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Popping for GTs from the shore


<INTRO> Giant kingfish are one of the biggest fish that you can expect to hook up to when casting plugs from the beach. They are not only big, but brutally powerful and aggressive. Add to this the fact that they are dirty fighters always looking for a bit of structure to cut your line off on and you have a serious challenge on your hands.




For this reason, most fishermen have sleepless nights thinking about doing battle with this worthy adversary. I have spent years hunting giant kingfish. I have caught many, using many methods, but the biggest thrill is still that massive surface smash when a big GT hits a surface popper skipping along the top.

One second your plug is innocently hopping along, next instant there is
a shadow behind it, then the water bulges and suddenly there is a sheet
of water sprayed a couple of metres
into the air, the rod buckles in your hands and line is streaming off your reel at an alarming rate. Enough to set even the most seasoned fisherman’s heart racing.

I am going to share with you here some of the tips and tricks I have learnt, and hopefully some readers will find these of help in getting that dream fish.

The first thing one needs to do when plugging for kingfish from the shore is to
get one’s tackle right. When fighting such big, strong fish, everything needs to be perfect to give you the best chance at landing it. Your tackle will be tested to
the limit.

A fairly short, light, yet strong rod is ideal. The reason for this is that plugging is hard work and a light rod will mean you can make more casts, which translates into more opportunities to catch fish. The rod needs to be strong because these are big, powerful fish that need to be controlled when they head for structure and try to cut you off.

For fishing with multipliers, a stiff rod in the region of nine to twelve foot long is ideal. You may not get quite the casting distance with this that you would with a fourteen-foot surf rod, but distance is seldom necessary when targeting kings and the shorter rod gives you so much more power and leverage when fighting fish. When plugging with spinning gear, your rod can be even shorter – anything from eight to ten foot will be good. 

The reel to match with the rod for plugging with a multiplier should have the ability to hold plenty of strong line, and a fast retrieve rate. Anything with a gear ratio of less than 6:1 is going to mean lots of hard work for the fisherman and I wouldn’t recommend it. The reel should have an excellent drag system and the line should run off smoothly, even against a tight drag under pressure.

If the drag sticks, slips and jerks it is not going to be much use against big kingfish. The line will either break when your drag sticks or the fish will get out of control and run for the rocks when the drag starts slipping. If your drag is behaving badly, take your reel in to your tackle store and ask them to service the reel and replace the drag washers. Cheaper models generally have less reliable drag systems. The reels that I prefer for the job are the Shimano Trinidad series. These have fast and strong gears and amazingly good
drag systems.

The line used should be 0.50mm diameter and of a good quality. There is no point in buying good tackle and then saving on the line – this is what joins you to the fish and is critically important. There are many good brands of line on the market and you generally get what you pay for. I prefer high visibility lines with good abrasion resistance for this
type of fishing. The Double X Hi-Abrasion in yellow is excellent.

I always use a wind-on leader of clear line of around 80lb breaking strain and twice the length of my rod. This is joined to the main line by making a loop with a Bimini twist in the main line and then tying the double line to the leader by way of a back-to-back uni knot. These knots must be tied carefully and checked before trusting them. Test your knots by pulling hard, rather snap up during a test than when you have a fish on. I use no swivel, and simply tie my plug to the end of this leader. You can have the best tackle and line in the world, but if your knots are suspect it is not going to help at all, so spend time practising and perfecting tying these knots.

For plugging with spinning gear,
would recommend a good-quality
reel with a strong front drag system. The Shimano Stella 10000 is a great reel for the job. I fill this with 80lb PowerPro braid, which I join to a 150lb leader, using a 3-turn figure-of-eight knot on the leader side and a 7-turn uni knot on the braid and pulling them together.
I keep the leader just long enough that it hangs with the knot just outside of the top eye when I am about to cast.

The plugs to use for surf casting for kingfish are in two categories. Firstly, narrow-bodied, heavily weighted plugs for long casting and days of very strong wind. These plugs are either shaped
in the pencil popper design, or narrow chisel-nosed plugs. The weight should be right at the back of the plug. They will cast well into a strong wind without giving you overwinds.

The downside to these designs is that, to the fish, they do not have as enticing an action and need to be retrieved very fast, which is hard work for the fisherman. When the good water is closer by and one is not casting into
a strong wind, it is preferable to use
a popper of different design. These can be lighter and thicker bodied – either in the chugger or blooper style with cupped face, or in the chisel-nosed shape with a thick shoulder section.

These plugs should preferably float
at rest and can be retrieved far slower and with a stop-start action. They cause a lot of splash and look far more helpless with their slow splashy action, and this drives kingfish wild. On the downside, they take far more skill to cast and result in overwinds more easily, especially when casting into wind. The hooks and split-rings supplied on lures are seldom up to the standard required for fighting giant kingfish and I would recommend changing them for the strongest that you can buy. When casting with spinning gear, it generally makes sense to use the lighter, cup-faced poppers, and with multipliers use the heavier plugs for
a longer cast.

