With the Nationals being run in February, it was a brilliant opportunity to team up with a couple of mates and do some of my favourite fishing: lighttackle fishing for big fish – from my Waverunner! In this instance, though, the term ‘big’ is relative to the weight of line involved: I would use just 3kg mono to target kingfish, so most of the fish hooked would seem ‘big’.
The reason for this approach is due to the Nationals’ points structure, with points awarded according to the fish’s weight divided by the line weight. For example, if a striped marlin weighing 100kg is caught using 37kg line, the fish would be 100 divided by 37, resulting in a total of 2.70, translating to 270 points for the angler. That’s why I was using 3kg line: my fish could be considerably smaller – 8.1kg – to net the same points. While an 8.1kg kingfish may sound small to many fishers, when caught on extremely light line, the fight can be as long and often more difficult than fighting a marlin on heavy tackle.
The Nationals is a team competition, meaning you must have a minimum of two people in a team to a maximum of 10. Consequently, no one had ever fished the Nationals from a ’ski before.
But this is no longer the case. The rules have been modified along the same lines as these governing kayak-fishing participants: ’ski fishers can only compete on the basis that those in the same team remain within shouting distance of one another at all times.
We set out on the first day full of hope and not really knowing how it would go.
Live baits are the key for this type of fishing, and I was lucky enough to have them jumping onto my flies almost every drop. The other two guys had different-coloured flies to me and really struggled.
This meant I caught 20 or so jack mackerel (my favourite kingfish bait) while the other guys only had two between them. So I shared mine with them, but we mucked around for so long trying to catch more that a few died in my live-bait tank. This was a good lesson: more than 20 in this tank was probably a couple too many!
With the wind blowing 20 knots and the swell forecast to rise to two metres, heading too far offshore on the Waverunner was not a great proposition, so we decided to try a couple of relatively closein spots instead.
There are a couple of tactics for this type of fishing. My preferred one involves the deeper reefs where, upon hooking up, I try to get the fish away from the structure quickly, before settling into a long fight over the sand in the deep. However, as we were fishing in close and shallow, this would not be an option; we were really going to have to watch out for the reefs in 12m of water.
Arriving at the spot, plenty of sign was evident, so we each deployed a live bait and commenced a drift. It quickly became obvious that the drift directions were pretty random in the swirling wind and growing swell, so we decided to concentrate on trolling the live baits over the more promising-looking areas showing on the Lowrance sounder instead.
The Waverunner slow-trolls beautifully in this situation, without any need for throttle. The ’ski is just clicked into forward gear, then the idle revs keep the ’ski moving forward at between 1.5 and 2.5 knots, depending on tide and wind.
After about 30 minutes, we had the first hook-up – the only king that turned out to be under 75cm for the entire trip; after a 10-minute fight it was let go.
Not long afterwards I hooked another. This one was bigger and needed lots of coaxing to keep it out of the reef.
One tactic I successfully employed was to immediately turn the ’ski around when the bait got hit and motor back towards the fish at speed – sometimes up to 10 knots. This saw me ending up above the fish and served two purposes: firstly, the line was now vertical in the water, so the 18kg (40lb) trace was getting dragged through the weed and rocks, rather than the 3kg mainline. Conversely, if I stayed put, the increasingly horizontal line angle created by the running fish meant the line could easily get caught on any underwater obstruction, enabling the king to break off.
The second reason for getting on top was that I then knew exactly where it was. Consequently, I could keep an eye on my sounder and GPS, and know whether I was close to the reef, going towards it, or away from it. This information is vital on light tackle, because at times you are testing the gear to its limit, and have to know when to keep the drag as tight as possible or ease it back a click to achieve more leeway.
This enabled the rod and reel I was using to come into its own. I was using a Daiwa Saltist Hyper rod specifically designed for light line. The rod’s soft tip is critical, absorbing the initial shock from sudden bursts made by the fish before the drag kicks in. It also has a solid backbone to provide some lifting power.
The reel is a Daiwa Saltiga 10H, which can handle 24kg braid and right up to 30 kilos or so of kingfish. However, on this occasion I had it spooled with about 200m of 3kg mono, with the drag set to a touch under 2kg – pretty high for a line that breaks at 3kg (especially as it broke at 2.76kg on the line tester!). Consequently, there was very little room for error.
Anyway, back to the fish. This kingie, although stubborn, was now almost under control, with just a bit of gentle pressure required from above to ‘walk it like a dog’ away from the reef. This fish – and many others after it – followed my subtle persuasion, and before long we were out in 25 metres of water over the sand. Once there, I shut the ’ski down to reduce the noise, which helped see the fish slowly but surely eased towards the ‘ski. Almost half an hour passed before the fish came into view; kingfish will typically circle under the ’ski when tired, resting on their sides to summon up a last burst or two when you try to grab them.
A bit more to-ing and fro-ing followed before I landed the fish. Measuring just under a metre long, it was not eligible for weighing for the Nationals, but at 9.50kg it was over three times the line’s weight and a personal best for me!
That was just the start. Over the next three days I continued to fish for kingfish on 3kg line, tagging and releasing 11 and taking out the category for the most tagged yellowtail kingfish in the NZ Nationals. No doubt about it, ‘skis appear to have a rosy future in this prestigious contest, and I look forward to next year!
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