We picked up Club Marine editor Chris Beattie from the wharf at Manly and drove all of 10m before pulling up. “There are kings working just over there,” I said, pointing to some slight ripples amongst the boat moorings. I think there was some doubt from those on board, so I took the opportunity and fired a Mojo stick bait towards the disturbance. The rod loaded up instantly, as a king nailed it with a spectacular surface strike. Suddenly, there was a flurry of activity as everyone onboard scrambled to get a lure out.
We managed a few fish before the school sounded, and then we headed out of the harbour and around to North Head. One of the aims of the trip was to show Chris, and Club Marine’s head honcho, Mark Bradley, just how effective our underwater camera – Strikecam – was at filming predators in action. However, instead of finding kings, we were all shocked and surprised when a mako shark swam up – and swallowed our valuable camera. As exciting as the encounter was, it wasn’t going to help us catch kings, so we pulled in the now-scarred camera and moved on.
Leaving the mako to its menacing ways, we cruised up to the next point and deployed live baits again. Working along the ledge, Mark took the opportunity to flick more Mojo stick baits into the surging white water. It didn’t take long to find some action. On just his third cast, the water erupted around Mark’s lure.
Mark suddenly found himself in all types of trouble as the fish powered away with the drag wailing. In an effort to slow it down, he jammed his hand around the spool and locked up on the rampaging king, pulling it up just in time. As Mark started to gain some line, the water began to boil as kings started erupting all around us. Talk about adrenalin-pumping stuff!
This was the start of a hot little session that saw us tally more than a dozen fish. They were by no means huge, averaging just 60cm in length, but on bream tackle, they felt like runaway freight trains and we had an absolute ball losing almost as many as we caught. What is all the more impressive is that this sort of action is a regular occurrence in Sydney water for much of the year. In fact, this season the fish were so prolific that I even caught them in the shadows of the Sydney Harbour Bridge!
A majority of the fish encountered in Sydney Harbour and adjoining waterways are lightweights in the 50 to 70cm range. However, what they lack in size they more than make up for in sheer power, and catching them on light tackle is serious fun. For the dedicated angler, there are also some big bruiser-sized kings around, as well. It seems Sydney’s kingi fishing has never been better.
Sydney kings are going from strength to strength ever since the demise of commercial kingfish traps. Targeting smaller immature kings, these floating fish traps decimated kingfish stocks right along the NSW coast in a few short years. Luckily, pressure from angling groups forced NSW Fisheries to outlaw this destructive practice just in the nick of time.
Almost a decade on and kingfish numbers have finally started to rise – to the point where they are now a viable target for sport fishermen again. In fact, I would go as far as saying kings are now a year-round option in Sydney.
As a general rule, the spring and summer months see a huge influx of smaller rat-sized kings, that enter the Harbour to feed on the prolific bait schools. As the season progresses, the kings start to take up residence around distinct structure, such as marker buoys and reefs, where they stay until late autumn, before the cooler water pushes the majority offshore.
Larger kings tend to be most prevalent during the spring and autumn. While some big kings do enter the Harbour, they are most common around the coastal reefs and headlands. Many of the inshore reefs are productive year round.
THINK BIG, GO SHALLOW
One of the biggest mistakes anglers make when chasing kings is to concentrate on the deeper water. Over the years, I have caught some of my biggest kings in water that is less than 10m deep, so it pays to think outside the square.
Irrespective of depth, the most important influences are structure and the presence of bait. Kings love to hang around distinct structure, such as reef edges, pinnacles and man-made objects. Some of the best kingie spots around Sydney coastal waters are the Whale, the Colours, Long Reef, Northerners and the Twelve Mile.
Inside the Harbour, the kings can turn up just about anywhere from the Sydney Harbour Bridge right around to Middle Harbour. Some of the best spots are around the man-made structures that dot these waters. Kings definitely have a preference for wooden structures, like the distinctive Wedding Cakes (well, at least the one that’s left) as well as numerous boat moorings.
During the start of the season, when the kings are chasing white bait, you should concentrate around the shallow bays, where the bait is prolific – logically enough. The kings are more likely to be loitering around the bait schools, which tend to congregate in places like Manly, Middle Harbour, Watson’s and Rose Bay.
A decent depth sounder is an essential tool when it comes to targeting kings. For a majority of the time, kings tend to hold station mid-water and the best way to find them is with the aid of a colour sounder. Your sounder is your eyes underwater so you should monitor it constantly. With the sounder set up correctly, you will quickly learn to identify kingfish, which usually appear as distinct red lines on most colour sounders. Learn to read your sounder correctly and you will catch more kings!
When it comes to time of day, the first few hours of daylight are, without fail, the most productive, as a general rule. Sure, the afternoon will produce bites, but in my book, it is nowhere near as reliable as the morning. Having said that, kings are unpredictable by nature and are renowned for appearing when they are least expected, so always be ready!
Another key factor in finding kings is the current. There is a saying in fishing circles ‘no run, no fun’, and nowhere does this ring more true than when chasing kings. Kingfish absolutely adore a bit of current, especially when the water temperature is up above 20C. Clean blue water is also important, but by no means essential, as they will still feed in dirty green water, but water movement is essential.
