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How To Catch Winter Kingfish

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As winter sets in, temperatures drop and ‘perfect’ weather windows become much less frequent, and as a result many boaties will pack their gear away for the cooler months. However, there are plenty of exceptional fishing opportunities to be had. Kingfish are often overlooked during winter - but with a bit of know-how some exceptional fish can be caught.

Hayden Speed - Mayhem Fishing


During the winter months in the Bay of Plenty, kingfish tend to be less active and generally head out deeper, taking up residence over the deeper reefs. This is not to say that you won’t catch them inshore - these fish are often few and far between but the size of these is often impressive. Out deep however, there is something special about prospecting deep offshore reefs as you never know what might come up. Kingfish can be caught in depths up to 250m, however, through winter I personally like to fish structures between 100m-180m.

As always, it pays to have a good scout around the area with your sounder - particularly if you haven’t fished that spot before. This will allow you to create an understanding of the shape of the structure, i.e. any big shelfs or rocks that may prove an issue if a large fish is hooked. You will also get an idea of where the fish are holding. Generally, this will be on a single side of the reef - with the other sides being quiet. Ideally you are looking for a nice dense school holding 20m+ off the bottom. Kingfish will sit on top of these schools so positioning a bait/lure accordingly will set you up for success.


Once some sign is located, lining up a drift that will take you over the marks is key. This can be a bit of a guessing game with wind, current and tide. We’ve found that you can work out the current by looking at your boat speed in comparison to the direction you’re heading. Idle around in all directions, scouting out signs while paying attention to your speed. Obviously your ‘speed over ground’ (SOG) when travelling with the current will be quicker then when pushing up into it. This philosophy works best in light winds as these won’t influence boat speed too much. However, you can still get an idea of the current in windier conditions too - It can also be a good idea to do a dummy drift while you’re prepping gear for example. This will allow you to see your drift line on your plotter which you can then use to line up your drift.

Start upwind of your marks - the length of this will be determined by how strong the wind and current is. The stronger this is the further you will need to go up ahead of your marks to ensure that by the time your baits are in the zone you haven’t already drifted through the sign. It is a good idea to have someone on the helm to back up and slow the drift speed - which also helps the line angle stay straight up and down. This is especially important in sloppy conditions as the boat will otherwise move quickly, making it harder to stay in the zone.

Massive Bay Of Plenty Kingfish


I’ve found that livebaits are key during winter. With the colder water the fish are perhaps slower moving and less likely to expend large amounts of energy chasing after a fast-moving lure. Therefore, positioning a livebait among a school of kingfish is a very good bet! Jack Mackerel, Koheru and Kahawai are hands down my favourite live baits for kingfish. I will fish these livebaits on a rig that consists of a large ball sinker above the swivel. The size of the sinker depends on the depth being fished, the size of the bait and the strength of current - however, an 8 ounce is a good starting point. Then connect a heavy-duty swivel, and 2m of 150lb leader.

I opt for large circle hooks when fishing with livebaits - particularly when in deeper water. Once bit, I will let the fish run for 3-4 seconds for a regular sized jack mackerel. This allows the fish to eat the bait before I increase the drag. For using circle hooks, it’s important that you don’t strike as you risk pulling the bait out of the fish’s mouth. Therefore, I will simply increase the drag and hold the rod stationary, pointing slightly down. The force of the fish swimming away against the increased drag is plenty to set the hook.

If you’re unable to get livebaits, as they can be hard to find at the best of times, I’ve found a deadbait can also be effective. Small mackerel are ideal for this. I will use the same rig as I would for livebaiting but hook my baits through the bottom and top jaw. This makes it sit nicely on the hook and appear somewhat natural when moving through the water column. I will drop this down to my desired depth and work it similar to jig; although a lot slower. I’ve found a very slow mechanical jig to be quite effective. I have my drag only just tight enough to gain line so that if a fish grabs the bait it won’t pull it off the hook. Once bit, drop the reel into free spool to allow the fish to eat the bait before increasing the drag to set the hook.

NZ Winter Kingfish


Lures can also be a good option, while possibly not quite as effective as they are during the warmer months they are definitely still useful to have in your arsenal. Jigging over these deeper reefs is a great way of prospecting and can definitely be effective too. However, be sure to bring a few jigs and lots of hooks as the toothy ‘cuda patrol can often be out in force - especially over the colder months.

Good communication between the skipper and the angler is very important to help the jigger be effective. Being ready and starting your drift just up from your target should give you enough time to get the lure working and effectively fish the top of the school. The Saltiga 12 braid is excellent for this style of fishing, not only is it incredibly strong and of a high quality, it is also ‘rainbow’ - changing colours every 10 metres. This is crucial for jigging in my opinion as it allows you to fish the bait schools so much more effectively.

Daiwa Saltiga LD35P Reel


In winter, while kingfish are sometimes more scarce they are often in great condition and large in size as they prepare to spawn when the water warms. This often correlates with very impressive fights and makes the gear used a crucial part of the operation in order to have success. My “go to” overhead option has proven to be extremely successful at landing some very large kingfish on both jigs and livebaits:

As a spin option I run:

I find spinning reels to be better suited to jigging or for swimming unweighted livebaits. These reels often have a higher retrieve rate which means you get more line back on the spool for each turn of the handle. This helps to speed the action of the jig up which I find to be very successful. It can however be a bit more be difficult to fish livebaits over deep reefs on spin sets as keeping in touch with your bait after it has been eaten to ensure a solid hook set requires a bit more skill than with an overhead set.

So, just because it is cold outside don’t let that stop you from getting out there to give a go - you might be surprised with what you find!

BY HAYDEN SPEED - Mayhem Fishing


Hayden Speed is a member of Team Daiwa and a fanatical fisho who would be on the water 24/7 if uni wasn't getting in the way. Check out his videos on YouTube and be sure to follow him on Instagram.

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