JE Wilds has been targeting land-based kingfish on topwater lures for most of his life. Luckily for us, he’s here to divulge his top five tips for targeting big greenbacks off the bricks.
There is something special about our homeland of New Zealand; we are known on the world scale for having the biggest kingfish around, with specimens recorded over 1.7m in length and 50kg in weight. On most of the North Island’s east and west coasts, especially from mid-way upwards, you will find good numbers of kingfish, but the top of the South Island and other southern regions also have some good fishing opportunities.
Kingfish are a super tough species that generally fight dirty, heading for the nearest structure under the sea surface. If you’ve ever hooked into one, whether from a boat or land-based, there’s a high chance you’ve encountered their dirty fighting skills. Within seconds of a hook-up, they head for the nearest structure where your line often gets cut through.
To catch a kingfish from the rocks is a very challenging task, but extremely rewarding for many reasons. Land-based game anglers spend months on end chasing these brutes from the ledges each season, always looking for that ‘unicorn’ giant fish that seems to be just out of reach.
For the first tip to help you achieve success, you need to understand the kingfish seasons.
Generally, from spring through to early winter you will have a good chance to catch kingfish from the rocks. I prefer December and January if I had to pick the peak of my season. I start my land-based season in November, which is when I start seeing the first consistently large groups of fish hunting the coast. The water is starting to warm up and the baitfish movements are starting to change. Historically, I have a slow start to November but by the end of November the fish numbers each day are consistent and I regularly encounter feeding packs of kingis moving past the rock ledges I fish from.
Now that you know a good time of the year to start fishing, the next tip I have for you is the locations themselves. For the perfect rock spot, I look for an exposed ledge that drops away into deep water close by. It needs to have a high current flow from tidal movement. Kingfish love current, so this would have to be one of the main things I look for to decide on locations. You can definitely catch fish in sheltered, calm bays, but I have had far more regular fish encounters when there’s a pumping current whipping past my chosen ledge.
The next tip to cover is bait – what do kingfish eat? This one works in synergy with the previous two tips. Different times of the year bring different food sources, and different tidal current strengths provide habitat for different baitfish.
If I had to choose one baitfish species that stands out from the rest, it would be the humble grey mullet. Kingfish predate heavily on mullet, and around late November onwards, in the north, the mullet are congregating in high numbers for spawning. This is the time of year when huge pack attacks are seen – aggressive kingfish exploding on mullet schools, with fish flying into the air and huge whitewater explosions!
So, to cap this one off, I prefer areas where I can regularly see mullet swimming around. Often large beaches in the vicinity will indicate good mullet numbers. Other baitfish to keep an eye out for are piper, koheru, mackerel species, kahawai and trevally (to name a few of the main ones).
I remember one particular day on a ledge; I had a mullet school of around 200 fish swim past my feet heading further around the point. Five minutes later, they came flying back, moving extremely fast and porpoising as they swam, closely followed by 10-15 big kingis hot on their tails. The kingis pounded them up against the very rock I was standing on! Mullet were flying out of the water and there were about 20 flapping on the rocks near my feet. I had a lure ready and simply dropped it into the whirlpool of white water in front of me. You can imagine what happened next (but that’s for another story).
Now that you know what time of year to go, locations and baitfish to look for, let’s talk about the gear you should be arming yourself with. Due to the raw power and potential of encountering a giant, I believe that good gear is a necessity when chasing these fish.
I fish with Daiwa Saltiga 18000H reels, spooled with PE10 braid and matched up with Saltiga C 85-8 rods. I use an FG knot to connect my 200lb leader to the braid, and I use a modified AG Chain knot to connect the leader to a heavy-duty swivel. A heavy-duty split ring is connected to the swivel. With a good set of split ring pliers, it allows me to chop and change different lure models quickly and easily without retying knots.