The colour of the plug is less critical in foamy, churned-up inshore water than in the clear offshore water. A good rule of thumb is to use white or bright-coloured plugs in daylight and dark-coloured, even black ones, at night or in low light.

After having the right tackle, the next most important thing is to be fishing in the right place at the right time. The right time is easy. Kingfish prefer moving close inshore to hunt under low light conditions. This means that first light and last light are premium periods to fish for them. Also, they like coming into the shallows when the tide is full and water is surging so that, with their powerful swimming strength, they have an advantage over their weaker prey.

For this reason, fishing for kingfish during the high periods of spring tides
is ideal, especially the last two hours of the pushing tide. Spring tides coincide with the new moon and the full moon. I prefer the new moon spring tide – I just seem to have better action then. Kingfish are also more active during the hot summer months.

Using this information to plan your trip means that you can give yourself the best opportunity for success. It is critical to wake up early and be at the fishing spot and actually casting while it is still dark, and then fish through the dawn.
The same applies to evening –
it is important to continue casting right into the dark. If you fish this way, you will definitely catch more fish. Sometimes the window of opportunity is narrow and you don’t want to miss it by just
a few minutes either way.

The next important thing is to be fishing in the right place. For starters, kingfish are most common on the northern KZN coast and in Mozambique. They like places where there is deep water or deep channels leading in to the shallows and where there is nice churning wave action frothing the water and making the visibility low. This usually happens around rocky points, sandbanks with deep channels nearby or at river mouths. Clearly, the big fish will be hunting where the bait fish are hiding, so keep this in mind.

You will have very little success and waste lots of energy casting your plug out randomly into clear blue water.
bait fish use structure for security and the milky water of wave action as cover. Sandbanks, points and reef with current, wave action and patches of milky water are the best places to probe, even if they are right against the side. Watch the water carefully for signs of bait fish being chased –  places where you see swirls and splashes are where you should be fishing. Sometimes you can see patches of dark water that are shoals of nervous bait fish bunched close together; work your plug around these – there is usually a good reason why they are nervous.

The way you retrieve your popper can also make a big difference to the number of fish you get to hit it. The popper must look to you like a panicky and preferably tired or injured baitfish. Experiment with different speeds; twitch the rod tip, rip the popper through the water, give it a stop-start action. Try it all, you will see what looks best. Simply casting and retrieving at a steady rate will get fish, but not as many as working hard at making your lure especially enticing. Every plug is different and they each work best when retrieved differently by the angler. I have had a fish following
a plug curiously for some distance with no sign of wanting to actually hit it.
I started shaking the rod tip hard as
I retrieved, causing the popper to dart about erratically, and suddenly the fish accelerated forward and smashed the lure viciously. It pays off to try things.

When a kingfish smashes at a plug, it is often sudden and vicious, taking the fisherman by surprise. Sometimes the fish does not connect on the first attempt. It is really important to keep the plug moving and, if possible, to give it an even more panicked action. Some anglers get such a shock that they stop retrieving and the fish simply turns away; others strike hard and if the fish didn’t connect with the plug, they rip the lure away. If the fish misses on the first smash and the plug keeps going he will more than likely hit it with even more intent the second time. Even if he connects, yet does not hook up, if you cleverly give the popper an injured action, slower yet panicky, he will often hit it again. The answer is not to strike at all when you have a hit, just keep reeling. When you feel the line go tight, reel fast until your rod is pulled flat, and only then lift it sharply to set the hook.

Fighting kingfish from the shore can also be a tricky business. These fish will use all of their strength to try and get to a rock or bit of coral to cut your line. You need to control the fish. If you are fishing in a place where there is no hard structure, then you can relax and fight the fish like any other fish. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Most kings are hooked close to dangerous structure.

This is where the long leader earns its keep. Ideally the drag must be set as tight as your line can handle. You put as much pressure as possible on the fish to stop it reaching rock. Drop the rod tip sideways and move yourself to change angle and keep the fish away from the rocks; sometimes you have to run along the beach after the hookup to change the angle. If the fish is simply too big and cannot be stopped, then you need to change tactics. At the first sign that he has reached rock, loosen the drag completely and allow the fish to think that he is free. With no tension on the line, it will not easily cut and the fish will swim for deeper water where you can tighten up and start the fight again. All of this takes keeping a cool head and acting fast, but it can be done. 




Once you have landed the fish, it is best to lay it on a wet towel, remove the hook as quickly as possible, take your photographs and get it back into the water. Kings fight themselves to the point of  exhaustion, so they need to be revived for some time before being released. This gives you time to look at the fish and enjoy the feel of him in your hands and rest yourself until he starts to struggle; then you can let him swim off to fight another day and you can pick
up your rod and start looking for more trouble