Sydney Harbour kingfish are getting bigger and bigger every year. Recently we cracked our two biggest fish in Fishabout’s 22 years of guiding: an 18kg fish followed the next day by a 22kg monster.
One of the downsides of big kings is that they tend to be more prone to infection by the kudoa parasite. It’s not common in the Sydney region (I’ve only ever experienced two amongst literally thousands of fish) and it seems to be virtually nonexistent in smaller fish of 10kg and under. Still, there are some large fish that do carry it, and both my customer and I found that out the hard way when we served up portions of the bigger fish at Christmas dinner.
When the kudoa parasite dies it releases an enzyme that reacts to the heat of cooking. Once cooked, a fish infected with kudoa turns into a hideous mush, with the consistency of mashed potato and the flavor of barbecued dog poo. It’s a truly horrible experience. As I said, it’s a very rare occurrence from Sydney and further south but becomes more common as you move north, to the point where it becomes so common in the Gold Coast region that kingfish are no longer on the menu. Fortunately the parasite is completely harmless to humans.
Naturally, if we had known the fish was infected we would have happily released it. Unfortunately there were absolutely no warning signs. The fish fought long and hard and looked to be in top condition. The flesh of the fillets appeared perfectly normal to the point where my customer reported that it made great sashimi.
Fish of this size are becoming more common in Sydney Harbour, so any anglers persevering with tackle from the ‘rat king’ era of the 1990s and early 2000s are going to find themselves horribly under-gunned. During the period from the mid-1980s to early 2000, fish in the 60cm bracket were in plague proportions. There didn’t seem to be much under that size and if you caught a couple of fish over 80cm in a season you’d be pretty chuffed.
Then, within a decade of the removal of commercial kingfish traps, I started to notice that a couple of things were changing. Firstly, I was filleting more and more fish on the deck of my boat as my filleting board seemed to be getting smaller. My filleting knife was getting shorter every year and no longer able to span the width of the average kingfish fillet. My icebox was getting smaller and my plastic rod holders perishing and being regularly torn from the gunwale. The average kingfish was getting rapidly bigger by the year.
The Gillies/Roberts style plastic rail-mount rod holders are no good for king fishing. They are great rod holders but are only rated to about 8kg. I learnt the hard way after seeing six of my best outfits heading for the bottom with the rod holder still attached.
I must point out that it was my fault as I was pushing them way beyond their abilities. The problem first emerged when we went up to braid. Heavier braking strain and no stretch was more than the holders’ stem could take.
Flush-mount stainless steel holders will do the job strength-wise but they are not ideal as they are primarily designed for trolling. When you are fishing straight down below the boat a vicious strike will pull a severe angle into the rod. Strong glass rods with solid clear tip might handle this but you can say goodbye to your high modulus graphite.
My rod holders are custom made and very simple. They consist of an aluminum tube slightly larger than the rod, welded to the coaming or rail at an inclination just above horizontal. There is a T-shaped slot cut along the top front that the stem of an eggbeater reel keys into, effectively locking the outfit in place. These holders lock the rod in securely, and it’s easy to remove the rod and also to set it at the right angle to absorb hard strikes. Best of all, I haven’t lost a rod since having them installed.
Eggbeaters are my first choice and you can’t go past a big Fin-Nor Offshore 6500 to 8500. They are indestructible and will fish alongside the likes of Stella and Saltiga.
Eggbeaters work for straight down bait fishing, casting unweighted live squid at structure or heavy lure fishing the likes of a 9” Slug-go, and heavy metal casting and jigging. With modern braids, capacity is no issue and they have a drag range to get the best out of any line class from 20-30kg. I’ve got one Offshore 6500 which is now in its third season of charter fishing with virtually no maintenance other than a wash down and occasional spray with WD40. It’s running as good as the day it came out of the box which is truly remarkable.
A 6’6” rod will give you a bit extra push for casting, and enough reach to keep the line off the boat/motor when your king inevitably takes a lunge under. I’m running both the Fin-Nor Offshore jig sticks in both 50lb and 80lb and the new Garry Howard Offshore Extreme rods, both of which match up well with the above mentioned reels.
Braid is the way to go overall, despite the tangles and the occasional pulled hook on short lines. Spool up with 50lb or 80lb. My theory is you don’t have to use it all but it offers greater abrasion resistance and you can crank it up if you need to. As I said earlier, capacity is not an issue anymore. I use Sufix Performance braid in this line class.
Your leader is inevitably going to get dragged over rough surfaces so fluorocarbon is the obvious choice. I would use 60-80lb for bigger kings (depending on terrain) and 40lb for smaller fish. The compromise with trace weights is in hook-ups, and experience has shown that you will definitely get more hook-ups when using lighter trace.Reads: 1119