Lure options are a huge part of the equipment needed. I have been lucky enough to fish with hundreds of different types and brands over the years and have developed a handful of good options that I enjoy casting and trust to give the best possible chance at triggering a bite. If I could only pick three lure brands to fish with on a trip, I’d choose OTL, Malosi, and Big Boy Lures. If you follow my videos on YouTube, you won’t be surprised to hear my two favourite lures are the 130g Blackjack Chop from OTL and the 100g Mullet Chop from OTL. I’d say I have caught most of my largest kingfish on either of those two lures. I match these lures up with heavy assist single hooks, generally a size 10 or 11 on the rear and a size 9 or 10 on the belly.
When a fish takes your lure, it generally happens in the blink of an eye; the ones you don’t see coming are always the best ones to encounter. In the moment of topwater explosion madness, I crank the handle of my reel until I feel the line come tight – generally, this is a half turn or sometimes a couple of full revolutions, depending on which direction the fish attacked from. Once I feel the line come tight, I strike with the rod to set the hooks nice and solid. My drag has been pre-set and is already very tight, in most situations there is 1-2 seconds with the fish flailing on the surface throwing its head back and forth trying to dislodge the hooks. This is a very important part of the fight in my opinion; this is the moment that often determines whether you’ll lose a big fish or not.
At this moment, I fully lock-off my drag by grabbing the spool with my gloved hand. The goal is to keep the king on the surface as long as possible, as I want to tire the fish out before it gains momentum and starts an almighty power run to the reef below. If I can keep it on the surface, thrashing about as long as possible, my chances of beating it increase dramatically. You’ll see this in action on my YouTube channel: JE Wilds – Fishing. Remember, the gear I’m using is high calibre and, for this reason, I am normally the weakest link in the system. But, as long as I remain firm and solid to the ground, I generally can do this successfully. Once the fish gets its head down and grabs momentum to dive, all you can do is hang on. I still keep as much pressure on the drag as possible in this situation, but often, whether you like it or not, there is line emptying very quickly from your spool.
At this point I like to be very mobile, moving to higher ground and trying to stay above the fish as much as I can. Sometimes we’ve had to move a long way down the point to stay on top of the fish; this can be tricky while line is emptying from your reel and you’re running as fast as you can with heavy drag pressure. In the worst-case scenario, the fish gets to the reef below or swims around a corner. I have had success in this situation by opening my bail arm and giving the fish completely slack line. I then run around the corner and try to get above the fish before closing my bail arm and re-engaging the fight. I wind the slack up cautiously until I’m certain it’s free from obstruction and then put the pressure on once again, there is always the risk of damaged braid or leader from the sharp reef below but if you hadn’t opened your bail arm the line would likely have been cut through anyway.
I try to get the fish in as fast as possible, and the line I gain back I try to keep on the spool for the entirety of the fight. Once the fish starts to tire on the surface, I then look for a good location to land it. If you’ve got a fishing buddy, now is the time when he or she needs to get down to the water level safely. The idea is to have them wrap the leader as you bring it into arms reach of them. Once they have got a wrap on the leader, you should open your bail arm to give them slack line to work with – but be ready to close it if the fish gets out of their control. The person landing will want to have the wrapped leader in one hand and then with their other hand grab the tail and pull the fish out of the water. This is the moment you can let the world know how stoked you are by yelling at the top of your lungs!
Get the king straight into the nearest rockpool – it’s paramount we look after these fish while we capture photos of our catch; plus, rockpool photos are always cool. Keep it submerged so it can breathe and lift it out quickly to capture the images. I then tag the fish with a research tag and gently release it back into the ocean. If you’re looking to take the fish home for the freezer, I’ve generally found that 100cm fish are the best eating size. Anything over 110cm goes back for breeding, and anything under 100cm gets released too.
I hope you’ve found value in my rambling; I love to get out and cast lures and I hope to inspire you to experience it too! If you want to check out some of the trips and see these tips in action make sure you go on YouTube and search JE Wilds – Fishing. I’m also on Instagram @j.e.wilds.
December 2022 - Joe Edlington
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
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