Obviously, offshore the current is the major influence, but in bays and estuaries the tide is the main factor. Kings become very active around the tide change (this is also the case offshore), so it is well worthwhile concentrating your efforts to coincide with these times. Incidentally, the flood, or run-in tide, has always been my favourite. Kings are primarily sight hunters so they take advantage of the cleaner water associated with the run-in tide, making it my favourite.
There is no more exciting way to catch kings than to cast surface lures at a school of frenzied fish churning through bait schools. This style of fishing is visual, and there is nothing more exciting than seeing a bunch of kings shouldering each other out of the way as they try and nail the bait.
When the kings are working the bait on the surface, the best way to locate them is by looking for activity. Don’t worry too much about birds because kings don’t attract much attention from their feathered friends, since they are very efficient feeders leaving few scraps behind. Other pelagic predators, like tailor, are always accompanied by birds, since they have poor table manners. Having said that, don’t discount the birds entirely, because the kings may well be feeding with other messy pelagics like salmon. Alternately, when the kings are really on the chew, they can’t help but leave a few scraps to attract the birds.
When kings are on the surface, their behaviour is very distinctive and they’re easily identifiable from other fish like bonito. They rarely splash, instead tending to leave subtle boils when chasing small bait. But when on the hunt for larger bait, like garfish, they will splash a bit. Observant anglers will also notice their bright yellow tails as they boil on bait schools.
Most surface feeding kings are small, so it really is important to match the tackle to the fish. Since you will be casting all day, with soft plastics or small lures, spinning reels paired to a decent graphite rod around seven-foot long are needed. Personally, my favourite rods for the job are the Nitro Magnum Butts, which are great for casting light lures a long way, while still having enough strength in the butt to stop hard-pulling fish.
The best lure is undoubtedly the 6in Mojo stick bait in the salt and pepper colour. Unweighted on a 5/0 worm hook, this rig is simply irresistible when twitched through a school of kings.
When you do see a school working bait, don’t just rush up to it. Instead, take a moment to study it and see which way the school is moving. By reading the school’s movement, you can predict where it is going and position the boat in front of it so the fish come to you. Another consideration is the wind; remember you are casting ultra-light lures, which are near-impossible to cast into a head wind. So make sure you approach from upwind to maximise your casting.
Another tip is to read the fish and try and cast into the middle of the hot zone. The most competition lies in the middle of the school so that’s where you want to cast; on the edge of the school, the fish tend to be a bit more wary.
THE BIG BOYS
The most productive method for bigger fish is undoubtedly live bait. Trolling or drifting yakkas, squid and especially slimy mackerel around the headlands, over the wrecks or near vertical structure, such as buoys, is simply deadly.
Slow trolling livies is best suited to headlands and reefs, like Long Reef, where you need to cover a bit of ground. Alternatively, drifting is better suited to specific spots like marker buoys or over pinnacles. The trick with trolling is to do it as slowly as possible by pushing the boat in and out of gear. This will keep you in the strike zone for as long as possible, as well as keeping the baits healthy.
Whenever trolling live baits, watch your sounder closely; not only will it show bait concentrations, but it will reveal kings. The moment you mark bait or fish, the trick is to pull the boat out of gear and let the baits sink down. If the fish are down deep, you can weight the lines with sinkers or even use a downrigger to get down to them.
Kings are the ideal catch-and-release species. Incredibly tough, they can be handled, unhooked and released with a high chance of survival, even when pulled from the depths. On the same note, kings are beautiful eating, so there is nothing wrong with knocking the odd one on the head for the table. Just remember that, as anglers, we need to act responsibly and look after these awesome sportfish – that way they will still be there next time we head out.
Working on the Strikezone series of fishing DVDs has been amazing. Not just because it has opened up a whole new world of opportunity, but because of all the new things we have learned. Putting in 200 days a year on the water, I used to think I had a fair idea of what was going on underneath, but ever since Strikecam (a specialised trolling camera Ron Croft and I built) has hit the water, I have discovered just how little I knew. Although we have filmed everything from marlin to makos on Strikecam, it is kings we have filmed the most, and what we are learning is staggering.
What really stands out is the number of fish that we see on the camera that don’t attack the live bait. One morning we filmed around 50 fish and never got a bite, but in the afternoon we nailed a dozen solid fish in the same area. It really was incredible the number of fish we saw to the number that actually bit.
The second interesting point was how the kings attacked. When approaching yakkas, they were always very hesitant and always tried to swallow the bait head-first. Alternatively, when attacking slimy mackerel, the kings seemed to be far less concerned and would swallow them indiscriminately. It took us a little while to work out the differences, but suddenly it dawned on us that the slimies are smooth, which makes them easier to swallow than the spiky yakkas. Without Strikecam, we would never have realised that this was the case.
Another amazing discovery was how easily a king could pinch the bait off the hook. This highlights just how important it is to free-spool the reel as soon as you get a bite.
We continue to learn and the footage we have obtained for our upcoming billfishing DVD is amazing, but you will just have to wait ’til it is released to see it!
To purchase an Al McGlashan DVD, tel: 1800 025 785 or drop in to any good tackle shop.