An Epic Kingfish Adventure

Kiwi Kings

Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. A recent trip to NZ resulted in SAMI OMARI finding out that the kingies are definitely bigger on the other side of the ditch!

CHASING kingfish has been somewhat of a consuming activity in recent times – at last count I noticed something in the vicinity of 10 jigging outfits adorning my rod rack with an irrational need to buy more. Boxes of poppers and stickbaits are strewn across my garage while my jig bags sit on reinforced shelves which flex under the accumulated mass of lead and heavy metal.

It’s less than a kilometre to my local boat ramp and most trips out see me motoring downstream towards open water in search of kings – a well worn path and something I rarely tire of. The fishing off Sydney had been productive of late and I was quite content with the fish being caught; however, things changed whenever I’d check an email or hear that annoying sound on my phone of a picture message flashing images of those mammoth kings being caught across the ditch in New Zealand.

After seeing one too many reports and images of large kings caught across the Tasman I found myself packing a few rods and booking flights to see what difference travelling 2000 odd kilometres makes to a species I easily chase in my own backyard.

Off to Tairua
Landing in Auckland airport saw me hire a car and hit the road for a 2.5 hour drive north to a suburb called Tairua. It was the day the Aussies beat the Kiwis in the Bledisloe cup; I kept an eye out for angry looking All Blacks supporters while making a low profile shuffle through the airport, my John Howard inspired green and gold tracksuit sensibly left at home. Driving through the late afternoon New Zealand countryside highlighted the stunning beauty of the region with undulating lush green hills magnificently contrasting the volcanic mountainside – it was a pleasant drive on a picture postcard day. I arrived in Tairua, met with Carl Muir from Epic Adventures who would be my host for the coming days, then trundled over to the Tairua Shores motel where I would be staying for the week.

Day one – big bad kings
I woke the next morning to reports of large seas and an un-navigable low tide bar. I hopped in my car and played tourist till a call from Carl informed me that the seas and afternoon tides looked reasonable enough to venture out in. I quickly drove home, grabbed a few rods and met with Carl to launch his trusty Stabicraft into Tairua Harbour. Once through the bar we punched the 15 or so miles through the slop to the first of Carl’s jigging grounds. No sooner had the boat stopped than the sounder lit up with markings of baitfish and predators beneath. First drop saw me miss a bite but Carl came up tight to land the first fish of the trip. It was a prime king of about 17 kilos. After dropping a couple of other fish we kept moving to scout out likely looking locations. The recent rough weather had kept many of the local fleet at home and we were hopeful of finding the fish in a ravenous mood. Next location was a spot which Carl mentioned produces the odd big fish and sure enough after a couple of drops I came up tight on something that completely dominated my 65lb jigging outfit. Hooking the fish a few cranks off the bottom spelt disaster as I clumsily tried to lock up the outfit and get a wind on a fish hellbent on finding the bottom. After a torrid battle that lasted a few seconds the rod straightened and I cursed the lost opportunity. When Carl came up tight on the next drift his rod buckled over and I could hear the strain in his voice as he mentioned it was a “good” fish. Good is a relative term which I later interpreted as something over 20 kilos! This fish was a brawler. Carl would give the spool a decent dose of thumb lock and move the fish a few metres, then it would fight back and lunge for the bottom against almost insurmountable pressure. After giving the skipper a punishing fight, a hefty king materialised from the depths. At somewhere around the 1.3m mark on the measuring board it was estimated at about 28-30kg. It was a cracking fish and while Carl has guided many of his clients to fish much larger, it was a personal best for the skipper who rarely has a chance to fish with his busy guiding schedule. The bar had been raised significantly and the reason why anyone would travel thousands of kilometres to chase these fish became bleatingly obvious: from that point on any fish below the 15kg mark paled into insignificance.

As the afternoon wore on we found ourselves moving towards the Aldermen Islands where we would encounter a steady succession of kingfish in the 10-15 kilo category. I pressed my luck and was having fun on a “light” 50 pound jigging outfit till a bruiser decided to dictate terms and crash dive 40m to bust me off on the bottom. I thought I’d had it beat … I went home beaten that afternoon and re-spooled my outfit with 80lb braid.

