Along a few hundred metres stretch of the Oriental Bay seawall, the summer months can provide anglers with quite exceptional fishing for green and gold excitement machines, more commonly known as kingfish.
Despite a patchy summer, the number of kingfish caught at this location and other parts of the harbour has been quite exceptional this year. Fish from as small as a few kilos, to hefty specimens over 20 kilos, have been providing seasoned and first-time kingfish anglers with plenty of action.
Targeting kingfish at this location has been going on with varying degrees of success and abundance since Wellington anglers were first introduced to light spinning gear and surf rods in the 1950s.
Catch rates before the introduction of slide-baiting, compared to today’s successes, are telephone numbers apart. As good as some of that earlier gear was, the big leap forward in catching success has come about as fishing-gear technology has similarly advanced in leaps and bounds, coupled with refined live-baiting techniques using slider rigs. The result is a growing number of livebait adherents now able to explore many other locations within Wellington’s large harbour.
So let’s look into some of the ‘how to’ ways of getting started in this relatively new aspect of the sport.
The very name ‘kingfish’ conjures up images of something special, and kingfish do not disappoint when it comes to firepower (and a rather handsome appearance). Consequently, you just cannot go into battle with these bruisers using ‘entry level’ rod and reel outfits. Whether you prefer fixed or free-spool reels (both are suitable), ensure the reel is structurally robust and offers effective stopping power.
There is a growing tendency for anglers to use braid line when chasing kings, but a good rule of thumb for those who prefer nylon is to make sure the reel’s spool holds at least 200 metres of 15kg monofilament. Also, if planning to use poppers and stickbaits, a 15kg nylon still allows a reasonable casting distance to be achieved.
On the rod front, those made to handle 10-15kg line (minimum) and measuring 2.4m to 3.05m (8 to 10 feet) tend to be effective for the purpose. Some anglers even prefer using powerful surf rods, with the extra height helping to keep their line well elevated and free of obstacles such as the rocks and weeds in close. Keep in mind that the above selections are made when fishing relatively snag-free terrain.
The Oriental Bay wall is a good candidate for slide-baiting. It has a nice drop-off into about eight metres of water, just 10 metres from the shore, the seabed consisting of a sand-mud composition. This distinct drop-off is often where baitfish such as kahawai like to patrol, usually holding good numbers of fish around the 400-600g size.
However, similar drop-offs and friendly sea floors exist in other parts of the harbour, whether bounded by rock or reclamation – they only need to be found and taken advantage of. While these areas may have little in the way of catchable live baits on site (a challenge that can be overcome and is discussed later), the main criteria involves having a relatively clear bottom.
Prior to slide-baiting coming onto the scene, most anglers put their live baits out under a balloon and hoped the vagaries of tide, wind and where the baitfish wanted to swim wouldn’t be a hassle. In the more remote areas this technique generally worked well, but slidebaiting offers the big advantage of removing most of the constant irritations associated with balloon fishing. It is also a more acceptable way to fish when in close proximity to other anglers.
When selecting a fishing area, find a secure place for your rod holder. Your rod should be angled just forward of perpendicular when facing the water.
At this stage you should have a stopper (solid ring and/or large bead) tied to the end of your mainline (literally the end of the line for your sliding rig and bait). Attached to the stopper ring/bead is your sinker trace, which should be a metre-plus in length and has to be lighter in breaking strain than the mainline. For instance, if using 15-kilo line, then the sinker should be attached using 10-kilo line with a single granny knot. The reasons for this are simple: should your sinker snag up on the bottom, it will break off, leaving your rig intact – and, better still, if hooked up to a fish and the sinker catches on a snag, it will break off so you don’t lose the fish.
By using a break-away sinker (5oz size is good) with the grapnel wires secured down hard at their bases using a twisted rubber band, maintaining a good tight line between the sinker and rod tip is ensured.
