Yellowtail – King of Broken Water – Milford Sound, Fiordland

Yellowtail – King of Broken Water by Dick Marquand

The yellowtail kingfish, or kingi as it is known in New Zealand game fishing circles, would rate as one of the hardest fighting species of game fish available to the light tackle angler.

The yellowtail kingfish, or kingi as it is known in New Zealand game fishing circles, would rate as one of the hardest fighting species of game fish available to the light tackle angler.

The fish is purplish-blue above, fading to silvery white below. It is easily recognised by the brilliant yellow tail fin and the brass coloured stripe that runs along the median line of the fish. The lateral line ends with a caudal keel stabiliser on the caudal peduncle. This member of the jack family (Carangidae) differs from the tuna family (Scombridae) in that there are no scuts or finlets in front of the tail fin. The second dorsal fin and the anal fin extend almost to the tail.

All Tackle World Record

The Yellowtail is found throughout New Zealand’s coastal waters, particularly in the famous North Island game fishing grounds. The All-Tackle World Record is an amazing tie with a 52kg (114lb 10oz) fish taken on 15kg gear at Mount Maunganui by Dr Mike Godfrey on 5 February 1984, and an identical 52kg fish from White Island taken on 24kg gear by David Lugton on 9 January 1987. This species also appears along the Fiordland coast from November until June, in fact, it is likely that it could be resident all year round. The yellowtail lives close to reefs and breaking waters where it hunts singly or in small groups preying on various schooling and small reef-dwelling fishes.

Although the Fiordland Game Fishing Club Record for yellowtail kingfish stands at only 2O.87kg (46lb), I have seen two of around 32kg (7Olb) amongst the kelp and broken water at St Annes Point, on the south side of the mouth of Milford Sound. This area is a hot spot, however, if you decide to troll in close to these rocks, watch the waves and watch for bricks. It would be a perfect place to stand off and cast inshore with some of your editor’s poppers.

St Annes Point

Although the yellowtail can be taken on a wide variety of cast or trolled lures, jigs, plugs and poppers, by far the most effective method that I have, is using live bait such as yelloweye mullet or kahawai. With live bait, make sure that you use a kirbed shank game hook and ensure the gape of the hook is the same as the width of the head of the proposed baitfish. The hook should be placed through the back just under the dorsal fin, and care should be taken not to damage the spine as this will quickly kill ‘the bait and in doing so reduce its efficiency. Yellowtail usually takes the bait head first, although I once saw a big fish of over 32kg (70lb) take a kahawai tail first.

Ralph Brown with a record 15.5kg yellowtail taken close to St. Annes Point on 6kg gear.

I consider that 6kg or 10kg gear is the ideal weight of tackle to use on Fiordland yellowtail. A steel trace is not required, in fact, it is my opinion that this tends to spook shy fish. I find that monofilament of around 30kg breaking strength makes the ideal leader material.

When hooked, the yellowtail will generally attempt to swim into kelp beds or amongst rocks, consequently fouling the angler’s line. When one takes a bait in such a location, the skipper should start the motor and slowly
head away from the foul ground with the angler “leading ” the fish. Once clear of the kelp and rocks, and out in deeper water, then the angler can get
stuck in working the tackle to its extreme.

Feather jigs can be trolled at higher speeds.

I used to think that the best trolling speed for yellowtail was as slow as possible, however, I was proved wrong by game fishing experts Peter Goadby and the late Sir William Stevenson.

The big diesel motor on Samara was turning over at 1700 revs and we were doing around 12 knots, too fast for yellowtail I thought. We were trolling five lines, all equipped with Peter’s Sevenstrand Konahead lures. The day was overcast and the sea had a light sou’west swell running. As we passed close to some rocks at the north end of Poison Bay, a fish struck at one of the Konas. Sir William took the strike and, after a short fight, Peter wired and I gaffed the yellowtail which later weighed in at 9.53kg (21lb).

