As my friend Sinclair put it some time ago, “there is quite a bit to (rock)fishing”. The plan for yesterday was to target and arrest kingfish. Everything went according to plan and we experienced spectacular rockfishing action.
Conditions & Timing
Sunday, 01.02.2015, Great Barrier Island, calm sea, cloudy, variable tail wind and very warm. Choosing the right time might not seem that straight forward but with low tide at 1230, I felt confident that there was no need to get up early. We had the burley deployed and the first bait in the water at 1020, the first kingi sighting was at dead low tide, we packed in around 1330.
I cannot explain why, but kingfish love low tide, this is the best time to target them off the rocks.
Almost an hour after the burley was in the water, and there was still no sign of kahawai. Sinclair and I were fishing our bait-rods and watching the water. The better you are in catching the right bait fish, the greater your chances of landing a kingfish.
I was very happy and surprised when a kahawai was at the end of my line. I caught it quite far out, right after the bait hitting the surface. It was about 35 cm long, and went out quickly and without any fuss under a balloon.
Sinclair landed a similar-sized kahawai moments later and by 1130 we had both, one of the best live baits swimming around the ledge. We held them in close, from 2-10 meters from the rocks.
Meanwhile, we switched to our respective snapper gear and started landing 30cm+ snapper. Nothing exciting. The fishing remained slow and there were no other kahwai in sight, bar a big one who managed to get away.
The action started a few minutes before dead low tide. I saw a kingfish come up from the deep and have a good look at Sinclair’s kahawai. Next thing, I’m pointing at the location of the kingi, Sinclair holding his live bait rod, and we observe how the kahawai swims quickly to shore. I tell you if it had legs, it would have hopped onto the rocks and ran away. One scared kahawai. The kingi was out of sight now; I was holding onto my rod. Surely, it’ll come back for mine. A couple minutes later, another, but less spectacular sighting.
The kingi was not interested in my kahawai nor Sinclair’s, well, his fish was hugging the kelp on the rocks. I decided to give the popper a go and cast it out far, even saw the kingi on one of the retrieves. But his majesty was not impressed.
Hmmm, what to do?, I was thinking. The answer was right in front of us. During all this commotion, we noticed 3-4 kahawai swimming really fast and picking up bits of the burley. As I said at the beginning, there is quite a bit to fishing…
I knew we would get a hook up, if only we could replace our scared kahawai with fresh ones. They were more agile and eager, swimming confidently in the presence of a kingfish, feeding away on the burley.
To cut long, frustrating minutes short, the trick to catch them was to use squid tentacles. Those kahawai were picking up bits as they came off the burley, so the right bait size had also to be small. If I hadn’t landed one on the tentacle, I would have put a piece of burley on the hook.
So here goes, I put a fresh kahawai under the balloon, it rockets away from the rocks, and within five seconds two kingi shoot up attacking. Right next to me. I was so sure of the hookup. However, my kahawai managed to escape at least three solid attacks by two fish – competing for lunch – and then managed to swim back to the sea weed line. From then on, it did not swim even half a meter out, I tell you, if it had legs…
I tried to get the bait further out, even threw it gently by hand a couple meters out, but it just swam back to the surface and back to my feet. For my last attempt, I took the kahawai out of the water and walked five meters to my left and released it back into a different patch of water, a small gutter. My rationale was that it might now swim out a bit further and hopefully the wind could then catch on the balloon and take the fish away from the rocks.
It worked. Within a minute the kahawai was about six meters out and the yellow tail surfaced. The kahawai panicked, no where to hide, it went left, right, up, down, but in circles. I was on the highest rock around, knees bent, and just waited for it. It took about one minute, the kingi had so many unsuccessful goes at it, and then, finally, the balloon went under.
I increased the drag to a third, waited for the slack to disappear and the rod tip to bend, then struck and increased the drag to fighting mode. The kingi had no chance, it was well hooked and only about 8 meters out. It gained nothing on me, it changed sides, I didn’t give it an inch, it turned directions and finally managed to go for a strong run. Maybe a few meters until it changed direction again, I had the fish well under control, rod aiming high, solid drag.
It was definitely a keeper, about one m long, fat, angry, green kingi. Well, scared, too. Sinclair had a couple half-hearted attempts at gaffing the fish and we landed the fish finally on the leader.
Sinclair still had a kahawai out there. I cleaned the kingi and – secured by rope – put it back into the water to keep fresh. About 20 minutes later, we were having a chat, and I noticed how the water around his balloon rose. I shouted, “there is another kingi” and thought, ‘that was heaps of water, like a wave, but there were no waves’. It was odd. Even odder, Sinclair’s kahawai seemed now dead, just floating in about a meter of water. I walked up high onto the rocks and saw this massive bronze whaler come back toward the kahawai. Biggest shark I have seen.
It had another good look at the half-dead kahawai and I really thought Sinclair would be soon in 500+ kg of fish. In retrospect, he was fortunate not to get the hookup, he wouldn’t have been able to stop that fish.
We saw a school of mullet swim by and the shark another handful of times up close but all too quick to get a shot.
On this occasion, everything went according to plan. What should not be sneezed at, however, and I’ve seen this plenty of times, is that even having a good live bait out and seeing a kingfish does NOT equal hookup. I kind of worked hard for this fish, constantly making decisions, presenting a fresh, motivated bait suitably and then staying calm enough to not rush things.
I saw Sinclair today, he asked something I’ve been pondering about for awhile: “So Ben, what happened to the kahawai the kingi took?” “I don’t know buddy, it just disappeared. They always do; never gutted a kingi and seen a kahawai inside.”