How to catch big yellowtail kingfish
HAVING spent a ridiculous number of hours chasing yellowtail kingfish with livebaits over the years without even turning a reel it was obvious these fish were earned the hard way, not gifted on a silver platter! Kingfish are capable of testing your patience and we were often left scratching our heads at the end of recurrent fishless sessions with little to show for our efforts. Their reputation as an extremely cunning and wily species really started to hit home and I'm sure we very easily could've been forgiven for throwing in the towel at that point in time. However I'm extremely thankful we didn't. Slowly yet surely the momentum began to shift and results came in the form of hook-ups which was a great step forward in the right direction. We were undoubtedly flying blind in unfamiliar territory, but with renewed confidence after overcoming a few internal demons.
With this next phase however came a whole stack of unforeseen problems to tackle and it became apparent things just got a hell of a lot harder. We proceeded to lose fish left, right and centre over subsequent trips. Whether it was through popping knots, pulling hooks, straightening hooks or busting off in general, the pain in losing these fish that we had placed so much time and effort into really did hurt, especially after believing we had finally unlocked the livebait code. But with the odd fish finding its way onto the deck the carrot continued to dangle and perseverance allowed us to gain invaluable experience over time to further refine our technique. Nowadays chasing kingfish with livebaits is still no guarantee, as such is the nature of shaping up against "the king", but as we'll discuss there's a few "one per centers" that can be adopted to help stay connected and make all the hard work worth it.
Rigging livebait hooks is a relatively simple process, yet unbeknown to many there are a few finer points for consideration here. One such point is the hook snell itself where it meets the hook eyelet. This site is a common weak point and many big fish are lost by the snell letting go here. Interestingly I've found when comparing different brands of hooks that some are particularly sharper or more abrasive around the eyelet edge and I have no doubt that this plays a substantial role in busting your snell at times.
It's certainly a case of gaining confidence in the gear you're using but unfortunately a few casualties are often endured along the way until you've settled on a choice. One way to help curb the effect of abrasive hook eyelets is through the use of fluorocarbon trace as opposed to standard monofilament. This stuff is a hell of a lot stiffer and harder to tie snells with but it will most certainly provide reassurance. I previously wasn't sold on the idea but after busting a few snells over time and flipping over to fluoro leader of the same breaking strain I don't think I've popped one since. That's now one less problem to worry about! Some of the more fickle anglers will even slide a small length of heat shrink over the hook and onto the eyelet to protect the snell further. It certainly has merit but I probably wouldn't consider it essential practice.
The final point on snells is that there is more than one way of tying them. If you take a closer look at any finished knots it's easy to appreciate how different finishes provide higher risks at the hook eyelet junction. Some almost hug or cover the eyelet whilst others have a leading trace edge tight up against it, so take this into consideration and experiment with a few options before deciding on a tying technique.
Simple is always better when it comes to rigging up your terminal livebait gear so keep connections streamlined and to a minimum. This includes the shock leader connection which is a bare necessity in most if not all kingfish applications. Shock leader provides an element of stretch in the system by using monofilament line and without it the risk of pulling hooks or popping a knot is higher. Fluorocarbon leader on the other hand is not a suitable option as it has minimal stretch and it's also very expensive to be wasted in this manner.
The best way in my opinion to connect your shock leader to any braided mainline is through an FG knot or similar which affords only a single knot. It's a much cheaper option to tie your leaders from a bulk spool this way as opposed to individually purchasing them as well. Tread cautiously with pre-made wind-on traces. Whilst a majority of the time they will serve you very well I've had to replace the odd dodgy one that's had the braiding loosen and slip whilst I also know a couple of anglers who have lost fish due to the system failing. Despite being a little more difficult to master the FG knot is certainly the way to go in my opinion to further reduce the risk factor.
For connecting shock leader to hook trace, aim for stainless bearing swivels that are rated well above the breaking strain of gear to once again eliminate failure in the system. Attach swivels with a simple uni-knot connection and it really is hard to go wrong. Just don't forget to lubricate your knots with a bit of saliva before pulling up tight.
