Yellowtail Kingfish - the king of the sea
by Ron McBain
As I sit here and write this article, my mind goes back to a half hour ago, when one of our customers brought into the shop to show us a truly magnificent fish - a 20 kg Yellowtail Kingfish.
This person was fortunate to boat three others - not quite as big - and also had some others break him off. This was on or about the 15th of March. Many anglers have heard of Yellowtail Kingfish, but have never seem one, let along catch one. Here's some info which I hope can help you out.
Yellowtail Kingfish - of "Kingies" as they are referred to often - are a fish found in all Australian states. They are an elongated shape, while some of the larger fish can be fatter - more like an Albacore in shape. Colour of dark blue to purple above, silvery below, the two colours separated by a broad yellowish-green longitudinal band. This spinous dorsal and pectoral fins are light bluish, the other fins including the tail are yellow. The Kingies are a totally different fish from the Yellowfin Tuna. Kingies are a schooling fish; where there is one there are usually a lot more.
Locations -Tamar River
They are usually an ocean fish, but will often come into the rivers estuaries. I know of one fish that was caught underneath the Batman Bridge, and sometimes we hear of them caught of the Tamar jetties, but they are mostly caught around the Tamar heads area. A boat is a big advantage, but land based game fisherman have caught them off rocks at West Head. Kingfish often are found over reefs, or near pilons. The farewell beacons at Low Head are an area where many have been caught over the years. Most of the Tamar Kingies are around 3-4 kg fish, but they have been caught up to around 25 kg and bigger ones seen!
The fish written about at the beginning were caught on a reef off Bridport. Waterhouse Island is another popular area, especially the northern end. Cape Portland area also.
The East Coast
Kingies have at times been caught by game fisherman trolling for Tuna of various places on the East Coast. The major areas being the mouth of the St.Georges Bay at St. Helens, and the Freycinet Peninsula.
Basically they're a fish caught all around Tasmania, with emphasis on the northern half including King and Flinders Islands. They feed on fish like Mackerel, Salmon, Squid etc. Look for reefs, drops offs, underwater pinnacles etc, where baitfish like these often congregate.
The Gear - Boat
On a pound-for-pound basis, Kingfish are one of the strongest fighting fish in our waters. Anyone who has caught one will know why they are often called the kings of the sea. When hooked, the first thing they will do is dive into the nearest clump of kelp or refuge they can, often breaking the line in the process. For this reason a line of 15- 24 kg is recommended, especially when fishing for 10 kg plus fish. Smaller specimens do provide great fun or light gear, but you never know when that bigger one will strike. I've had two separate fish on for an hour, only to lose them on 12 lb line. If one does choose to fish with a light line, it would be important to at least use a nylon trace of about 2 feet of about 24 kg. Tuna type of rods and reels should be used, either for trolling, jigging or bait fishing.
Usually when fishing off the shore, one tries to get together his bait or lure out some distance. The heavier line can make this quite hard to do but using a balloon to take the bait out, on using the tide on the current, can do the job okay. But when spinning with lures often you don't have much choice and have to use lighter line, perhaps around 7 - 10 kg. Use a good quality spinning on a overhead casting reel. Most tackle stores should be able to provide more information on selecting the right rod and reel for you.
Kingies can feed on the bottom, they can be feeding on fish on or near the surface, but usually they're a midwater fish. There are different methods to fish for them; some methods may work one day but not the next.
Live bait is probably (but not always) the way to go for the big ones. Most of the Kingfish mentioned at the onset were caught using this method. Small to medium sizes like Mullet, Salmon, Mackerel etc make ideal bait. Usually a 4/0 - 6/0 size beak hook placed behind the dorsal fin, but above the backbone, will keep the fish alive for hours. Don't use a sinker - just let him swim around. A balloon will often help when fishing off the shore.
If live bait is unobtainable, then fresh bait is the next best thing. Whole small Squid, Pilchards, Garfish often work, but often when slowly trolled.
Three types of lures are used - jigging, trolling or casting. Jigging is a method of lure fishing where the line is dropped down on or near the bottom. The lure is then retrieved in strong upward pulls while winding the line in, or can be simply bounced along by lifting the rod tip and lowering down again continuously. If targeting Kingfish try a midwater depth, but be prepared to try different depths. A heavy metal type of lure is usually used for this - such as a Pilchard - shaped lure or a silver coloured sliced lure, usually about 85 - 125 g in weight.
Trolling enables you to cover a lot more ground. Lures representing Pilchards or Squid often do good, including many Tuna lures on the market. The bibbed types of lures are the most popular.
Spinning with metal fish shaped lines off the rocks or out of a boat is the best method. One popular one on the market is called a popper. It represents a baitfish being chased across the top of the water and can be used for trolling or casting. Generally speaking, lures or baits 6- 8 ins are normally used. Kingies will also take saltwater flies.
As with a lot of fish, its important to bleed the fish soon after capture, preferably cleaning it straightaway, or at least keep it cool. Kingfish, as mentioned, are a schooling fish. If you catch one, try keeping it in the water for a while whilst still alive. Quite often other fish from the school will be seen following the hooked fish around. Time to drop down and jig!
Try different speeds when trolling. A couple of customers were trying their luck at Waterhouse Island, trolling for Kingfish but hadn't done any good. They decided to try the other side of the island, so they sped up the boat, but didn't bother to wind in the lures. A couple of minutes later they had three Kingies in the boat.
Look for schools of baitfish. Kingfish could well be underneath the schools having a great feed.
Finally, keep only what you need.