My intentions were good: to continue with my ‘Leaders in their field’ series, this time for catching kingfish. Then I realised I hadn’t yet covered the most basic kingfish-catching technique – using live bait!

Afrisky live bait is usually the best way to attract a kingfish bite. The panicky vibrations emitted by the distressed baitfish (sorry little guys, it’s nothing personal!) travel through the water and are picked up by the lateral lines of nearby predators, drawing them in for a closer look. Seeing an apparently injured baitfish flashing and thrashing around usually entices kingfish into chasing and biting.

But first we must catch some live bait, so this aspect must be covered first…

Small jigs can be amazingly effective on koheru


Kahawai and trevally (especially the bigger models), put out the strongest tail beats, followed by koheru, and then mackerel. Sprats (yellow-eyed mullet) and piper trail the field. However, the power of the ‘prop’ doesn’t always equate to a bait’s desirability, just how well they draw kings in from further away. Ultimately, if kingfish don’t like what they see, they won’t eat the bait.

Also, despite piper being a favourite food item for kingfish, I prefer not to use them, especially smaller ones, as they attract too many undersized kingfish. Hungry kahawai can be a problem, too.


I have caught more kingfish on jack mackerel/yellowtail than on any other type of bait. Which makes sense: mackerel are tough, wriggle hard, and can be caught in sizes that suit a wide variety of live-bait techniques.


Mackerel are generally targeted with strings of sabiki flies, which imitate tiny bait fish or krill. As a significant bonus, these flies also attract other species of bait fish enjoyed by kingfish, including slimy mackerel, pilchards, sprats, koheru, plus juvenile (and not so juvenile!) trevally and kahawai.

Choosing which set of sabikis is best for the circumstances is largely determined by the size of their hooks, the type of prey they represent (i.e. small fish or crustaceans) and the strength of the droppers.

For example, if you’re targeting reasonable-sized jack mackerel, #6-8 hooks (unfortunately, the hook sizing varies annoyingly between brands!) attached to 12lb (5.5kg) traces and a 15-20lb (79kg) backbone are the best choice. Chasing piper instead? Look for #10-12 hooks attached to 8-10lb (3.6-4.5kg) traces. Always have several different sized sabiki packets at your disposal, just in case.

When the kahawai are feeding on anchovies, downsize the lures for best results
A full bait tank cannot help but raise expectations!

Start by unwinding the selected sabiki set from its card and holding it at one end. The traces should naturally branch out away from the backbone (if they lie alongside it instead, the rig is upside down).

Next, attach a streamlined ¾-1oz (21-28g) sinker to the bottom of the rig, and tie the other end to the mainline on a light, whippy rod; use a rod that’s too stiff and mackerel with their delicate mouths will often rip off.

Now look for schools of baitfish on the fish-finder, the denser the better. These can often be found inside harbours, in channels and bays and along current breaks. Night time, early morning and late afternoons are the best times to fish.

Once a bait school is located, drop the sabiki flies to its approximate depth, watching the line during the descent ready to flick the reel into gear if there’s any hesitation or sudden slackening in the line. Mid-drop hook-ups are common, as are multiple hook-ups. Avoid slack line and react quickly to bites on the drop if you want to avoid tangles!


Should the flies reach the right depth unmolested, slowly sweep them around using an erratic, jiggling motion. If nothing happens after several sweeps, wind up or drop down a bit deeper and repeat. Still nothing, even though baitfish are showing on the fish-finder? Consider changing to smaller bait flies, moving to find another school, or adding slivers of bait to the hooks.

Baits should be slim so they fit inside small mouths – and change them regularly, especially squid strips, as the scent dissipates quickly.

It’s better to hold baited flies in position, or else swoop them around very slowly rather than actively working them, which can result in the rig spiralling unattractively. Respond to bites with a small strike.

Upon hooking up, it’s important to retrieve immediately, slowly and steadily and keeping the line tight so additional baitfish can also hop on. Allowing any slack in the line results in multi-baitfish tangles.

