If you went into the ring with Mike Tyson what would you do? Would you go the 12 rounds and hope to survive, or would you try to get the first punch in and knock him out in 5 seconds?
Battling huge kingfish on a fly rod is as close as most of us ever get to boxing and facing a legendary fighter. It’s one on one, the ring is a boat, and your opponent is the mighty yellowtail kingfish.
In early October, the kings start to school up and make their way to the spawning grounds. By mid October, they appear in little schools on the outer reefs and by late October, it’s all on.
The first ones to arrive are the best ones. Big and angry, maybe a bit anxious about moving in from the depths to hunt the shallows and finding the right girlfriends for the season. They also need to adapt to the new food sources after having been feeding on deepwater squid, ruby fish and small barracoutas.
Dinner now mainly contains of small arrow squid, mackerel, flying fish and a mix of reef fish. As the water slowly heats up, schools of bait fish join the menu card.
Being there to watch the first big kingfish arrive is for me the highlight of the year. It’s a fun game and an amazing nature study to sneak out at early morning and throw some big hookless poppers around. As the big kings haven’t had any fishing pressure for around 6 months, they don’t care about the boat, anglers or anything. When the popper is retrieved fast to the boat, it is not unusual to have 10-20 monster kingfish crashing into the boat in their attempt to catch the noisy popper. Dipping a fly into this mayhem is a moment of fear and joy.
Squid Sign Language
Getting a big king to eat a fly is the easy part. If the kingfish are surface active, all we do is look at the slaughter house and see what’s being slaughtered. Squid or “kingfish candy” as I call them are the preferred food source. Any kingfish will go to extremes to get a feed of squid.
It’s amazing to watch the squid trying to outsmart the kings, not something they have a lot of luck in, though. The squid try small jumps, colour changes, fast turns and all sorts, but the mighty king is a heartless hunter. Usually when the squid changes colour to a rusty red colour, it means “I’m 2 seconds away from being swallowed by a big yellow tailed monster!”
This is a useful trick to use in our fly tying. White squid fly means “I’m a dead squid”. Pearl squid fly means ”I’m a happy squid” and a rusty coloured squid fly means that you are 2 seconds away from hooking up to the fish of your dreams.
When the kingfish are feeding on flying fish, the fly rodder faces a different challenge. The fish move so fast that we can charge around all day without ever getting a decent shot. It’s amazing to watch though, as a flying fish starts its 75mtr low flight with several big pressure waves following underneath.
I hope they will never evolve into flying longer than that as it’s highly amusing to watch as gravity settles the poor flying fish’s fate. We have experimented with flying fish imitations and chased them around throwing ridiculous flies, but haven’t been too successful. It seems to produce more strikes when fishing big deceivers high in the water.
Flying fish like to seek a bit of shelter around current lines as there are always bits of weed where food and safety exists. Kingfish know this, and patrolling current lines is all in a day’s routine of a kingfish. Poppers and big deceivers are the weapon of choice; however its hard work though casting big flies on 12-14 weights and the angler needs to save energy for the fight.
Over the last four seasons I have seen an increase in huge sunfish turning up. At first glance in the distance they look like big cruising hammerheads with their big dorsal fin out of the water. I used to ignore these enormous, pre-historic strange creatures until the day I saw a few kingfish cruising with one.
Kingfish, just like mahi-mahi, are suckers for floating objects, they love swimming around a channel marker, a moored boat and to my surprise also around huge sunfish. Another surprise was that there can sometimes be lots of kingfish with a sunfish. Yet another surprise was the size of some of the kingfish swimming with sunfish.
Now, I will guaranty that any sunfish, no matter the size, will get a lot of attention. Some with a smile on their face have been asking if a sunfish can be caught on a fly?? I will leave it with the reader to invent a jellyfish imitation and a 200weight fly rod for the purpose.
When no surface action is in sight, it doesn’t mean that there are no kingfish present. All they are doing is cruising the reef, waiting for another portion of food to travel through. They can still be teased up with hookless poppers or hookless jigs, but they are a bit harder to excite. In this “in between meals” situation, a deep slow retrieved bulky fly is the trick of the century. It requires a lot of patience from the angler to let a fly sink down 15-20 meters, but it’s well worth the effort as a lot of our big fish are being hooked this way.
Unfortunately a hookup down deep means a huge advantage to the king as the reef is just meters away, and short process is often the outcome.
This was the first article on chasing trophy kingfish on fly (saltwater fly fishing). Read the second part: Kingfish on Fly - The Take & Fight