Generally – in Wellington Harbour anyway – a cast of 40-50 metres is a proven hook-up distance. Your final preparation is the selection of a suitable live-bait hook and slider mechanism (see photo 5, above). You need to ensure your slider and one-metre length of 40-50kg breaking-strain trace are attached and ready to slide before the live bait is secured to the hook.
Getting your slider and trace onto your mainline is a reasonably simple procedure, but still requires practice to ensure this done quickly to keep the baitfish in fighting-fit shape.
Whatever type of live bait is used, the hook should be placed into the bait’s shoulder, too deeply, just under the leading edge of the dorsal fin, with the hook point angling forward (see photo on previous page). Then it is just a matter of lifting the rod high and letting the bait slide into the water, after which you can replace the rod in the holder, take up any slack to come tight to the sinker and wait for the strike!
The Oriental Bay wall is a unique slide-baiting location, as it has a pretty reliable population of small kahawai live baits – but on some days catching bait is a hard exercise. The answer to this problem (and at other harbour locations) is to use jack mackerel/ yellowtail. Not only are jack mackerel very effective live baits, they are readily catchable from most wharf structures during the night on small squid baits or sabiki bait flies.
The trick is to then keep them alive – and portable aerated bait tanks will do this. These can be as simple as a battery-powered aerator feeding into a large chilly bin, or a shop-bought aerator and container. When holding live bait overnight, I suggest dropping the water temperature (one ice bottle is sufficient) as this keeps the baitfish in a quieter, less agitated state.
Once at the fishing location, the live bait can be transferred into a keep net at the water’s edge. If this is not possible, you will need to use a bucket to replenish your live-bait tank with fresh water at regular intervals. A bucket with a stout rope attached is an essential part of live-baiting equipment, also making a useful temporary container when transporting live baits to your outfit.
Waiting for a hook-up is a time for patience and observation. Often, your first sign of action is a slight jiggle or bend in your rod tip. This could be a prelude to a kingie’s first tentative go at your bait – or another predator, such as barracouta, which just love small jack mackerel.
If no more action ensues, it is best to leave the rod set for a while longer before checking your bait. As a rule of thumb, live baits are best checked at about half-hour intervals.
A more positive sign that a fish has your bait is when quite visible and on-going action shows on your rod tip. It’s a good sign that your bait has been grabbed.
Deciding when you should tighten up on the fish and strike are matters of judgement and experience, but once you do tighten up and can feel strong action through the line, it’s generally the moment to strike.
I don’t need to tell you how to play the fish – this is the moment of truth, when you will have to rely on instinct. You’ll certainly be realising what raw power really means!
Whether you land the fish or not, what I do know is that you will have learnt more from the experience than all the advice I can give you. And I know with certainty you will be back again for another crack.
Kingfish are truly a national treasure, providing Kiwis with angling experiences that are definitely in the ‘A’ category. And they are respected internationally too, with increasing numbers of overseas anglers being attracted to our shores to do battle with these yellow-green tanks. Fortunately, many of these fish will be released after capture.
This has to be good for our economy and the well-being of the recreational fishing industry. I believe the population and management of kingfish can only get better, provided we buy into the ethos that every one of us who fishes for this top predator feels a responsibility towards its sustainability and management. However, there is still much to learn about kingfish biology, which does not help when working out the best possible sustainable fishing practices for this species.
Capturing your first kingfish on land-based fishing gear is one of the greatest accomplishments an angler can experience. You are entitled to wear this feat as a badge of honour and, once started, you will gain many more. Always bear in mind, though, that the kingfish you catch has also earned the right to wear a badge – a badge based on the species’ courage, tenacity and brute power. So, if you are lucky and skilful enough to have caught what you need, I urge you to release any more that might follow.
In return for seeing these fantastic fish swim away, you’ll experience a wonderful feeling I can’t really describe, with the intense mix of elation and satisfaction felt being one of the very best gifts angling provides.