Māori name: Haku
Scientific name: Seriola lalandi
All-tackle NZ record: 52.0kg
Eating quality: Excellent
Everyone loves catching kingfish – they grow big, fight hard and make excellent fare. New Zealand holds the largest kingfish in the world, and they are indisputably our premier inshore gamefish.
Featuring olive green backs, bright yellow fins, and a distinctive golden-brown stripe running across their flanks, kingfish are athletic-looking fish with muscular bodies and large, forked tails.
Kingfish are predatory in nature, feeding on a range of prey, including squid, pelagic baitfish, and reef fish. They usually live in schools ranging from a few fish to well over 100 individuals, although larger fish can be solitary. Recreationally-caught kingies average around 80-90cm, but adult fish grow much larger to over 1.5m in length.
Kingfish are most common in the northern half of the North Island but are found from the Kermadec Islands to Foveaux Strait.
Structure, current, and bait are key considerations for hunting ‘kings’. They’re mainly encountered in high current areas by reefs, pinnacles, and headlands, but can turn up anywhere baitfish are present. As such, they are often caught around workups over sandy bottoms and regularly patrol shallow bays and harbours. Kingfish also have an affinity for man-made structures such as mussel farms, marker buoys, and wharves.
Offshore destinations such as the Three Kings Islands, D’Urville Island, White Island, and the Ranfurly Banks are famous for big kingfish.
In many popular inshore fishing locations, including the Hauraki Gulf, kingfish are far more prolific over the warmer months (December to May). Spawning occurs in late winter/early spring in deep water, and many fish move away from the coastline around this period. However, don’t write off a spot just because it’s the cold season – good-sized kingfish will still be cruising around, but they generally won’t be present in substantial numbers.
Kingfish move around reefs and pinnacles depending on the tide, generally holding on the up-current side where upwellings and eddies hold the bait. Most spots will work better on either the incoming or outgoing tide, and many keen kingfish anglers believe the period on and immediately following the full moon offers tough fishing.
Kingfish can be targeted using various techniques, but whatever your method, don’t bring a knife to a gunfight because they’re extremely powerful contenders!
In many areas, livebaiting is the best method to consistently catch our distinguished inshore gamefish. And it makes sense – livebaits are the real deal! Good species to use are jack mackerel, slimy mackerel, koheru, kahawai, trevally, yellow-eye mullet, and piper.
There are three basic live-baiting methods to use for kingfish. Putting a livebait out under a balloon is a good passive method in shallow water; slow-trolling livebaits allows you to cover ground to find the kingfish, and in deeper water dropping weighted live-baits directly over fish can be highly effective. Good live-bait rigging and hook choice is important to turn bites into strikes. <INCLUDE ARTICLE
Jigging can be deadly in some areas and an exercise in frustration in others. Generally, jigs will catch smaller fish than livebaits, although they are very simple to deploy. Simply drop to the bottom (or where you see the sign on the sounder) and work the lure back up. Practice makes perfect as the lift and wind ‘mechanical’ jigging technique tends to catch the most fish. Many kingfish are also caught as bycatch when slow-jigging with lures such as inchikus and kaburas, especially around intense gannet workups.
Fishing with topwater surface lures is exciting but can be a challenging method to catch kingfish. A very early start can pay dividends before they become a tad gun-shy. Cast over shallow reefs, headlands, and marker buoys where kings are known to hang out while targeting your efforts at signs of life and current lines. As a rule of thumb, poppers make more commotion, while stickbaits offer a more realistic swimming action. Sweep and pause retrieves are the most effective, and it pays to practice with different brands and models, as each will have a unique action. Handcrafted wooden stickbaits can catch more fish than their plastic counterparts but are very expensive to lose!