Some may question why you couldn't run your shock leader all the way through to your hooks and in theory this certainly could be done. It makes sense to eliminate yet another connection or two that may not be needed but the flipside is that you can't change rigs quickly or easily to accommodate your different livebait sizes and species. Re-rigging after a bust-off will be a pain in the backside too and trust me this happens quite a lot when chasing kingfish. Keeping your leader and trace separate will also allow you to run both standard monofilament and fluorocarbon in the same system, which is extremely handy.
There's no shortage of hook styles on the tackle shop wall these days but with so many options comes the headache of making a decision.
Traditionally speaking livebait hooks are a simple J-hook style with no offset, meaning the hook is perfectly straight in profile when viewed from behind. This is in contrast to an octopus style or similar that demonstrates a slight curve or offset at the pointy end relative to the shank. The reality is however that both can be effectively used to livebait for kingfish. My preference for downrigging and the likes is to run standard livebait J-hooks as I believe they help keep your baits tracking straight as they're towed through the water.
For ballooning, fishing unweighted or even dropping down onto reefs with a sinker setup, this is certainly not as critical and it's easy to get away with using offset hooks. More importantly though what needs to be considered is the thickness of the hook and this is commonly referred to as the gauge. Livebait hooks are usually thick gauge simply because they are designed to deal with big predatory fish and strong crushing mouths. If fishing heavy drag for kings then a heavy gauge hook is one hundred percent recommended to avoid straightening the hook under pressure and consequently losing the fish. Being thicker in nature these hooks require that same pressure to sink into the firm gob of a hoodlum. Light gauge hooks on the other hand can be fished effectively on lighter outfits as the risk of straightening them is very unlikely. They're also easier to find their mark without too much pressure needed to set the hook with much thanks to a thinner profile.
Circle hooks are a slightly different ball game all together and in hindsight probably my least preferred option for chasing kings. This may have something to do with the more commonly used techniques that we employ but I really find it hard to go past a pair of solid J-hooks for most applications. Whilst there are various hook gauges found in this range they should still be fished in a traditional circle manner by allowing the fish time to swallow the bait before loading up the rod. This principle makes them more appropriately used when fishing out of gear such as ballooning or drifting unweighted baits down to fish. For downrigging and the likes the system is already under tension so the use of circles is less preferred due to the heightened risk of them not finding their mark. There's an element of personal preference here but it doesn't take long for the results to dictate which side of the fence you sit on.
It pays to have a bunch of pre-tied rigs made up to suit varying livebait needs as this will save you crucial time on the water. Whether using a live squid or fish my preference is to run two snelled hooks for most situations and most of my rigs reflect this. I really don't think the second hook impacts on the situation in a negative manner and if anything it often ends up assisting with staying connected to a king.
Bites can be quite fumbly at times especially if a smaller king is trying to suck down a big livebait and it's sometimes the trailing or second hook that brings home the chocolates. When rigging up live squid pin the top hook through the very point of the hood and the second hook somewhere at the base of the hood/wing or even lightly between the eyes. Keep enough slack in the line between the hooks to ensure the squid will swim correctly and not spiral around underwater. If your hooks are too far apart for the size of your squid then it's also fine to pin the bottom hook through a tentacle. It's not something you see done very often but we've pulled quite a few fish this way so don't be concerned.
Live fish baits are often rigged up with the top hook somewhere around the head of the fish through the nasal cavity or lip. A second trailing hook is then pinned lightly along the back but not too deep as this will affect the health of the bait. Try and slot this hook in at a 45 degree angle which helps it remain well exposed and upright.
This is a great rigging option for towing baits along as seen in downrigging or similar. The other method for rigging up live fish baits is basically the exact opposite with the top (or tow hook) placed in the back of the fish and the bottom hook in the head or thereabouts. This works well on both deepwater paternoster-style livebait rigs or when ballooning as the fish can swim along freely in its preferred direction without the hooks folding back against its body.
Hook exposure is paramount for a solid hook-set in the mouth of a yellowtail, further highlighting the need for attention to detail and the difference that these one-percenters can make. Sometimes it really is the little things that count most and the realm of livebaiting for kings is certainly living proof!