• Published:January 6, 2015
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Kingfish pull like freight trains and will bring an angler to their knees. Few species excite southern anglers in Australia and New Zealand as much as the structure-loving "kingie." While boats offer the best access to kingfish hot spots, land-based anglers can also join the fun when the bite is on, as kingies are prolific and often venture quite close to shore in search of prey.

To clarify, the kingfish (or “kingie”) known to Australia and New Zealand anglers goes by “yellowtail” in the Americas. It’s a much different species than the American kingfish, which is a member of the mackerel family.


As an inshore coastal species, kingfish are very structure-oriented. They tend to favor reefs, sandy banks, ledges, rocky islands and manmade structure like wharves and navigation buoys.

Having a relatively predictable nature, kingies tend revisit specific haunts. In most cases, these spots are no secret and include Montague Island and the Banks along New South Wales’ south coast or Coffin Bay in South Australia. For land-based anglers, any rocky ledge in Southeastern Australia that drops away into deep water can house kingies.

When searching for kingie hot spots, it never hurts to drop in at the tackle shop or join a regional fishing forum to pick up some local knowledge. Otherwise, study marine charts to identify major structure that is subject to current. Kingfish will tend to stack up around the structure, facing into the current.

Kingfish spend a lot of their time near the bottom. A sounder is an essential tool that will help you locate not only the right fishing grounds, but also the fish themselves. Since they are a schooling fish, kingies show up really well on the sounder. Although there are variations between different sounders, kingfish will generally show up as a series of red arches or lines on color units. A fish finder is a vital tool when jigging for kingfish over deep reefs.
The one key point to finding kings is bait, and the more the better. Whether it’s schools of yakkas (scad) rippling on top or garfish stacked up in the shallows, when you find baitfish activity the predators won’t be far away.


Kingfish are very temperature-tolerant and can be found in water ranging from 16 to 25˚C, but are most comfortable in water around 19 to 23˚C. On Australia’s East Coast this means their movements are closely related to the East Australia Current. By monitoring changes in the current using FishTrack’s SST tools, you can often predict when and where the bite is going to happen. Pay particular attention to areas where the current spills in close to shore and pushes downhill.
"Just about every technique will work on kingfish, from fly-fishing to casting metal jigs. But if you want big ones your best bet is live-baiting."


Since they are such aggressive customers just about every technique will work on kingfish, from fly-fishing to casting metal jigs. But if you want big ones your best bet is live-baiting.

Slow-trolling or drifting with live baits like slimies (slimy mackerel) or yakkas can be deadly, but the kingie’s all time favorite prey is squid. Fished both alive and dead, squid is right at the top of the kingfish’s menu -- as long as it’s fresh. Don’t skimp and buy packaged squid from the bait store -- for best results squid should be caught and fished the same day.  

Regardless of which bait you use, carefully hook live baits in the nose, or in the case of squid, through the mantle. This will keep the baits alive and healthy for a longer period of time. Circle hooks can offer the best hook-up rate and since they always lock in around the kingfish’s jaw hinge they make catch-and-release fishing much easier

When slow-trolling live baits around headland and inshore reefs I like to run two outfits, one on a flat line and the other with a weight attached to hold the baits deeper in the water column. One trick I employ is to stop dead as soon as I mark fish on the sounder, which allows the weighted baits to quickly sink down to the fish.

In water deeper that 25 meters the best approach is to drift over specific spots like wrecks and reef edges where the fish are marking up. It is really important to use the sounder and GPS to get you right on top of the action, because you’ll sometimes have to put the bait right under the kingie’s nose before they’ll eat it.

During the cooler months large schools of kingfish will sometimes hold over deep reefs. Live baits will certainly work here, but when bait is hard to come by jigging is a great alternative. The new high-speed jigs are easy to use and the kings will climb all over them. If the fish are really on the chew you can expect to catch them all day on jigs -- or at least until you are completely worn out!

Kingfish will hit a wide range of offerings, but the basic rule is the deeper the water, the bigger the jig. Use the depth sounder to position the boat directly over the school and free-spool the jig right to the bottom, then crank it back relatively fast with a jerky stop-start action. Be warned though -- kingfish hit jigs like a prize fighter so be ready.

One remaining method worth mentioning is the highly exciting art of targeting kingfish with topwater lures. Poppers like the infamous Roosta popper can create some insane strikes when the kingies are on surface. Apart from targeting schools of surface-feeding fish, you can also score blind strikes with topwater lures when casting around rips and manmade structure like navigation markers.

Landing the kingfish is a whole new challenge, but that is half the fun of taking on the king of the reef. I guarantee you will enjoy the fight!