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Kingfish fever

WHILST I love the thrill and challenge of chasing a diverse range of species, my fishing pursuits have taken a turn in recent times towards a more one dimensional approach. With family and work commitments building in momentum, the fishing windows have been reduced and a change in priorities have occurred as a result. The decision of where and what to focus my efforts has largely been influenced by one particular species, the yellowtail kingfish.

Now, the term “kingfish fever” certainly won’t be found in any medical dictionary but it very well exists and those bitten by the bug will whole-heartedly understand. This addiction stems from the sole characteristics of kingfish as they well and truly deliver on each and every front with everything you want from a recreational target. They are cunning, difficult to outsmart, fight hard, release in great shape if looked after well and considered to be extremely versatile on the plate as a great tasting fish. Our more southern Australian coastline is also home to some absolute brutes capable of rivalling our trans-Tasman neighbours in New Zealand, so in a nutshell, there really is a lot to love about our yellowtail kingfish.

Beyond the glitz and glam, however, targeting kings is not all what it appears. These fish can seriously drive you nuts at times. I hate to think of all the downtime and lows we’ve experienced over the years when kings are involved, let alone the anxiety, stress and frustration that comes with it. I swear I used to have a lot more hair on my head before I was hooked on these fish! Kingfish don’t come easily with every single fish hard earned irrespective of its size which consequently demands nothing but the upmost respect from anglers. Such is the roller-coaster ride of emotions involved though that you can quickly go from zero to hero in a matter of seconds when that unmistakable sound of line peeling off the reel under heavy drag reverberates through the ears. And with such high level stakes on the line in knowing how special these fish are it’s more than enough to make even the most experienced angler a little weak at the knees.

The ever present possibility of encountering a personal best or trophy fish is a massive drawcard for many anglers coming back time and time again for a fix and it really is hard to get sick of these hoodlums. I vividly recall watching a good mate fight and land a solid king not all too long ago. He had caught countless numbers of big fish over the years but the pure elation was evident when we slid it onto the mat and it measured in at a whopping 151cm. The result was met with one of the loudest roars of triumph that I will never forget and I’m pretty sure my eardrums are still ringing to this day as a result, but understandably so as this capture was a memorable one for him. After coming close to the elusive 150cm mark on a few occasions he had still always managed to come up short despite all those king encounters over the years. To finally tick that box after all the hard work, dedication, time and money invested was more than enough to make a grown man feel like a little kid in a candy shop again. It was certainly a pretty special moment to be a part of and only further highlighted the memorable experiences that these fish are capable of delivering to anglers.

King Habits

Yellowtail kingfish are available to anglers in the more southern half of the country from WA right through to south-east QLD however sizes can vary from state to state. SA is well known for a relatively strong fishery with the average king size at the upper end of the spectrum but a distinct lack of small to mid-range fish around in comparison which is certainly not a bad problem to have. NSW on the other hand used to see a lot more bigger fish encountered back in the day however fishing pressure and popularity has seen the average size scale right back to a small to mid-range zone with the odd thumper caught amongst them. WA and QLD are not necessarily recognised as strong kingfish fisheries as far as numbers go but they are still capable of producing some respectable fish sizes whilst Victoria offers a popular kingfish highway along the rugged coastline and headlands connecting SA to NSW.

Kings undeniably hold the upper hand in most if not all situations irrespective of where you find yourself targeting them across these states, however there is one particular behavioural trait that leaves this species a little exposed. Kingfish are creatures of habit and anglers can utilise this character trait to help narrow the search and pigeonhole efforts in certain locations and environments. Seasonally speaking it’s the warmer months of spring and summer that tend to see the most action as this coincides with the peak spawning period, although realistically they can be found all year round in certain spots. Fish generally find their way onto the same grounds year after year and depending on your location or seasonal timing this could be anywhere from deep offshore reefs through to extremely shallow bays and estuary systems. Some form of natural or man-made structure is almost always involved in locating kings as this not only gives them a point of reference but these same areas attract likely bait sources. This information stems from observed fish behaviours over time but it’s also backed up by some amazing data made possible through the NSW DPI tagging program. Kingfish recapture information has linked thousands of fish back to the same locations that they were originally caught and tagged in and it has also uncovered stock links between states. Quite a number of fish from South Australia for example have made the long trek to NSW over the years and even more astonishingly they’ve been found in very similar areas all those miles away which is pretty mind blowing when you consider the logistics involved. Kings have a great survival rate if looked after well so the recapture of a tagged fish is always a possibility and participating in this sort of catch and release activity is strongly encouraged. Their healthy rate of survival is even translated to the deep offshore environment as kings house an inbuilt pressure relieving system meaning the effects of barotrauma are of little concern which is pretty cool stuff in my books.

Adopting Techniques

The appeal of this fascinating species is further enhanced by the opportunity to target them with a variety of techniques and fishing styles. This includes anything from an arsenal of artificial lures such as poppers, stickbaits, jigs or soft plastics through to more natural presentations in the form of both livebait and deadbait options. Anglers are therefore spoilt for choice with the opportunity of a multi-pronged attack available to help unlock the code on these clever buggers. There’s also the ability to hone in on a specific technique to conquer a personal challenge such as ticking off a topwater king from the to-do list for example and this is often what drives a lot of the regular king fishos day in day out. Setting and achieving goals on kings is such an attractive proposition as seasoned fishos know that these cunning hoodlums are odds-on favourites in most scenarios so every achievement is well-earned and all the more rewarding.

Regardless what the drive or motivation is, anglers must pay attention to their surroundings and general fish behaviours for a better chance of success. This includes adapting and applying techniques to fit each and every location and/or scenario which more than varies around the country. Jigging for example can pull some surprising results in relatively shallow water but it really is best suited to the deep water reefs. These deep zones can also be worked with weighted livebait rigs or even soft plastics deployed on heavy gauge jigheads so there are certainly a few options to consider that are applicable to this sort of kingfish hang-out.

Coastal headlands, wash zones, estuaries or shallow reef systems are in my opinion best targeted with livebaits which are proven on kings of all sizes. With today’s modern sonar technology the fish really don’t have anywhere to hide, making it a relatively simple tactic to utilise when the fish play ball. It’s just a matter of deciding on how to get your baits in front of the fish either in the form of downrigging, ballooning, fishing unweighted or even dropping your baits down a little deeper on a weighted rig. These same locations can also be targeted with surface lures or soft plastics but this relies on the angler’s ability to work out how the fish are behaving and where they are tending to hold in relation to the water column or nearby structure. Patterns can also emerge over time with elements of predictability such as topwater bites being more likely around low light periods and fish holding a little deeper throughout more daylight hours. Whilst nothing is ever guaranteed in fishing working on some sort of theory can help shape your kingfish sessions and provide a little more confidence in knowing you’re not just randomly out there throwing everything but the kitchen sink at these fish without any thought behind it. You’ll quickly find yourself put off by the whole prospect otherwise. When things go to plan, it really is hard to compare these fish to anything else and I’m sure you can understand why chasing kings is a difficult option to pass up when a fishing opportunity presents. After all there is only one cure for kingfish fever and that is to spend more time targeting them – just what the doctor ordered!

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