Gearing up for Harbour kings
  |  First Published: April 2007

Kingfish traps were banned in March 1995 and for the first five years, nothing much happened.

Each year after that we slowly started to notice good numbers of smaller fish coming back, to the point where fish over the legal 60cm could be described as abundant. The slower than expected recovery rate can probably be explained by the simple fact that most anglers failed to factor in that the pros were still netting and line fishing for them. King traps weren’t the only method used to take them.

Pittwater still struggles to sustain good king fishing right through the season simply because the pros hit them hard. Botany Bay never was a real good king fishery in the first place so we can’t expect too much to happen down there despite the removal of the pros.

The Harbour, with its deep water, abundant structure and plentiful food supply, makes an ideal habitat for small to mid-sized kings (2kg to 20kg) and now with the traps gone and all pro fishing removed, the fishing is proving spectacular.

The past few years have provided smatterings of bigger fish but this year is the first year since the removal of the traps that they could be described as consistent. It’s well-documented now that if you want to catch kings consistently then you must learn to catch squid but with plenty of big fish around, I want to talk about tackle.


The Gillies/Roberts style of plastic rail-mount rod holders are no go for king fishing. They are great rod holders but are rated only to about 8kg.

I learnt the hard way after seeing six of my best outfits heading for the bottom with rod holder still attached. I must point out that it was my fault because I was pushing the holders way beyond their abilities.

The problem first emerged when we went up to braid. Heavier braking strain and no stretch was more than the holder’s stem could take. Flush-mount stainless steel holders will do the job strengthwise but they are not ideal because they are primarily designed for trolling.

When you are fishing straight down below the boat a vicious strike pulls a severe angle into the rod. Strong glass rods with solid clear tips 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 aluminium tube slightly larger than the rod butt that is welded to the coaming or rail at an angle just above horizontal. There is a T-shaped slot cut along the top front that the stem of a theadline reel keys into, effectively locking the outfit in place.

They lock the rod in securely, are easy to remove the rod from, set the rod a the right angle to absorb hard strikes and, most importantly, I haven’t lost a rod since having them installed.


Threadlines beaters are my first choice and you can’t go past the big 950 Penn Spinfisher. They are indestructible and with new refinements like balanced rotor, infinite anti-reverse (long overdue) and longer spool oscillation (designed for braid), they will fish alongside the likes of Stella and Saltiga.

Eggbeaters work for straight-down bait fishing, casting unweighted live squid at structure or fishing heavy lures like the 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 10kg to 20kg.

If you are targeting really big kings then the likes of a Penn 330 lever drag might be a better option but you lose versatility once you go to an overhead. A big, modern, sturdy eggbeater is up to the challenge of most Harbour kings.


Go glass. Anything but the very best of graphite rods won’t stand up to the rough and tumble of kings. Penn make a matching rod for the 950 which is ideal. A 6’6” pole 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.


Braid is the way to go overall despite the tangles and the occasional pulled hook on short lines. Spool up with 50lb. 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 any more. I use Sufix Performance Braid in this line class.


Fluorocarbon is the obvious choice given that is inevitably going to get dragged over rough surfaces. I would use 60lb to 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.


Fishing on the Harbour has been spectacular over the past month. There are huge quantities of baitfish all through the lower Harbour and the surface fish have been going nuts.

Everything is in on the act including bonito, salmon, tailor, kings and plague of very early-run frigate mackerel.

Sharks have followed and there are more than I can ever remember seeing before. Our skipper Stu Reid spotted a 4m tiger shark just off Clifton Gardens, there are hammer heads everywhere and lots of really big whalers off the Quarantine Station at North Head.

We picked up a tagged kingie the other day in the Harbour and, after returning the tag to Fisheries, got some interesting statistics.. It was originally tagged at Eden on the South Coast and had swum 180nm or 330km to Sydney.

It’s my guess that it actually swam a lot further than that, given that it is highly unlikely that it did so in a straight line. It was originally tagged in April 2006 and measured 70cm with an estimated weight of 4.4kg. It was recaptured in February and measured 86cm, estimated weight 8.1kg.

So in a mere 10 months it had put on almost 4kg. It was in superb condition and showed no ill effects of either the original hooking or the tagging but is reported to be doing ‘not so good now’ after being rolled in Cajun spices and pan-fried rare.

We caught a number of fish of similar size that day and I can’t help wondering if the entire school was up from Eden.

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