Canterbury Kingfish

Geoff Beukenholt with his 35-pound Canterbury kingfish.
Geoff Beukenholt with his 35-pound Canterbury kingfish.

Canterbury Kingfish, Where to Find Them, How to Catch Them, Tackle Needed, and More. By Peter Langlands  

A few years ago I would have considered kingfish to be an oddity in local waters, a bit like the occasional snapper, trevally, john dory, etc, that turn up. The first kingfish I saw locally was caught in a trawl net off Motunau and was vigorously flapping around on top of a pile of red cod on the deck! As our sea temperatures continue to rise from global warming your chances of catching a Canterbury kingfish are improving each year.

Yet as I have read more and spent more time on the water I am convinced that kingfish turn up in reasonable numbers and consistently in the same places in local waters, making them a realistic yet still elusive target species for local anglers.

Pilli Poppers were very popular kingfish lures back in the day. They are 12cm (4.5 inches) in length and cast very well.
Pilli Poppers were very popular kingfish lures back in the day. They are 12cm (4.5 inches) in length and cast very well. Most importantly, they are very robust when chasing yellowtail kingfish.

Awareness of the fact that kingfish regularly turn up around rafts of kelp in the southern part of Pegasus Bay was brought to the attention of local anglers by the writings of local fishing enthusiast Harley Scott. I initially doubted Harley but after casting some poppers around a kelp raft off Godley Head and witnessing a brief but dramatic kingfish strike I was convinced! Unfortunately, the kingfish stuck at my ill-prepared friend’s $5 popper and not my expensive Pilli popper. The popper came back after the strike with the trebles broken off!

Lesson number one when targeting kingfish is if you have any weak link in your tackle system they will find it. Attention to detail is critical.

You must fight kingfish with a tight drag setting to maintain control. In this article, I will discuss my observations and strategies for catching kingfish in local waters along with some background info.

How to Catch Kingfish

Only in the last couple of decades have anglers become aware of the presence of kingfish around the Banks Peninsula and in particular the area between Scarborough and Godley Heads.

Kingfish are fish of habit and will return repeatedly to the same areas year after year. Each year from late December until mid-April kingfish can be encountered in local waters.

The closeness of Taylor’s Mistake to Christchurch makes this fishery extremely popular and offers anglers an opportunity to head out for kingfish after work. Within a few minutes, you can be fishing for kingfish using a variety of methods such as retrieving jigs at high speed on the surface, casting poppers around kelp rafts and live baiting.

Yet over the summer period kingfish can be encountered anywhere around the rocky headlands of Banks Peninsula or areas where rafts of kelp float on the surface.

Success! Fishing for kingfish from a small boat.
Success! Fishing for kingfish from a small boat.

Kingfish have consistently turned up around the southern bays of Bank’s Peninsula such as Tumbledown, Te Oka and Peraki Bays in recent years. Any areas where there are strong currents around the Banks Peninsula such as Akaroa Heads, Long Lookout Point and the headlands around Lyttelton Harbour have also produced fish.

To the north Kingfish turn up offshore from the Waimakariri Rivermouth, undoubtedly attracted by schools of kahawai in the area. With the unusually high sea temperatures, this summer there has even been a confirmed report of a school of kingfish seen on the surface near the Waimakariri Rivermouth. But such an occurrence may not be a new thing. I well remember seeing the tails of kingfish sticking out of the water alongside a school of tens of thousands of kahawai at Karaki years ago. Finally, the reefs offshore from Motunau, especially to the north of Motunau Island are a popular spot for targeting Canterbury kingfish over the summer.

There is still time to target kingfish before they traditionally leave local waters in mid-April – although with the way things have been. This summer who can say anything for certain?

In recent years many kingfish have been caught by anglers using jigs with blue and white colour patterns. The jig is cast along a current line. Which is usually indicated by either a raft of floating kelp or a subtle change in water colour. The jig is retrieved at speed and when a kingfish strikes you’ll know. Taking the time to preset the drag and allowing for the impact of the strike is important.

Casting and retrieving poppers is also popular. Again a high-speed retrieve is often the difference between getting a strike or just arousing the kingfish’s’ curiosity. Use a well-known brand of popper! Cast the popper as close to the kelp raft as possible as the kingfish frequently seek shade under the kelp.

