Mark Kitteridge has covered the leader requirements involved when land-based fishing as well as when targeting snapper from boats with bait and lures; now it’s time to look at what’s needed for kingfish in this concluding instalment.
Kingfish are awesome. They look magnificent and fight like demons, combining their impressive size, great power and street-wise cunning to get away when hooked. Consequently, you need good quality tackle, effective fish-fighting techniques and strong, dependable knots to land these challenging fish consistently; your use and choice of trace material plays an essential part in this.
Both materials offer significant advantages. Nylon is not as tough (although some specialty nylon traces are pretty bloody good) but it’s cheaper than fluorocarbon, reasonably supple and much easier to knot. If you are competent at tying Uni knots, you’ll be able to attach lures, hooks and swivels, no matter what the trace poundage. Fluorocarbon is a stiffer material and harder to handle, but it is much more abrasion resistant and less visible underwater thanks to a refractive index that’s close to that of water. It is also harder to knot, especially in the heavier poundages, prompting some anglers to crimp it instead.
One of the great things about fishing for kingfish is that you can use such a wide variety of techniques, tactics and baits to catch them. However, unless you match the trace to the technique and bait type being used, your chances of hooking up and landing the fish are greatly diminished. I suggest the following…
When fishing depths less than 20 metres or so, it is always worthwhile putting out a live bait (or even a dead bait) under some form of floating device. Whether you use a balloon or float with the live bait largely depends on the size of baitfish, which in turn determines the trace material’s strength/thickness. The lighter the trace, the friskier and longer-lived the baitfish and the more strikes you’ll get, but go too light and you’ll be busting off regularly. In all cases try to have a decent length of trace, as the tough trace material is often the difference between a caught fish and a broken line. Around 4-6 metres is recommended.
Small baits such as piper and mackerel are usually deployed under a float and require the thinnest possible trace material practical under the circumstances. Heavier traces are too obvious and slow the bait’s movements. Fluorocarbon (recommended as it’s super tough for its diameter) or specialist mono leader in 40-60lb breaking strains are typical. Kahawai can vary quite a bit in size, but anything over 600g or so should be attached to a balloon with heavier trace line of 80-130lb, or even heavier (150-200lb) if marlin are a possibility.
Smaller live baits should be used with a correspondingly lighter leader or they will wear out more quickly. Also, kingfish can be put off by the clumsy presentation of a heavy leader.
Although the thickness of the trace is again largely determined by the size of the bait, the territory below and the size of the kingfish likely to be encountered also need to be considered. Mackerel, koheru, piper and the smaller kahawai are mostly used on sinker rigs as they are more easily managed, and are typically nostril or upper-shoulder hooked so they can cope with the current. Use around a metre of 50-80lb trace tied to a swivel; a 4-8oz free-sliding sinker sits on top, along with a further 4-5 metres of trace line.
Large kahawai tend to attract the bigger kingfish, so need trace material around 80–130lb. However, they are hard to restrain with just a sinker, making them better utilised as a free-swimming offering or being very slowly trolled around.
This large kahawai can handle a heavier trace as it's a powerful swimmer; the nearby shallow, reefy territory makes a long, thick leader a practical approach too.
As already mentioned, kingfish can be caught using a wide variety of techniques. The main ones involving lures are jigging, casting and retrieving surface lures and trolling artificial minnows, both bibbed and bib-less.
Again, heavy gear should be used if fishing over unforgiving ground (24-37kg), which tends to be the case as kingfish are attracted to structure, especially if there is current. Having said that, go too heavy in the trace material and the number of bites will be reduced because it becomes more obvious.
The trace’s breaking strain is mostly determined by the size and weight of the jig, as the average weight of kingfish attracted does correspond to lure size; the remainder depends on the place you’re fishing and its reputation. For example, it makes sense to use a heavier leader (for the size of lure) for a location such as the Three Kings or Ranfurly Banks than when fishing Channel Island or Little Barrier.
Whatever the destination, a long leader is recommended as it takes more punishment than the braided mainline. Interestingly, braid is actually tougher than nylon and fluorocarbon trace of the same diameter, but because the trace is relatively thick in this instance (obviously it needs to have a greater breaking strain than the mainline), it can take more punishment before parting. Around 4-6 metres of 37-60kg trace is usually recommended. An FG or PR knot connects the braid to the leader, while a Uni or Rapala Loop knot connects the leader to the jig’s solid ring.
Although decent kingfish can sometimes be found feeding in deep water, they are more often encountered with surface lures in shallower depths – around 5 to 20 metres is common – accompanied by structure and some current. The basics remain the same in this situation: use heavy tackle and a correspondingly strong trace so you can choose what happens to the kingfish after capture, rather than the fish deciding for you prematurely.
Around 24-37kg gear is recommended, connected to around 3-5 metres of 37-45kg (80-100lb) trace. This is a long leader, but it needs to be. Consequently, as the ability to cast good distances can make a big difference, your braid to trace knot needs to be streamlined, strong and reliable. While I have had reasonable success with the FG knot, there’s been the odd complete failure too. It seems the heavier lines involved here tend to rattle the knot loose when repeatedly bashed up through the rod guides over long periods, especially without any fish to tighten it back up. You could try super-gluing the knot or using a specialist knot glue, but most surface-lure exponents simply employ the PR knot. It’s streamlined and completely trustworthy when executed correctly, but rather time consuming to learn and tie.
As for attaching the lure, you need to decide what’s best. I don’t feel very comfortable about tying a Uni knot to the lure’s wire loop if its diameter is thinner than the trace’s as I suspect the nylon bites into itself under pressure. This can be the case with small but strong clips too, so I tend to avoid them if I can. A three-turn Rapala Loop knot often does the job nicely here, while more dedicated fishers may opt for the rather time-consuming chain knot instead.
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