section on your jig rod as this helps overhead reel users to achieve repeated casting with minimal backlashes. This is due to improved absorption of rod-loading pressure initially, and leads on to better spool control. To get the most from this feature, a good jig rod should also have a reasonably long butt, as this provides more casting leverage. An overly long butt will be uncomfortable after hooking up.

The Jig

A lot of jigs catch fish and everyone has their favourites. Effective kingfish jigs have plenty of flash and some flutter on the drop, and an attractive wobble and flash on the retrieve - which will be fast!

Possibly the range of Raider Jigs fits this description best, but other close contenders (and not necessarily less effective) include the larger Jensen Stingers, Angler Lures (the long streamlined versions in 220g and 330g), and the range of stainless steel Solvkroken Jigs.

The beauty of these types of lures is that they're slim, they cast well, are easily wound through the water at speed (without turning into a 'propeller') and bigger lures can be used without undue pressure on the angler. Bulky lures equal tired arms and often it's the angler still able to turn the handle at speed who catches the fish!

Unfortunately, specialist kingfish (and, coincidentally, yellowfin tuna) jigs are few and often hard to obtain. On the flip side, there are huge numbers of jigs that are a little more versatile yet more than adequate when it comes to catching kingfish. These include Grim Reapers, Lethal Lures, Irons and Pirk No 4s, to name a few. These brands have worked well for me in the past, particularly in weights of 150 grams-plus and in colours of green-yellow, pink-white, blue-white/silver and straight chrome.

In all cases, all lures previously mentioned are improved by taking off the treble hooks and replacing them with a strong, short-shank single hook. Trebles snag up on the bottom too much and are hard to remove - both from fish and fishermen. This is important when:

  • Possibly the fish is hooked in such a way that it is unable to open its mouth any more
  • The kingfish is to be released as it is either surplus to requirements or too small (try taking multiple hooks out of a strongly writhing kingfish)
  • A wildly thrashing kingfish has succeeded in hooking a nearby leg, hand or arm with another of the treble's still-exposed points. Use single hooks for kingfish!

Although there may well be equally suitable hooks in other makes and styles; I use Black Magic 6/0 Jig Hooks and Gamakatsu 9/0 Livebait Hooks. These are strong, not too long, have gently incurving points, do not have severely offset points and barbs (which can cause them to spin) and have eyes which can be opened up and closed with side-cutters without snapping. By opening the eye a swivel can be fitted, along with a length of carefully cut luminous, which is held firmly in place once the eye is closed down again. The tubing covers the hook shank and is angle cut so that it protrudes down past the bend of the hook. Both the swivel and the tubing are important. The swivel allows the hook to move around freely (so the action of the lure isn't affected) and serves as an extra link, making it harder for kingfish to lever off the hook. I tend to use a ball-bearing swivel, as it allows the hook tail freer movement and is strong enough to allow anglers to grasp the lure itself and lift most kingfish on board without a gaff or net.

The tubing provides an attractive glow when fished deep down, adds colour in shallower water, is shaped to flick around erratically as the lure is retrieved. It not only just masks the presence of the hook; it actually improves the lure's overall performance and appearance.

Putting it all Together

A ball-bearing swivel should be somewhere in front of the lure; either attached directly to the lure itself, or half a metre in front. The important thing to remember is that the lure must still be able to be cast, so don't make the trace too long. The swivel is needed to help prevent the line twisting up over long jigging sessions, especially if the lure tends to spin in one direction only. Some lures have a split ring at both ends, so the swivel is simply attached to this.

The breaking strain of the nylon trace depends a little on the size of the lure, but generally it will be around 37kg for 150-200 gram lures, and around 45 kg for 300-gram jigs.

Because we need as much insurance as possible against breaking off (either from casting the heavy lure or because a kingfish takes the line into the rocks), we tie the lure s swivel to around one and a half rod-length's of leader. The thick trace is ideally tied to a short section of doubled mainline (formed with a Plait or Bimini Twist), usually with an Albright or No-name Knot. Trim all tag ends on knots carefully, as these can cut your thumb badly during casting.

