Kingfish destination: Sydney

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The KISS method of fishing worked like clockwork when the TrailerBoat team took on the Sydney kings.

Kingfish destination: Sydney

How many times have you heard fishermen talk about the "good old days?" You know the talk that usually goes something like this: "… I remember when the snapper were so big they had knobs on their heads like footballs." The most disturbing thing about these tales is that most of them are true.

Take Sydney’s kingfish population. In the ‘70s, 10 to 15kg kingies were the norm, and anyone with livebait who fished the close-inshore reefs usually had a good chance of catching a 25kg whopper. Then, along came the pros, armed with floating kingfish traps, and within 10 years the kingfish populations were decimated, seemingly disappearing overnight.

Thankfully, the NSW Government came to its senses in the early ‘90s, banning floating fish traps and buying back many pro licences. Slowly, the fish populations recovered, and Sydney has once again regained the title of "Kingfish Central". And, yes, you can now catch 10kg kingfish on the reefs and headlands in and around Sydney Harbour. The best part? It’s not as difficult as you think.

"No run, no fun" is a phrase most offshore fishos understand well. It basically means that the fish go off the bite if there’s no current running. It’s a fact the TrailerBoat team proved on a recent kingie expedition with renowned Sydney angler Alistair McGlashan.

After catching enough live slimy mackerel inside the harbour for a day’s fishing, we headed north to Long Reef and fished a patch of reef that only a few days earlier had produce kings to 12kg. The current had moved further offshore and on this day all we could manage was a mongrel sergeant baker.

We had little choice but to bite the bullet and punch out to The Peak, straight into the teeth of a 20kts south-easterly. It was a bumpy ride in Al’s Haines Hunter 600R, but it was a worthwhile trip, with the current running over this reef and the fish congregating in droves.

There are several different ways to catch kingies, including jigging with metal jigs, jigging with fresh squid heads rigged below a shiny metal jig, and straight bait fishing. However, by far the most effective method is livebaiting. And what’s the best livebait? Slimy mackerel.

Now some readers may scratch their heads at this, preferring live yakkas. However, unlike yellowtails, slimies don’t have spikes, so the kingies don’t have to turn the bait and swallow it head first. This means the hook-up rate’s better because they can take the bait from any angle.

Speaking of better hook-ups, these days I prefer to use circle hooks, because they pin the fish in the corner of the mouth every time.

A standard livebait hook tends to hook the fish down in the throat, making them harder to release, not to mention the risk of sometimes damaging the fish as you try to get the hook out.

The rig we used for livebaiting is very basic, using 80lb super braid down to 1m of 100lb mono leader. If the fish get finicky, a leader of a lighter breaking strain can be used. The sinker runs freely down to the top of the leader and we pin the livebaits through the nose – quick, simple and highly effective.

The baits are dropped to the bottom, before being bought back up a few turns so they swim clear of the reef. These days I use a large threadline reel and fish with the bail open, holding the line with first finger. When you feel a kingie grab the bait, let the line go and give the fish time to swallow the slimy. Wait five to 10 seconds and then close the bail and hang on.

At this stage of the fight it’s imperative that you don’t give the fish an inch. You have to learn how to short stroke (a short, sharp, pump and wind action) the fish up off the bottom before it cuts you off on the reef. It’s hard work, because these fish can really pull, but it’s also great fun and kingies are excellent on the barbecue.

Thankfully, on this trip we were only fishing in 36 fathoms. I clearly remember fishing the drop off around Lord Howe Island. The fish, most in the 20 to 30kg bracket, were 500ft down. Getting them to the surface after a strike that nearly rips your arms from their sockets (again on 80lb braid) was bloody hard work.

We stayed on The Peak for a few hours and hooked and released our fair share of good kings, although most of the fish on the day were "rats" of around 70cm. But there were many big "arches" marking on the sounder, so the bigger guys are definitely still around. Only one fish was kept for the table.

The Peak is a small section of reef about 5nm off Botany Bay and it can get crowded there on a fine Saturday morning. But on this blustery winter’s day we almost had it to ourselves, save for a pro hand-liner and one other boat.

It’s quite an iconic fishing spot that I can remember fishing many times back in the ‘70s. Back then, this is where you went to chase marlin and yellowfin tuna (my biggest fin there was 85kg), but that’s changed a bit now. If you want good fin you have to travel the 40nm out to Browns Mountain, but at least the kingies have come back in good numbers.

The rig I describe for livebaiting was pretty basic and the "keep it simple stupid" (KISS) system we used for trolling for kings is just as easy. Trolling the cliff faces around The Heads is normally a productive way of scoring a few fish and is always worth a try on your way back in.

We used the same rig that we used for livebaiting the reef. Because the running sinker is attached with a rubber band, it’s easy to cut off. Again we pinned the baits through the nose in front of the eyes and slow-trolled them behind the boat. On this occasion we left the lead on one line to get the bait down a bit. If you run out of livebaits, trolling big, deep-diving lures can be just as effective here.

Another dynamite way of scoring a big king is to troll live squid from a downrigger. For this we used a two hook rig. The top, or towing hook, is pinned through the back of the squid’s flute and the second is placed just behind the head. This allows the squid to swim "straight", even after it dies, presenting an attractive bait. There are few big kings that can resist a fresh live squid, even one trolled over a shallow reef.

Catching live squid is relatively easy and the best place to start looking is around rocky outcrops and weed beds. Squid jigs (imitation prawns) can also be cheaply purchased at any tackle store. Colour doesn’t seem to matter, but a medium-size squid jig works well for me. Simply cast the jig towards the rocks/weed bed, let it sink a bit, and work it back to the boat with a jerky erratic movement. The squid think it’s their favourite food (prawns) and will strike with gusto.

There’s also a bit of an art to bringing a squid onboard if you don’t want to wear a face full of black ink – and believe me, it’s a nightmare to clean out of your boat. What you have to do once you get the squid to the side of the boat is use a long-handle net to jab into the water behind the squid. The squid will normally release the jig and fire off its ink as it shoots backwards into the net. This kills two birds with one stone because you land the squid and don’t get slimed (inked).

Catching slimy mackerel is also relatively easy if you have a good colour sounder, since you have to find the fish before you can catch them. On this occasion we found a large school of slimies holed up in a small bay down towards The Spit inside the harbour. They showed on the screen as a big red ball.

Go up current from the school, berley with a little bread to bring them to the surface and use a small handline with a chemically-sharpened long-shanked hook, baited with a small piece of flesh bait. A small split shot is all that’s needed to get your bait down to the school. Once you get the fish around the boat, it doesn’t take long to catch enough slimies for the day.

So, spend the time finding the bait and you’ll reap the rewards out on the reef.

As a footnote, if you want a real fishing buzz, check out Al’s Strikezone Yellowtail Kingfish DVD. It clearly explains everything you need to know about catching kingfish, but wait… there’s more! The underwater footage Al shot with his Strikecam video will blow you away. You can actually see a slimy mackerel being slow trolled through the water, which is cool, but have a look at what’s behind it. If they didn’t have an underwater video running the boys would never have known that there were literally hundreds of kingfish swimming around following the bait. And one cheeky bugger actually swipes the bait without hooking up.


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