A light spinning outfit is perfect for catching mackerel with sabiki flies.


Knowing how to catch kahawai is important. With their strong vibrations and stamina, they make great live baits. Using bigger kahawai live baits attracts larger kingfish and avoids hooking smaller ones.

There will be days when catching kahawai is easy. Some days they’ll grab any lure or bait that hits the water, or scoff anything that’s remotely edible in the berley trail. But at other times they seem to be a completely different animal – possibly even vegetarian!

The most common mistake anglers make is using lures that are too big, especially when kahawai are chasing small baitfish like anchovies, juvenile pilchards or whitebait.


It pays to ‘match the hatch’, as kahawai become very focused on their diminutive prey and ignore anything larger and, to a lesser extent, different in colour. It’s best to use streamlined lures in naturalistic colours weighing 14-28g.

Which is great – an opportunity to tie on a small spinner, jig or soft plastic to a light soft-bait rod for some bait-catching fun!

Avoid metal jig/spinners armed with a rear-mounted treble hooks, especially barbed trebles, as they can be difficult to remove from the fish. Instead, use a lure armed with a straight (un-kirbed) single hook, or else an assist rig connected to the lure’s wire loop at the top.

Cast the lure towards the activity, lower the rod tip so it points along the line, and start cranking the lure back at a smart pace – you’d be surprised how fast kahawai can swim and take a lure!

Small lures work best when fish are feeding on small bait.


This bait-catching guide wouldn’t be complete without tips for catching koheru, as they are hands down the best bait for kingfish! (koheru should not be confused with the similarlooking yellowtail mackerel. Koheru have a rounder body profile and bright blue/emerald-gold colouration on their upper body rather than a yellowtail’s browny-yellow.)

Although koheru are often caught in the berley using small stray-lined-baits, I find a tiny jig can be even better.

My favourite koheru jig has been the Little Jack Sharasu in 5-8g weights, but they are hard to source these days, so a small 7g Grim Reaper (its treble hook replaced with a suitable single) or 14g Ocean Angler Flea do the same job, especially silvery ones incorporating pink or blue.

Koheru are strong little fish, fighting just like small tuna, so 4-6kg tackle is recommended. Take too long to boat them and you risk them ripping off or being eaten by bigger fish!

When you spot these in the berley trail (try exploring with your jig underneath the berley trail if they are not visible), make just the tiniest lifts and drops (yo-yos) with the rod tip to animate the lure. You’ll understand why when you see a bunch of koheru flashing as they rise and fall in unison with your lure until one hooks up!


When koheru, mackerel, piper, trevally or kahawai are swimming around in the berley trail, a lightly weighted or unweighted bait is hard to beat for effectiveness.

Wind in steadily to attract further mackerel without too many tangles.


Tailor the hook and bait size, along with the trace-line thickness, to the size of the baitfish;

• Try to use pale or silver-coloured baits, so it’s easier to see them ‘wink out’ on the edge of visibility, signalling they have been eaten. Time to set the hook;

• Ensure the bait drifts down among the other tempting morsels as naturally as possible; on windy days adding a small amount of weight actually helps achieve this;

• Using circle hooks will help avoid deep-hooking kahawai; half a pilchard hooked once through the eyes will do the job, or a small squid hooked through the top of the mantle.


SOFT-BAITS: Heavier jig-heads (at least 1/2oz) stay in the water better during fast retrieves. The hooks should accommodate 4-5” baits with the hook point positioned close to the soft-bait’s body.

Winding soft-baits a bit more slowly and erratically will catch kahawai, but a fast crank is more reliable. TROLLING: When bait schools are scattered and/or holding in midwater, try using a paravane with a small 2-2.5” chrome spinner or spoon attached. This technique has the added bonus of accounting for the odd good snapper, too! BNZ

N.B. Trolling spinner-type lures can badly twist the line over time. A small ball-bearing swivel tied 45-60cm away from the lure will reduce this problem.