New Zealand Sea Fishes

Kingfish, Yellowtail – Seriola lalandi – How to catch yellowtail kingfish

Yellowtail Kingfish – Hard fighting premier New Zealand gamefish by Allan Burgess and Dick Marquand

Also known as Kingi (New Zealand) Yellowtail Amberjack (Canada, USA). Believed to be increasing in numbers around the South Island as sea temperatures rise.

Small yellowtail kingfish, often referred to by anglers as a rat king, weighing about 6kg caught off the Banks Peninsula.

Look for kingfish around rocky headlands, under kelp, near marker buoys, and below schools of kahawai and barracouta. They are very powerful fighters. I can best describe playing a kingfish as like having an “enormous kahawai” on the line – though kingfish don’t jump. They are also regarded as dirty fighters and will look to take your lure into the rocks or kelp to break your line. Their first runs are particularly powerful. Many anglers report losing kingfish early in the fight as their line is invariably wrapped around some underwater obstacle.

David Tattle, a member of the Canterbury Sport Fishing Club, with an enormous yellowtail kingfish weighing in excess of 70 pounds taken near French Pass, D’Urville Island, at the top of the South Island of New Zealand.

Kingfish caught at the mouth of the Waimakariri River

Yellowtail kingfish from the Waimakariri River mouth. Photo courtesy of Keith Gallagher.

Although we are unsure about the identity of the angler one thing is certain; he is a very good fisherman. He landed this big yellowtail kingfish on salmon/kahawai gear whilst fishing at the mouth of Canterbury’s Waimakariri River, on 6th January 2012.

The big kingfish was taken on a 20 lb monofilament line and a little 28-gram zed spinner. This is the standard tackle and lure used when salmon fishing.

The kahawai are chasing baitfish including sprats and silveries. Kingfish are chasing the kahawai. All a case of eating or be eaten.

There have been large numbers of kahawai off Canterbury river mouths this summer. I haven’t seen them in these numbers for some years. Kahawai are a great fish to target on light line being powerful acrobatic fighters. 

A few kingfish are caught on rod and reel each year in Canterbury. But it is very unusual for one to be taken at a river-mouth by an angler spin fishing for kahawai or salmon. Some kingfish are taken by boat anglers fishing out of Motunau. I have also had reports in recent years of yellowtail kingfish being taken in Otago Harbour. Could this be the result of warmer sea temperatures? Perhaps there is another reason for the increase in numbers of kahawai around South Island over the past decade.

Congratulations to the angler. He is now a member of an elite group of anglers having caught a yellowtail kingfish at the Waimakariri River mouth on light gear.

Kahawai anglers at the Waimakariri River mouth. There must be more yellowtail kingfish out there somewhere! A few Canterbury anglers are now targeting them at this location..

Tackle and Rigs

They seem to travel in schools of similar-sized fish. Most kingfish caught in Canterbury have been around 20 lbs but they can grow much bigger. David Tattle speared one in the Marlborough Sounds that would have gone over 70 lbs!

You can fish for kingfish with live bait under a balloon. This method works best when fishing from rocky headlands directly into deep water. Pick a fishing spot where kingfish can reasonably be expected to be present. In Canterbury, there are few places suitable for the live bait method. I’ve tried it at Black Rock, Taylors Mistake, with live mullet, but could only catch barracouta.

The kingfish that have been caught in Canterbury waters are mostly taken jigging, with a few also caught on surface poppers. Both the jig and the popper imitate fleeing baitfish. Kingfish generally don’t take cut baits. Though whole dead baits work well in deeper water; they aren’t so good for shore-based fishing. But are worth trying under a balloon if you have seen kingfish and can’t catch a live kahawai or mullet.

Yellowtail kingfish prefer to chase their food. They seem to go after the fittest and fastest baitfish. You need to keep this in mind when fishing your popper or jig. I’ve been aboard launches in the outer Marlborough Sounds targeting kingfish. Looking down into crystal clear water they shoot under the boat from all directions at incredible speed. It’s just amazing how fast they can swim. I’d say 40 kph would be no problem to them. When kingfish are present wind your reel flat-out! This greatly increases your chances of a strike!

Kingfish are not only great fighters on rod and line; they are also excellent eating fish. This one will provide many delicious fish meals.

