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Yellowtail Kingfish

Out of all the fish Milan has chased around the world the Yellowtail Kingfish draws him back for more.

Scientific name: Seriola lalandi

Out of all the fish I have chased around the world the yellowtail kingfish draws me back for more. Kingfish make anglers refine all their skills to become successful in the challenge of hooking and landing these incredible fish. 

The yellowtail kingfish is located in the Pacific and Indian Ocean. There are 3 sub species, the California, Southern (New Zealand and Australia) and Asian yellowtail kingfish. The Southern species is the one that has taken my interest as it has been on my back door step, and it grows the biggest. They are widely distributed thought out the warmer waters of the southern hemisphere, but over the last few years some of the best fishing for these monster fish have been in the cooler waters around New Zealand in the middle of winter.

The Southern yellowtail kingfish can grow to around 2 meters long and 70kg, with New Zealand holding most of the world records. There are a few locations that have been made famous for massive kingfish, places like The Ranfurly Banks, Bay Of Plenty, Three Kings Islands, White Island and recently getting explored is the Wanganella Banks. All these areas are fishing meccas for massive kingfish. But it’s the inshore fishery that has driven my passion for these incredible fish.

Around New Zealand’s North Island and top of the South Island there are locations in the shallow waters where these big fish seem to take up resident. Over the years I have tried to explore these areas in the pursuit of hooking these powerful fish, and there are a few locations that have stood out from the rest: The Hauraki Gulf, Aotea Harbour, Bay of Plenty harbours, The Far North, and around d’Urville and Stephens Islands at the tip of the South Island.
These areas seem to produce bigger fish more regularly than most other places all at different times of the year. Some of these spots only fish well for a handfull of weeks, others have resident big fish all year round, and it’s just a matter of working them out.

Australia has also has a stronghold of massive kingfish that move into shallow water. Areas like Coffin Bay and Port Augusta hold solid populations of fish over winter and spring. Every year huge fish of 40kg plus are caught in water under one meter deep.

Kingfish are a schooling fish that stick together when smaller, and as they grow larger, they split into smaller groups. Even the massive fish seen haven’t always been solo fish but more in small packs of 3-5 fish.

People believe that kingfish hang out around structure, rocky out crops, reefs, or even just floating debris, and they are right, but kingfish are everywhere, in any depth of water, and that’s what makes this fish so versatile as a sport fish for most people.

If you find an area that has bait fish present then you’ll probably have kingfish moving in and out of the location at some stage of the tide, and don’t discount locations due to shallow water as we have witnessed packs of 20-30kg fish smashing mullet in water less than knee deep, and on more than one occasion hooked and landed these fish.

I remember one afternoon at Long Bay camp ground in the Coromandel watching a school of mullet in 300-400mm of water, then the next thing there is a 25kg kingfish charging in from the side and pushing half the school of fish up onto the beach. The coolest thing about this encounter was the knowledge that Long Bay is the same depth for about 100 meters, so this fish came in, unsighted, probably swimming on its side to feed on that school of mullet. From there it was the hundred meter dash with me hot on its tail, the fish couldn’t get its back under the water and was pumping a very impressive wake. The fish won its freedom, but it taught me a lot about the hunting techniques of kingfish, and the effort they will go to, in order to feed. The more times I spend in the shallows the more you get to witness cool acts of nature.


Left: Milan with a kingfish taken in half a meter of water on incoming tide, live baiting at Long Bay Coromandel. Right: Kingfish swimming in the shallows.

It’s not always live fish that kingfish are going to eat; they are also opportunists and will feed on all sorts of sea, life dead or alive. I was land based fishing the Waihi Harbour over summer; we were fishing the rocks at the mouth, right on the point with a massive current cranking past us. A kingfish turned up and positioned itself behind one of the rocks; every so often a paddle crab would be sucked around the corner and the kingfish would shoot out and grab it. The kingfish would have eaten 20 odd paddle crabs while we were there trying to catch it, we tried in vain to cast dead pilchards and live piper but the kingfish that would have been 20kg was not interested in anything except those damn paddle crabs.

Being opportunist means they will also consume dead baits. A lot of unsuspecting snapper fishermen hook up to kingfish and not just small fish but massive fish. You hear stories all the time of the one that got away, or spooled a reel in 30 seconds flat. We have been very successful catching them on whole dead baits and cubes sent down un-weighted in a berley trail, so always keep your mind open to ideas if kingfish turn up and won’t feed. 

The most common question people will ask is “how do you catch kingfish”, and the answer to that question is: start fishing for them.
There are a lot of people that fish who are waiting for the day to land a massive kingfish. That day can be just around the corner if you start fishing for them. There are a lot of New Zealander’s that are wicked snapper fishermen, as that’s what they fish for. They have the gear, bait and rigs for catching that species of fish, and that is what you have to do for kingfish. You have to set up to target kingfish.

Kingfish live in similar habitats as snapper but it’s a whole different world once you start getting ready to target kingfish, the biggest problem about starting is it’s very hard to stop. It took me years of trying before I landed my first land based and boat based kingfish over 20kg and even longer to get them over 30kg. But over the years I have refined my techniques to a point where hooking kingfish has become pretty much common place, landing them is still the big unknown. Kingfish fishing takes a while to learn just like any other spec’s on, it’s the little tiny things you change that can make an absolute world of difference. The smallest changes really can transform your kingfish fishing. 

Over the years chasing kingfish we have learned a few things that have made targeting these amazing fish a little easier. Kingfish aren’t the easiest fish to catch so keep everything simple. As once you feel you have worked them out, they will throw you another curved ball, especially when you’re chasing them in shallow water up along the coast. Over the coming months we will fill you in on our findings and observations and what has worked for us to catch trophy fish from shallow water to the deep water drop offs.

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#1 Jeremy Coombes 2015-12-03 07:52
Hey guys - As a fly fisherman who often fishes out of Raglan im really interested in your comment on Aotea harbour. What time of the year are the kingis in there? Chasing flounder i imagine?

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