Targeting giant kingfish at Kosi Bay
WORDS & PICS: EWAN KYLE
When anglers talk of Kosi Bay and its surrounding areas, the fish species that springs to mind is the giant kingfish. The area is famous for these amazing fish and over the years has provided many anglers with the catch of their lifetime in the form of one of these beasts.
Unfortunately, these days there are not as many of them around and the ones that you still do find are becoming cleverer and more difficult to catch each season. However, with careful planning and a bit of luck, there is still a good chance of finding yourself a GT around Kosi. You just have to make sure that when he does show up, you are tackled up to challenge him.
I have been lucky enough to grow up in Kosi Bay and have spent countless hours on the lakes and up and down the beach. I’ve thrown poppers, spoons, live-bait, flies and just about anything that I figured might produce a fish, and over the years have managed to land a good number of kingfish and other species. My tackle has slowly increased in strength, starting with small coffee grinder reels and 7ft spinning rods, which are fine for the little kingies and wave garrick but don’t stand a chance with the big fish. I realised this after hooking a big GT in the lakes on a small dropshot; eight-and-a-half hours later the line finally parted and the fish cruised off, leaving me to question the intelligence of fishing for these big fish with such light tackle! Nowadays, I use a Poseidon Plugging rod and a Shimano Stradic 8000 coffee grinder loaded with 80lb braid for throwing poppers or live bait in the surf, a Berkley Air extra-heavy 9ft, also with an 8000 Stradic and 20lb FireLine for bigger dropshot and spoons etc, and (my favourite) a Horizon 12wt fly rod with an Explorer XPS–S GT 12wt reel, loaded with an airflow Ridgeline with a 100lb core and 300m of backing.
Throwing poppers has to be the most exciting way of targeting any type of fish, and a GT most of all. There is nothing to get the adrenaline pumping quite like seeing a big kingy smash on the surface – often with such force that it knocks the popper several metres into the air – and miss the hooks completely!
To have success with poppers, though, you have to be on the water at the right time. To throw when the sun is high, in calm conditions, is a bit of a waste of time, to put it mildly. Morning and evening are the times to be fishing a plug. Personally, I prefer evening fishing because I feel the fish are hungry after not having been feeding much during the day and thus they become more and more active as it gets later. First light is also good as the fish are often still feeding, but they turn off quickly because they are settling down after a night of hunting and are no longer as inclined to jump on anything that splashes on the surface. Big GTs are usually found around reefs and this is where the 80lb braid comes in. A giant kingfish is an incredibly dirty fighter and I am convinced that in its brain you will find a Garmin with the exact location of every piece of structure that he might use to cut you off on. It is no good letting the fish go where it wants and just hoping that it will miss the rocks – the chances of this happening are extremely slim. You have to buckle down and pull that fish as hard as you can. Even if you can’t completely hold the fish, you have to at least make him strain so that he has to concentrate on pulling some line and hopefully will forget about the locality of the rocks. Another trick is to try to get the fish into churning water where there is lots of sand and bubbles – this usually confuses him and you have a chance to bully a few metres of line onto the reel.
During the bright sunny hours of the day I usually take my dropshot rod, wade out and throw over any piece of back reef that is accessible. The area north of Banga Nek has some lovely flat reef just inside casting range. I prefer a natural colour dropshot, either a 5in or a 7in and I fish with a 1oz to 2oz jighead. The retrieve that works varies from day today – usually, I let the lure sink to the bottom after landing, then retrieve it fairly fast with big jerks of the rod, giving the dropshot as much action as possible. If you see a fish following but not committing, speed up and work the dropshot furiously as though it is a bait fish that has suddenly noticed it is being hunted and is trying to get away. Even if the fish isn’t particularly hungry, this frantic action might get a reaction bite – especially if there are several fish around.
