Fishing: Yellowtail kingfish is the supreme adversary

By Geoff Thomas

Shane Cameron is happy with his first kingfish. Picture / Geoff Thomas
Shane Cameron is happy with his first kingfish. Picture / Geoff Thomas

When it comes to fishing in our waters, we are blessed with a wide variety of species we can catch from the shore or from a boat.

It may be snapper, trevally, john dory or gurnard in northern waters; while tarakihi, blue cod and groper are more common as the compass moves south. And there are many other fish that grab our attention, but one stands out as the supreme adversary - the yellowtail kingfish.

And with good reason.

Kings are common from North Cape to the Marlborough Sounds, and have been caught off Christchurch, and spotted by divers in Fiordland and at the Chatham Islands. So they are easily found. And they can be hooked without too much trouble provided you offer them something that appeals. Like much of our fishing for large fish, the ones you see are the hardest to catch. It is the ones you don't see that you usually catch. This applies to marlin as well.

But when hooked the kingfish is a tough opponent. Professional charter skippers often refer to them as "street fighters", in deference to their propensity for diving towards any obstruction in the water as if they know they can break the line by tangling it around a rock or clump of kelp or a shellfish-encrusted pole. With a streamlined, torpedo-shaped body and a powerful tail driven by muscles charged with oxygen, the king drives through water and can be unstoppable on all but the best tackle.

Occasionally a kingfish will be hooked on a chunk of bait dangling in the water on a line designed for snapper or similar bottom-dwellers. But these will usually be young fish, eager to snatch at anything they come across.

The larger specimens have learned that a whole fish or squid makes a far better meal and while not smart in the human sense, they have become focused on particular prey.

Their favourites include piper and mackerel, so it follows that if you can put a live one of these in front of a kingfish you will probably hook it. They also eat other small fish such as baby flounder and sprats, so they are not too fussy. They key is to have something that is alive.

So the fisherman setting out to catch a kingfish has to first catch a supply of live bait, keep it alive on the boat, then present his offering where he knows there will be kingfish and at the best time, which is low tide.

Many charter skippers know how to find kingfish as they congregate in schools over structures like a deep reef or pinnacle. And that is how Shane Cameron, the "Mountain Man" in the boxing ring, had his first fight with a kingfish. Skipper Dave "Mavis" Bryant, who operates Ramsey Fishing Charters out of Whitianga, gave instructions as he manoeuvred his large catamaran over a pinnacle off the Alderman Islands in the Bay of Plenty.

"Drop to 50 metres," he said, and Cameron thumbed the spool as the colour-coded braid line slipped off the reel. Every colour is 10 metres, so the angler can pinpoint exactly how much line he has out. The yellowtail or jack mackerel was hooked through the top of the nose with a circle hook so it was pulled head-first down to where the kings circled.

No self-respecting yellowtail would ever venture out this far and hang around among a school of kingfish, so the vibrations coming up the line soon indicated the bait was panicking. A good sign. One of the other rods on the boat bent as a good king was hooked and after Grant Whitford had boated his personal best king, Bryant motored back and gave the word to drop the baits - this time to 30 metres. It may be 60 metres deep, but the kings often swim around in mid-water.

Then Cameron's rod bent over and he leaned into his work. The butt of the rod slipped from side to side so the crew fastened a belt around his waist with a rod bucket to hold the butt and the game was on.

As a kingfish virgin, Cameron was smiling; and he was impressed with the sheer power of the fish. When it comes to adversaries, this particular kingfish was up against a mountain of a man. But even he took a little while to get it under control and work the rod so that soon the gleam of silver deep in the blue water showed a big fish.

As the king slashed by the boat Bryant grabbed the trace, pulled it close and slipped the sharp point of the gaff under its lower lip. This way the king can be lifted up, photographed and slipped back in the water without hurting it.

"It's about 25 kilos. Do you want to keep your first one or put it back?" Bryant asked Cameron.

"We've got some fish to take home," was the reply. "Put it back. It's a magnificent fish."

Freshwater

There is some excellent dry fly action on small rivers running into Lake Taupo, and the Tongariro River is holding some fish which are mainly residents.

Nymphs are working well, with some downstream, wet fly in the large runs.

On the lake, jigging and harling are producing, particularly at the southern end of the lake. River mouths are all fishing well at night and this should improve as the moon wanes.

- NZ Herald

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