How to catch a Kingfish

There are a lot of kingfish all around the coast at the moment, and finding legal-sized fish over 75cm is usually not a problem

From the Bay of Islands to the Bay of Plenty, and the west coast wherever some structure can be found, there is no shortage of these magnificent fighting fish. At this time of year they can also be found in most harbours, including the Waitemata and Manukau Harbours.

While some kings are hooked by accident while dropping baits for snapper, they are easily targeted. For those anglers who like tossing lures you can cast stick baits or poppers around channel marker buoys, for kings will always be found hanging around such obstacles. They like anything which breaks up the flow of strong currents, even the thick wire which anchors the large buoys. The best time to try this fishing is at dead low tide, when the kings venture closer to the surface.

Jigs dropped down deep beside the buoys and rapidly retrieved will also attract kings, and the more action a jig displays the more likely they are to bite, so a vigorous action on the rod is recommended.

Another approach is to rig a dead piper on a short trace with a single live-bait hook through the head and a small ball sinker sliding above it. The beak of the piper can be poked into the hole in the sinker to hold it in place, and this bait is easily cast and should be wound in steadily. A jerk of the rod tip will vary the swimming action, and the piper works best when slid across the surface, simulating a live fish trying to escape.

Those anglers targeting large kings will drop live baits to the bottom when drifting over a deep pinnacle, and lively baits like a slimy mackerel or kahawai will provoke more strikes than more sluggish fish like jack mackerel or sprats. But they will all catch fish when the kings are in the mood. The live bait shoud be hooked through the nose so it can be pulled down by the sinker. When presented on the surface, tethered to a balloon, the bait is hooked through the skin in front of the dorsal fin. And the balloon should be attached to the top of the swivel between the line and trace, and if dental floss is used it can break away when a fish is hooked.

Similarly, the sinker can be attached to the swivel with floss when sending a bait down deep, so the sinker can break off and you can play the fish without the weight on the line.

Speed jigging is another popular method of fishing over pinnacles and reefs, and kings are easily identified on the screen of the fish finder as a red mass on top of the rock or reef. It is then up to the skipped to position the boat so it drifts over the school of fish, taking into account the direction of the tidal current and wind.

Fly fishermen also target kingfish on trout rods, and this can be done by casting towards a channel marker and stripped the line in quickly. Flies are long, thin blue and white patterns which resemble a small bait fish and can be found at specialist fly fishing shops. Another approach which is gaining in popularity is to wade the shallows and look for cruising sting rays. Kingfish will follow a ray, waiting for it to disturb a small flounder which they chase and catch. Small flounder, called dabs, are  popular prey for many predators including snapper. This technique is being adopted by specialist fly casters on the edges of the Manukau Harbour, at the head of the Waitemata Harbour and in the South Island in Golden Bay. It is exciting fishing, and on a fly rod a kingfish provides a spectacular battle.

Kingfish make excellent eating, and can be bled by running a sharp knife around the membrane which surrounds the gills. They will bleed excessively, so a rope through the mouth and gills will secure it so it can be hung over the side of the boat.

Then they can be sliced into steaks, through the body of the fish if it is not too large; or the fillets removed from each side and cut into tubes which can then be diced into steaks or cubes for pan frying or curries. A Thai green curry is easily put together by heating the paste in a wok, adding the fish cubes and tossing to seal them, then adding coconut milk to finish. It is quick and the fish should be just cooked, like a rare steak.

Sliced vegetables like capsicum add colour and texture but anything can be included, from tomatoes to onions or pre-cooked potatoes. And kingfish makes very good sashimi, sliced thinly after being chilled. It is important to discard the line of dark flesh against the skin, which is actually fat and very strong in flavour.


Cicadas are still vibrant in the back country and the continuing warm weather also stimulates insect hatches, providing some exciting fly fishing. On the Rotorua-Taupo lakes the better trout are deep – at 20-30 metres – and jigging or deep trolling is producing the best results. On Lake Tarawera some well-conditioned fish of two kilos or more are being taken on black tobies at 30 metres.

Bite times

Bite times are 7.55am and 8.25pm tomorrow and 8.40am and 9.45pm on Sunday.

Tip of the week

Kingfish are tough fish and are easily released but will have a better chance of survival if a tool is used to remove the hook while the fish is still in the water. They can be held for a photo, but the stomach should be supported to reduce the chance of internal injury as fish were not designed to support their own weight out of water.