Warning! Winding a 6:1 high-speed reel flat-out will see the jig break the surface and come aboard like “sniper fire.” Double your braided line and tie with a spider hitch to give a 30cm double. The knot helps warn of the jig’s “arrival” at the surface. It also pays to thread 60mm of soft rubber tube onto the line to act as a shock-absorber to stop the coast lock/bearing swivel from damaging your rod tip.

What usually happens in Canterbury is that the angler will be bottom fishing from a boat when kingfish are suddenly spotted on the surface. This generates much excitement! This is followed by a hurried search through the tackle box for a jig. More often than not the kings don’t hang around for very long. The sooner you can cast something to them the better!

A good size yellowtail.

The jig can be tied directly to a loop on the end of your braided line. This works fine except for one thing: barracouta! Also known as Cook Strait sailfish, snakes, and other things we won’t go into! These horrible long silver things have very sharp teeth that will make a mess of your braided line. They also swim about with their mouth’s open and so can damage line some distance from the jig. The best way of minimising damage from a barracouta is to fish with a heavy monofilament leader. The length of which should be about rod tip to reel seat, a length of about 1.2 metres. Use heavy mono 200 to 400 lb. The barracouta will mark the heavy mono with their teeth but won’t be able to cut through it very easily!

When jig fishing the method most widely used is to drop the jig to the bottom and wind it rapidly back to the surface. Then repeat. The best weight for jigs is between 125 g and 200 g. The heavier jigs sink faster and so give you more opportunities to send it past a hungry kingi.

Yellowtail kingfish taken in Canterbury waters. It has been frozen!

The 125 g jigs can be cast on a popper rod (soft tip jig rod) and be fished somewhere between a jig and a popper! Shimano’s TSM IV star drag reels are excellent for this. Keep the spool tight or you are sure to get a “bird’s nest” at the worst possible moment!

A strongly built eggbeater reel is a safer option when targeting kingfish with a surface popper. There is no danger of a “bird’s nest” casting into the wind. Use at least 25 lb mono on the reel as good kingfish will be extremely difficult to stop.

When fishing a surface popper a shorter leader is required of about 500mm of 100kg mono. Anything longer is difficult to cast. Fishing 80 lb braid, with 200 kg monofilament leader, and a heavy jig adds up to pretty heavy gear! Sooner or later the hook will snag on

Kingfish rigs.

the bottom and this heavy gear will be difficult to pull free. Carry a short length of dowel in your pocket and wrap the braid around it to pull the hook free of the rocks or kelp. Don’t use your rod or reel. They aren’t designed for such treatment and can easily be broken.

If you are fishing over foul ground try creating a “weak­link” by using a single hook, lighter gauge hooks, or slightly lighter gauge split rings. Unfortunately, such weakness in your gear can easily be “found out” by a good kingfish. D’Urville Island Wilderness Resort.

Some jig losses are inevitable. Like salmon angling: some days you can lose plenty of jigs, while on other days none at all. If going out on an extended trip after kingfish it would be good policy to take at least a dozen jigs per angler. Sometimes you can lose them one after the other. The rigging method shown here should at least reduce losses from barracouta.

Poppers are not likely to snag on the bottom but are still lost occasionally by hooking up in kelp, or as I have done, accidentally cast halfway up a hillside and stuck in the bushes!

Darryl French with a 35-pound specimen taken at French Pass, in the Outer Marlborough Sounds.

Above all, you have to be ready to catch a kingfish. Have your rod sitting in a rocket launcher with either a jig or popper already clipped on ready to fish. Secure the hook to the reel seat: don’t let it bang around and damage your rod. If one of the crew suddenly yells “kingfish” being able to get your gear in the water first can make all the difference! If you have to waste time tying on a jig the kingfish could be gone before you can tie a knot.

It is likely that very few yellowtail kingfish are caught off the Canterbury coast because recreational anglers generally don’t target fish for them. A yellowtail kingfish was caught at the mouth of Canterbury’s Waimakariri River on 6 January 2012 by an angler spin fishing for kahawai or salmon.

The yellowtail kingfish is an extremely powerful fighter when caught on rod and reel. They will take dead baits but are more likely to be hooked on live bait such as mullet, kahawai and flying fish.

Kingfish will also take a rapidly retrieved jig or surface popper. Also, takes a trolled lure – Rapalas in particular.