High-speed Lures for Yellowtail Kingfish

Half an hour later, we made another pass close to these rocks and had another strike. This time Peter did the honours and landed a yellowtail which went 7.26kg (16lb). These high speed lures certainly worked well and, when trolled at a high speed, they left a fine trail of bubbles in our wake that obviously excited game fish. I had to admit defeat to my Australian friend, Peter had proved his point.

Just to rub it in, we did another run past these rocks and, this time, four lures were taken in a confusion of straining rods and screaming reels. Dr Pat Farry lost his fish and Peter’s line broke after a bad tangle involving three lines plaited tightly together. With Peter’s line out of the way, we soon untangled the remaining lines and after a short fight, Sir William landed a 6.8kg (15lb) yellowtail and I landed one of 6.35kg (14lb). These were only small fish but they were welcome after several days of little action.

Peter certainly rubbed it into me, but I heard Sir William poking a bit of borax at Peter. “How many of the four strikes did we land?” he asked.

“Two of the four,” I replied.

“If we had been in Australia we would have landed five out of the four,” said Sir William.

Bluewater angling author Peter Goadby showed the boys on Samara a few things about catching yellowtail.

Peter pretended he didn’t hear and gazed out to sea. There is a saying that goes like this. “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear to be an idiot, rather than open your mouth and remove all doubt.” If ever there was a day I should have remembered this, it was the day I was fishing with my good friend Geoff McDonald.

We had been trolling lures around the Tasman Sea all morning without results, so I decided to head in close to St Annes Point and see what the broken water would produce. After replacing my Rapala CD 18 plug with a feather jig, I took over at the wheel and headed Samara in towards the exposed kelp beds and wave-swept rocks. I then opened my mouth.

“You’ll have more luck on feather jigs”

“Geoff, change your lure, you’ll have more luck with a feather jig. Kingies prefer feather jigs to Rapalas.”

“No, she’s right Dick,” he replied, “I’ll leave the Rapala on and prove you wrong.”

Rapala CD18

On the first run close to the rocks at St Annes Point, Geoff’s Penn Senator 4/0 screamed like a siren as something took his blue and silver CD 18 Rapala plug. As he lifted the straining 10kg rod from the rod holder, I cut the throttle and raced back into the cockpit to retrieve the remaining lures. Geoff worked his gear to the limit and twenty minutes later an exhausted yellowtail lay alongside Samara. The fish later weighed in at 16.6.kg (36.5lb).

“See Dick, that kingy took the Rapala just like I said.”

“Smart arse,” I joked, “I wonder who you are going to fish with next season.”

One Easter a few years ago, I was fishing on Samara with Ralph Brown at the mouth of Milford Sound. We were trolling five lures including two Rapala CD 18s, one on 6kg and the other on 10kg outfit. As we passed close to the rocks at St Annes Point, my 10kg Fenwick graphite game rod took an awesome bend with the Penn International reel screaming as line melted from the spool.

Samara was kept underway and sure enough, the 6kg rod bent back as the other Rapala was taken. I took the 10kg rod and yelled to Ralph to take the other rod. Within five seconds, the lure pulled out and my fish was gone and as Ralph was still tight into his opponent, I quickly wound in the remaining lines and went back to the wheel.

When wet, the feathers pack down tight.

Six-kilogram breaking strength is pretty light line, but Ralph did a sterling effort handling the gear and, after a fight that lasted about 30 minutes, he pumped a beautiful yellowtail alongside Samara. The fish weighed in at 15.5kg (34lb), and is still the Fiordland Game Fishing Club Record for 6kg gear.

A word of warning before you decide to pursue the yellowtail – this species inhabits foul ground, exposed coastline, rocky headlands and wave-swept rocks, so get to know the area that you intend to fish. Don’t let old yellowtail lure you into a dangerous situation that you can’t get out of.

This yellowtail all but inhaled the blue and silver Rapala CD 18 plug.

This post was last modified on 04/01/2021 11:38 pm

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