The main problem with hooking big fish on dropshot tackle is that you can’t pull very hard and, with reef around, this can be a big problem. So my advice would be to try to find flat reef, as I said earlier. The GT still hang out here but there isn’t much heavy structure to tangle up on. And a big kingfish on dropshot tackle is quite an accomplishment – last season, I was fishing one of the further reefs north of Banga with a 7in McArthy, the surf was quite heavy and I waded far out to throw over a patch of scattered reef. The waves kept washing me off the rocks and it was rather unpleasant, so I decided to have one last throw, then bail. Halfway through the retrieve the line went tight and I struck gently, thinking that the dropshot had just got stuck on the rocks again. Instead, the dropshot struck back and started screaming line off my Stradic. The fish ran out and to the right, straight towards a huge reef about 300m away. I tightened up the drag as much as I could without parting off the fish, and finally stopped it after a run of about 200m. Twenty minutes later, it was swimming up and down the ledge in front of me and I could see it clearly. Then, as kingfish do, it spotted a gutter in the rocks and headed straight into it, tangling around a pinnacle and then swimming out again, leaving the line to chafe on the rocks. I sprinted out through the surf and somehow managed to untangle the line from the rock, but could see the braid was more than half worn through in the one place, so I slackened off the drag and steered the fish down the ledge to a slightly flatter area. My sister, Kirsty, arrived with gloves and, as a wave pushed the fish over the ledge, she managed to grab it by the tail and pull it out. It was duly tagged and, after a quick photograph, we released it back into the water, where it swam off strongly. It measured a 98cm fork length and, although not an absolute monster,I certainly won’t forget it in a hurry.
Now we come to my favourite, but without a doubt the most difficult technique for catching a big kingy in Kosi – fly. One thing that can be said about fly-fishing is that it can raise your blood pressure or involve some foul language when the fish are around. For some reason, the fly line always manages to tangle around your foot, the stripping basket, the butt of the rod, your left ear or sometimes, for no apparent reason, it just makes a huge knot in the air which sticks in your guide, and leaves you with hands that are too shaky to untangle it. The lakes are my favourite playground for fly-fishing and they hold a fair number of very worthy fish that, with a bit of encouragement, can be fooled into taking a fly. I have been throwing fly since I was about 10 years old and have landed a good number of reasonable kingfish, but up until this year had never landed a fish over a metre.
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to meet up with a fly-fisherman by the name of Paul Wiengartz. Paul was very experienced in targeting big GT with fly and taught me a few new fly patterns and some of the tricks of the trade. He also gave me a Redington's NTI 10 12wt rod that is an absolute masterpiece. Tragically, not long after his last trip to Kosi, during which he showed me how to tie 9/0 brush flies with which he had been having great success, Paul lost his fight against cancer.
In early January, Kirsty and I were out on the lakes throwing fly for seapike that had suddenly come on the bite. It had been an amazing morning. I was using Paul’s Redington and Kirsty was throwing Rapalas and between us, we had landed five pike between 79cm and 106cm. Just as we were releasing the last pike with a tag in it, I spotted a dark patch in the water about 200m away. This dark patch separated into about 10 smaller dark patches and headed parallel to us along the dropoff. There is no mistaking a school of big GT, especially when they are only in 2m of water. Luckily, the fish were still far enough off that I was able to strip my line out and start false casting to be ready when they came into range. When the shoal was about 40m off, I let the line move and landed the fly in their path, about 10m from the fish, with the intention of waiting till they were close and then starting to strip. The fish must have heard the splash of the fly on the water though, and, as one, the entire shoal charged at it. I immediately started stripping as fast as my shaking hands could go; as the fish reached my black brush fly, they started shouldering each other out of the way to get to it. A fish of about 15kg grabbed the fly but didn’t turn, and the circle hook didn’t set. Instead, the fly popped out of its mouth, but before I could even open my mouth to swear at the blessed thing, another fish smashed the fly from the side and turned perfectly, setting the 9/0 hook in the corner of its mouth. A few moments later, I was 150m into the backing and the fish was still going. It finally turned, and I slowly gained line until it was on fly-line only and we could see the size of the beast. We had anchored in the shallows and I left the boat to land the fish more easily. Kirsty put on gloves and when the fish was in shallow enough water, she moved up behind it – and the chase was on. The fish was still fairly strong because I had pulled it extremely hard throughout the fight so when it saw Kirsty, it took off again with her in hot pursuit. With a spectacular dive, she submerged completely, losing her hat and glasses in the process but managing to grab the fish by the tail. Feeling the line slacken and seeing that the fish was in hand, I nearly collapsed. With those teardrop markings on its back, big intelligent eyes and huge bucket of a mouth, this fish species is awesome. It measured in at 101cm fork length and about 21kg. As always, we tagged it and released it as quickly as possible, retrieved Kirsty’s lost items and headed home.
Kosi still has a fair number of these amazing fish, and when you get stuck into one it is more than worthwhile. We just need to remember that the fish that we catch give everything they have to provide us with the fight of our lives. In my eyes, this earns them the right to be released and – hopefully – provide another angler with a similar experience (or even better – to provide me with another amazing experience, the next time it decides to bite something with a hook in it.)