Caught around the North Island and Upper South Island. They are a recognised game fish species. When hooked they will head to the bottom with a hugely powerful run. They have a habit of “busting-off” line on rocks with many fish being hooked and lost.

Rapala CD Magnum: Top 18cm Dorado, 14cm Blue Mackerel and 9cm Red Head. All will take kingfish.

Eating Quality

Yellowtail kingfish are excellent delicious high quality eating fish. They are highly regarded in Japan for sashimi. It is best to bleed them immediately when caught and chill them down with ice as quickly as possible. Being a larger fish species you get big fillets with few bones. Whitens when cooking. Suitable for any cooking method. 

Keith Wood with a solid looking kingfish taken at Fresh Pass, D’Urville Island, in the outer Marlborough Sounds. A top spot for kingfish!


South Island Gamefish Profile by Dick Marquand

Common Name: Yellowtail Kingfish

Other Names: Kingy, Yellowtail

Scientific Name: Seriola lalandei

Identifying Characteristics:

The yellowtail kingfish has an elongate and streamlined body, blunt in the head, solid in build, with a deeply forked tail. Colouration is a bluish-green above, fading to a silvery-white below. It is easily recognised by the brilliant yellow tail fin and a brass coloured stripe that runs along the median line on each side. The wavy lateral line ends with a caudal keel stabiliser on the caudal peduncle. The second dorsal fin and the anal fin extend almost to the tail. The yellowtail kingfish is a Carangid and differs from the Scombrids (tuna) in that there are no scuts or finlets.

Temperature Range:

15deg. C to 25deg. C.


This massive yellowtail kingfish was caught by Alan Good in the Tiri Channel off Whangaparaoa, north of Auckland. It was estimated to weigh 50 pounds and measured 1.2 metres in length. It tool Alan half an hour to land after it had taken a popper cast on light 20 lb line. The head of the big kingfish weighed 4kgs on its own. Congratulations Alan. That sure is a big fish!

Although more common in New Zealand’s northern waters, the yellowtail kingfish can be found around the coastal waters of the South Island, particularly during the summer months. The best southern locations are the Marlborough Sounds, Fiordland, Otago Peninsula, Moeraki, Banks Peninsula and Kaikoura”.


The yellowtail kingfish is generally found in association with rock outcrops, coastal headlands, reefs and breaking water, singly or in small groups while smaller specimens will generally be found in schools that may contain hundreds or in some cases, thousands of individuals. The yellowtail kingfish is a ruthless predator, feeding on schooling fish and reef dwelling species.

Fishing Methods:

The yellowtail kingfish can be taken on a wide variety of cast or trolled artificial lures. It will also respond favourably to jigging, saltwater fly fishing and trolling with dead and live baits. A very effective method of catching yellowtail kingfish is by drifting with live bait such as a mullet, mackerel or kahawai.

Fighting Characteristics:

When hooked, the yellowtail kingfish will usually run hard towards kelp or some other fouling obstruction. In many cases, this will result in a fouled line and a lost fish. When fishing from a boat with live bait, the fish should be allowed to swallow the bait before carefully being led away from possible obstructions. Once in deep water, the fight can begin in earnest. The yellowtail kingfish is a hard fighter and a worthy opponent, especially on light tackle.


The yellowtail kingfish grows to weight in excess of 60kg. At the time of writing, the I.G.F.A. All-Tackle World Record is tied at 52kg (114lb 10oz). Dr Mike Godfrey landed his yellowtail kingfish on 15kg tackle on 5 February 1984 at Mount Maunganui while Mr David Lugton tied this record with one on 24kg gear on 9 January 1987 at White Island.

Yellowtail kingfish caught off the Canterbury coast.

The yellowtail kingfish is recognised as a game fish by both the New Zealand Big Game Fishing Council and the International Game Fish Association.

How to find and catch kingfish in the Bay of Plenty with Andrew Padlie

Canterbury Kingfish February 2016 Video

Malcolm Bell from The Complete Angler fishing for kingfish off Banks Peninsula, Canterbury, New Zealand. The warm weather and sea temperatures have seen a big increase in the numbers of yellowtail kingfish caught off Canterbury, including quite a few being caught from Canterbury beaches.

In this video from Shimano Fishing New Zealand yellowtail kingfish smash surface stick-baits – very exciting fishing.

This post was last modified on 02/09/2022 3:15 pm

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