Most anglers do not have the experience or attentive powers to avoid winding the lure or swivel into the end of their rod occasionally - or worse, jerking the lure right out of the water. The first scenario can end in a broken or cracked rod tip; the other may damage boats and anglers. Fortunately, most hardened kingfishers have similar rigs to the one I use, so they feel or hear the leader joining knot rattling through the guides, alerting them to the imminent appearance of the jig.

The Technique

Before you start jigging, the first priority is to position the boat correctly. If the conditions are windy, this may mean anchoring up (especially if there is also a plan to berley up some snapper), otherwise, place the boat so that it will drift over the structure.

Fortunately, the basics of kingfish jigging are relatively straightforward, but slight variations in technique can make the difference on a tough day. In overly simplistic terms, however, the lure is either dropped down to the bottom and retrieved vertically, or cast out, allowed to sink to a guesstimated depth, and then retrieved in one of two ways - but we'll deal with the straight drop and retrieve first.

When dropping a jig down, be alert for any sudden hesitation or acceleration as it descends. Although many will prove to be false alarms, treat every strange movement as a potential bite by immediately jamming your thumb on the spool and striking solidly. If no weight is felt, don't give up. Instead, engage the reel, wind up quickly for a bit, then drop back down again, perhaps interspersing with a few bonus lift and drops for luck.

Still nothing? Continue down to the bottom - or to the approximate depth that fish appear to be holding on the sounder.

As soon as the line slackens, jam your thumb on the spool and strike hard again, despite knowing that it's probably just the bottom. It's amazing how many fish you'll hook doing this (including snapper, hapuku and big trevally), and at worst the lure will simply be lifted off the bottom, reducing the likelihood of a snag.

Unless you want a bottom ooglie (some of which are worthwhile), don't waste time jigging and dropping in one place (yo-yoing). Instead, engage the reel and get cranking, as fast as you can comfortably go, keeping the rod pointed low and occasionally making little sideways stabs every five to ten seconds. Whatever you do, don't keep ripping the rod violently upwards. This is a sign of an inexperienced angler. A speedy retrieve in the likely strike zone is more likely to achieve success.

While we're on the subject, unless there are big schools of bait on the surface or the sounder says otherwise, the likely strike zone will be the first half to two-thirds of the retrieve. Once the lure's two-thirds of the way back to the boat or if you're simply plain tired, just disengage the reel and drop back down again. Short, fast, wind-ups and drops are better than long, medium-paced retrieves.

The second method involves casting either out past any schools of baitfish nearby, or in order to target specific structures in the vicinity. This is where the jig rod's length comes in handy.

It isn't necessary to let the jig descend for too long when casting over bait schools: about seven or eight metres down is fine. It is here that the kingfish will often be lurking, waiting for any opportunity that might arise, and hopefully this might be in the form of your jig.

Although you may wish to do some straight high-speed retrieves, don't forget to mix it up a bit. Occasionally flick the reel out of gear in mid-retrieve so that the jig can tumble down for a few seconds before engaging it once more and continuing on with the retrieve. This makes the jig look very much like a mortally wounded bait fish and can be very effective.

This technique is similar to the one used for casting over deepwater structures that are some distance from the boat. The main difference is that after casting, the jig is allowed to descend fully to the bottom in free-spool, although some fishers like to give the jig the occasional lift of the rod on the way down for added flash and movement. Pick-ups on the drop are harder to detect when fishing this way, so be alert for any hesitation in the line's descent.

As soon as the jig touches down, engage the reel and begin winding, the sooner the better. As with the previous method, occasionally allow the lure to flutter back down again (just how far is up to you) and then continue on at speed once more. This will eventually finish with the lure back to the rod tip, ready for another cast, or you might decide on a simple straight up and down jig instead.

Whatever technique you decide to employ, performed properly it will soon have you pleading internally for a strike just to put a stop to sore arms and the repetitive motions. Ironically, when a nice kingfish does hook-up, you'll probably end up with sore arms anyway!



 This article is reproduced with permission of
New Zealand Fishing News

2000 - by Mark Kitteridge
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited





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