Gear up with a gar for kings
  |  First Published: June 2007

We have been getting some spectacular kingfish action lately and, hopefully, with the late start to the season we will get a late finish, taking the warm water and kings right through to June.

This is the time for bigger than average kings and an additional tactics. While I’m generally a strong proponent of fresh squid for bait, big kings develop a hankering for garfish at this time of year. This is not surprising, given that we get a good run of gar in the Harbour about now.

You will find gar in places like Quarantine and Watsons bays and around Sow and Pigs Reef. A bit of bread or chicken pellet berley mixed with tuna oil will get them in behind the boat in no time.

My favourite gar bait is pilchard gut on a short-shank No 12 or No 14 hook under a light quill float. I suspend the bait about 30cm under the float with no lead and use as light a line as possible. To keep them alive you will need a good-sized, well-aerated (preferably circulating ) bait tank.

One of the most successful and spectacular ways to fish the live gar is to swim them out under a bobby cork with no lead. This produces huge surface strikes.

The simple rig consists of a 1m mono trace with a bobby cork fixed at the point where the trace meets the main line. No lead is used so that the gar, pinned under the lateral line just behind the anal fin on a 6/0 octopus-style hook, swims on the surface. By having the hook on the underside you naturally keel the bait.

A gar hooked above the lateral line will have to constantly fight the hook and tire more quickly. When it does tire, the hook weight will pull the gar upside down and it will die.

An alternative rig is to drop the bobby cork and let the gar swim free. This is a great natural presentation with the disadvantage of not always knowing where your bait is and the resultant tangles. If you are going to use this method you will need to keep a constant check on your bait’s position.

While gar are great at this time of year, don’t write off the squid. A big, whole, live squid fished deep will take its share of big kings and still rates as No 1 bait with the advantage of picking up a stray jewfish.


I get the feeling I might have offended some of our Botany Bay correspondents and readers with a comment a few issues back to the tune of Botany Bay didn’t fish really well for Kingfish. If I did, I would like to apologise and take this opportunity to clarify and qualify my comment.

What I originally said was that ‘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.’ I didn’t say that Botany Bay was a bad king fishery, just that it was never really good compared with the likes of the Harbour or Jervis Bay. I could likewise comment that you don’t get kings up the Hawkesbury River as a fact, not as criticism.

Naturally the fishing in Botany Bay is improving with the removal of the pros but any system will only ever improve in proportion to how good it was in the first place.

To lift a description off the fishnet.com.au fish file, ‘Yellowtail kingfish are an oceanic surface fish congregating over inshore reefs, around rocky headlands, deep water jetties and channel markers as well as offshore over ocean rocks, offshore reefs and around islands. They prefer turbulent water and tidal rips and have been known to school up over sharp pinnacles of reef, around wharf pylons, bomboras and rocky headlands.’

Sydney Harbour’s average depth is 12m compared with Botany’s 4m. The Harbour is full of pinnacles, bomboras, jetty pylons and rocky headlands, while Botany is generally a shallow, sand bottom bay. This is why they call it a bay, not a harbour. It’s also one of the main reasons Captain Phillip moved the whole show around to the Harbour and why early colonial fishermen preferred Botany Bay as a netting ground. Botany Bay supports comparatively limited kelp beds and therefore limited southern calamari – kings’ primary food source).

The Harbour receives larger oceanic water exchange and hordes of baitfish with it. Baitfish attract juvenile kings. Botany Bay also supports only a limited salmon fishery as a result of its limited baitfish supply.

Not every tropical creek in northern Australia holds good barra populations, nor does every river in PNG hold black bass. There are mangrove jacks in Sydney’s Queenscliff Lagoon but not in Narrabeen Lagoon. The Clarence River holds huge populations of jewfish but the Sandon River, just to its south, does not. It’s all about preferred habitat.

The bottom line is that Botany Bay does not present the ultimate habitat to support a large population of kings. Again, this is fact, not criticism.

I’m not trying to put Botany Bay down as a fishery, I’m simply trying to highlight that it and the Harbour are two very different environments and therefore support different fish population demographics.

Botany Bay more than holds its own when it comes to traditional estuary species but certainly does have enough kings to provide a challenge.

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