How to

Go Deep for Big Kings: Downrigging


Downrigging can be a deadly method of hooking up on big kings. ANTHONY RACO offers useful tips for setting up a downrigger to present baits to those deep-dwelling monsters.

THE brutal, never-say-die fight of a kingfish has earned them the title “hoodlum”. When they get to XOS sizes, kings are the freight trains of the deep, patrolling reef edges and smashing bait. Big kings are a dream fish for many anglers. If you have the right gear, and fish the right places with the right baits, hooking these brutes is more than achievable. Actually landing them, on the other hand, is not quite as easy! Even with heavy tackle, big kings are masters at reefing you or simply blowing you away.

But you need to hook the fish before you need to start worrying about how to land it. Downrigging has long been a favoured method of targeting big kings. So, what’s a downrigger? It’s basically a winch that holds a couple of hundred metres of thin stainless steel wire or braid on a rotating reel. At the end of the wire a lead weight or bomb – which sinks your bait/lure down in the water column – is attached via a snap swivel and a release clip on a short trace is attached to the bomb. This release clip holds your line.

There are various types of downrigger available – Scotty, Penn Fathom Master and Cannon are well well known downrigger brands – and they come in a variety of sizes from light freshwater use to big electric models suitable for heavy gamefishing. Good quality downriggers feature a line counter so you can see how much wire you have out. It will also have a sturdy and strong base plate, which is either fixed to your boat, or placed in a rod holder.

Using a Downrigger
Downriggers are designed to suspend your bait or lure beneath the water at a pre-determined depth while the boat is travelling (usually quite slowly). You let out a length of line (usually several metres) and then attach it to the downrigger’s release clip. I like to use a size 16 elastic band to do this in order to prevent any damage to my line. You set your reel up so that line is released slowly from the reel without any chance of tangling or an over-run and the downrigger bomb is then slowly lowered to the depth you’ve chosen. When the bomb is at your preferred depth, you set the drag and begin towing the bait. Livebaits are generally towed at 1-2 knots; lures can be towed faster. The faster the boat moves, the shallower the bomb will run.

Before you actually deploy your ’rigger, however, you need to scope out the location with your sounder. There are several reasons why you need to do this. The first and most obvious is to find the fish. There’s no point downrigging your hard earned livebait through lifeless reefs or, even worse, through a school of leatherjackets, which will make a meal of your delicious presentation. Spend time searching the reef and its surrounds to establish if the kingfish are there and, if so, at what depth. They may also be feeding on a particular bait school in the area. If they are, catch some of that bait. Exploring the reef will also allow you to observe the various depths, structures, reef formations and sudden undulations that could cause your downrigger to get stuck. If that happens, it usually ends in lost bombs or, even worse, damaged downriggers.

Once you’ve found the fish and are comfortable at the depth you will be deploying the downrigger, it’s time to set your bait, as briefly explained above. It’s a good idea to set your sounder to the same unit of measure on your downrigger’s depth counter (usually feet). This means you can quickly and easily monitor the depth and raise or lower the bomb if needed. Then it’s simply a waiting game – troll your downrigger around and through the fish you found earlier and wait for a strike.

Preparing your gear
It’s essential to ensure your gear is up to the task before you start downrigging. This will avoid disappointment if you hook up on a big fish and lose it due to gear failure. A good quality reel suited for 80lb braid, paired with a short and powerful 80lb jig style rod, is the minimum for kingfish over 10kg. You can use an overhead or threadline reel, the choice is up to you. I’ve been using Okuma Salina II threadlines for my downrigging work and they’ve accounted for plenty of decent fish.

Whatever outfit you use, ensure the drag is smooth and the rod and runners in tip-top condition. A rampaging king will find any imperfections in your tackle within five seconds of hooking up.

Ensure the business end of your outfit features top notch knots and rigs. I use about a metre of 130lb fluorocarbon for leader. This culminates in a twin hook rig, made up of appropriately sized livebait hooks, which are crimped to the leader. The other end of the leader is finished with a heavy duty ball bearing swivel – rated to 60kg as a minimum – crimped to a 80-100lb wind-on leader. I like my wind-ons to be about 5m long and attached to a Bimini Twist double in the braid via a reverse or normal Albright knot.

Before you go fishing, test your outfit by hooking it around something solid, like a tree or fence. Release all the leaders and doubles from the rod so they are free from any guides or bumps then tighten up the drag and apply the sort of pressure you intend to use on the fish. Be aware of your safety while doing this. As a minimum, wear safety glasses just in case the line does fail. If everything holds together, excellent; if it doesn’t, reassess your knots and line. It’s much better to have gear failure at home than on a fish of a lifetime. Your reel’s drag should be measured and checked. A quality tool such as a Bouz Drag Checker makes this job easy and efficient.

The Take
We have our gear ready and we’ve found the fish. Our line is baited with a lovely live squid or frigate mackerel and we eagerly anticipate the take. At this point I set my drag as tight as possible. There are instances when the “puppy dog” tactic may work; this involves applying minimal drags and “walking” the fish away from the reef, but we have found that in extreme reef environments, you can never puppy them far enough away. Go hard or go home!

So, you spot the fish on the sounder. All on board stare at the rod tip, waiting for the initial explosion. The rod tip stutters as the bait starts to freak out. Something is down there! Then the rod buckles over, the line is ripped away from the downrigger, and the reel screams. The lucky fisho struggles to get the rod out of the holder. This is what it’s all about! The skipper now needs to drive the fish away from the reef at about 5-8 knots. This assists in getting the angle of the line up and the fish away from those jagged reef edges. Once the initial run of the fish is exhausted and the sounder indicates you’re in a safer depth, it’s time to get the downrigger wound up and out of the way. The angler should be working extremely hard to get the fish up. Short, sharp strokes – particularly when the fish is facing the boat. Once it turns its head it’s more than likely going to take you for another blistering run to the depths.

Once the fish is at the boat and you’re going to release it, try not to remove it from the water. The fish is usually quite docile by this point and will be easily managed. If you want to take photos, carefully bring it aboard and support it with a hand under the belly. Once back in the water it’s critical that you swim the fish along with the boat in gear until it’s ready to take off.

Fishing for large kingfish is one of the most rewarding and exhilarating angling pursuits. The excitement when you see such a spectacular beast beside the boat is mind boggling. Downrigging is one of the most effective methods to target the larger fish. Big kingfish often swim beneath the smaller schools, which are higher in the water column. They are also in smaller schools, which can be spread out over a large area on a reef. The downrigger allows you to move about, exploring different depths and locations without tying you down to one spot. It also allows you to utilise the boat in the fight, as it’s already in gear. Staying stationary often ends with the larger fish reefing you in a matter of seconds. Once past the initial hook up, most fights don’t last more than 5-10 minutes, with only two or three steam train-like runs. If you can stop them at the beginning, the rest is usually relatively simple.  Well, usually – sometimes you just can’t stop ’em!

CHECK out more kingfish tips and techniques in the new Band of Brothers kingfish DVD, out now. Go to for all the details. Check out a preview clip at

What's your reaction?

Related Posts

Load More Posts Loading...No More Posts.