Other methods such as live baiting are effective. While kahawai and yellow-eyed mullet are the ideal live baits to place out under a balloon, other baits such as red cod or even spotties will work when fishing around the rocks.

If you are fishing over reefs in clear deep water, such as off Motunau, then speed jigging is worthwhile.

Trolling with Rapalas is also successful, but I wouldn’t rely on this method, but rather use trolling along with the other methods outlined above. Trolling near kelp rafts, along current lines or near reefs is worthwhile sometimes. At other times trolling can be a dead loss and is not the most active form of fishing.

The key to successfully fishing for kingfish is to use a variety of methods. For example, if a kingfish follows a popper to the boat, but doesn’t strike, then if possible present a live bait. The kingfish’s senses will already be aroused. The popper may well have agitated the fish enough for it to strike out at a live bait or a jig dropped over the side.

As far as tackle is concerned it must be of good quality! A sturdy jig stick rated for 15 kilograms will do. Make sure that it can cast well. Also, a good quality reel is worthwhile. The larger-sized Penn Spinfisher reels are good, but your standard Salmon Reel (Abu 7000C) will do although the drag system is not ideally robust enough.

The Shimano Speedmaster is a good reel but it takes some practice to cast.

As far as line weights are concerned 15 kilograms is the minimum, with 20 kilograms mainline giving you a safety margin. In addition, you need a shock leader of 24kg line going to the jig, just in case the kingfish tries to reef you – which they do frequently with great success. Having a set-up along the lines of what I have outlined above will allow you to cast jigs, fish live baits and troll successfully for kingfish.

Kingfish are very temperamental feeders and are not always in full-on predator mode so to a certain extent they sometimes have to be induced to take the bait.

Most anglers are more than happy to head home with one fish! Canterbury kingfish.
Most anglers are more than happy to head home with one fish!

Also fishing for kingfish is a bit like salmon fishing. You need to persevere at it. You only need one strike a day to make it a rewarding experience. Also, the kingfish in local waters aren’t always obvious so you just have to have faith in the knowledge that the fish frequent the areas you are fishing. At other times kingfish can be seen lazily swimming just below the surface.

Successfully fishing for kingfish means not only knowing the right places to go, having the right tackle and knowing the fishing strategies. You need a well-set-up boat with an uncluttered space to move and follow the fish. A solid gaff is a necessity when targeting kingfish.

The kingfish caught in local waters range from 5-25 kilograms with a 15-kilogram fish being of average size. Kingfish are fantastic for eating. They can be cut into steaks and cooked on the BBQ. Hot smoked, are number one in my book. They are also A-grade sashimi. Being oily fish kingfish are not suited to frying or baking.

There is a recreational limit of three kingfish per angler applies around Banks Peninsula.

Daily limit of 5 for groper and kingfish, with no more than 3 kingfish. The minimum permitted length for Canterbury kingfish is 75cm.

There have unfortunately been some reports of anglers exceeding this limit. Yet many fishermen are more than happy to head home with one good-sized kingfish! Download the fishing rules brochure for your area from MPI. Always check the daily bag limits and fish length for your area before you head out on the water.

Because Canterbury kingfish are quite elusive, it helps if you can organise a mate to also take a boat out and then you can scout a larger area. Joining a club is a great way to get information from experienced anglers and keep in touch with what is happening.

Also, keep in touch with local fishing shops. They will have updates on recent kingfish action and are only too keen to give you the information. The kingfish scene is now a local focus for retail sales.

This summer may see an unprecedented number of kingfish caught on the local scene. It is not uncommon now to see up to a dozen boats launching at Sumner and going out towards Taylors Mistake and Godley Head in pursuit of Canterbury kingfish. Also, fishermen aren’t leaving with any old rusty fishing reels and stout fishing rods now. Forget red cod, the target is now kingfish! Get serious, get a life and target yellowtail kingfish.

Taken off Blacks Point. Being able to move around the boat is important when playing kingfish.
Taken off Blacks Point. Being able to move around the boat is important when playing kingfish.

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