Bad weather reds
The clouds loomed ominously on the second day and, once in the boat, water could be seen breaking across the bar from a distance. To Carl this was just another bar crossing and the skipper showed his skill by traversing the menacing looking bar with confidence – I’ve been through a few bars and that one was definitely pumping! Once outside the weather proved too challenging to jig for kings so the decision was made to look for calmer waters in search of some snapper. We hopped from spot to spot till we located a passage between two islands that featured a shallow reef which caused the waves to crash over a rock bar and fill the lee with white water. First drift through the hot zone saw a couple of plate sized fish falling to soft plastic shads and curl tail grubs. The fish in NZ don’t seem as fussy as here and it was amusing to watch half eaten plastics thrown back out and belted with gusto. I had a few casts and was hit hard on a chartreuse Slam grub – a lure that Carl suggested and one that I wouldn’t have normally selected but which turned out to be the star performer for the session. After a spirited battle a well conditioned snapper pushing 4.5 kilos was hoisted on board. On the other side of the boat a neat three kilo red was being fought courtesy of a double hook-up. Every drift through the passage produced some form of activity with snapper of varying sizes being landed by all on board. I threw out a Sebile Flatt Shad in hope of a bigger fish and thought I’d hooked the mother of all snapper until a hefty kingfish emerged after a lengthy battle on light gear. Before we knew it the time had gotten away from us and the day drew to an end with a respectable box of snapper for the local anglers to feast upon.

Cranking kingies
The third day out saw Carl and myself flying solo with the boat in the water pre-dawn to tackle the bar early. We collected a few live baits before punching to the wide grounds in search of a thumping big king. Upon arrival at the mark the sounder showed a hive of activity below with the first drop resulting in our jigs finding the mark on 15-20 kilo kings. The sea and weather made things challenging and after boating a few more smaller fish the jigging bite tapered off. After a promising start on the jigs it became apparent the fishing would be more of a challenge in the squally conditions so it was suggested I drop a live bait. After glancing at the sounder Carl suggested I let the bait travel down through five colours on the coloured braid. Sure enough, once it was let out about 50m the bait was thumped. Fishing circle hooks meant the fish did most of the work and once the line gained momentum I quickly engaged the reel and clamped down on the spool, mindful that the fish was nearing the bottom as two more colours of braid peeled off the reel under heavy drag. “Don’t let him hit the bottom bro, get a wind on him bro,” Carl urged. I was laughing at the banter while grimacing under the strain. It was a rugged battle and we were both surprised to see a fish of just under 20 kilos and punching well above its class surface a short while later. After a few more drifts we made a beeline for the Aldermen Islands and tangled with some smaller fish before calling it a day.

I wandered over to Carl’s place that evening and enjoyed the fruits of our day’s fishing with the master cooking up a superb kingfish dish before discussing the plan of attack for our last day on the water.

Lure of live baits
We were joined on the final day by a chap named Bill from the US. As is often the case on the final day of any trip, the weather was glorious with blue skies and calm seas greeting us as we pulled up to the bait grounds. After collecting a few yellowtail it was back out wide for another kingfish onslaught. Bill grabbed a jigging outfit while I decided to focus on baiting something big. First bait down landed in the mouth of a hungry 15kg fish, which set the pace for the rest of the morning with the next two baits lowered over the side finding the same sized fish almost immediately. After catching a few on baits I sat back and watched Bill receive the arm stretching welcome that big kings are renowned for. Live baits were outfishing jigs and after catching a few more kings we motored to one of Carl’s out-of-the-way spots on the off chance of bagging a hapuka. The hapuka were absent, however, some smaller kings menaced our baits and after catching a few fish each we headed towards the Aldermen Islands for one last drop before making our way home.

We battled the weather and worked hard for our fish but enjoyed fishing that far surpassed what I would normally expect for my home waters around Sydney. For an Aussie it was easy to see the appeal of the NZ fishery with greater numbers of a significantly larger average run of fish on offer. The Kiwi countryside has an alluring beauty while the kingfish and snapper had me longing for more. I had a wonderful time in Tairua and
Carl was a great host for what is no doubt the start of many trips across the ditch in the future!

Sami fished NZ courtesy of Carl Muir’s Epic Adventures. Go to for info. For details on staying in Tairua, go to

King tackle
TACKLE can be supplied by Epic Adventures but if you bring your own you should consider the following gear:
Jigging: 50 and 80lb jig outfits, 100 and 150lb fluorocarbon leader(connected via a friction knot like the PR knot), 200-300 gram jigs,spare assist hooks and jigging gloves.
Popping: 50 or 80lb popping outfit, 100 and 150lb fluorocarbon leaderplus an assortment of stickbaits and poppers in the 150-200mm length(during warmer months for top water kings).
Snapper: 20lb snapper outfit with 20lb fluorocarbon leader. Take3/8-1oz jig heads along with a selection of 5-7inch soft plastic jerkshads and curl tail grubs, plus some hard body sinking vibration lures.

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