Fooling Harbour kings
  |  First Published: December 2005

It’s been a great start to the kingfish season with lots of fish that are bigger than the previous year’s average.

We have caught plenty up to 7kg and have been smoked several times by some really serious fish. Best spots so far have been North Head and all through Middle Harbour but by the time you read this they should be right through the main Harbour as well.

We have also picked up some early-season amberjack, is a sure sign that the really warm water of the East Australian Current is on the way. North Harbour and the shallows of Balmoral are chockers with baitfish and it’s looking like things are about to explode.

If you go to the trouble to learn to catch squid you will always catch a lot of kings and that is the only way I know of to do it. If you go to the fish markets and buy very fresh squid you will catch a few kings – sometimes. If you want to catch a lot on lures, you must use the 6” or 9” Slug-Go soft plastics or saltwater flies. Poppers are OK for a few kings – occasionally.

Traditionally Sydney Harbour kingies move in around October. For some reason their distribution at this time is limited to The Spit and lower Middle Harbour. They are usually a bigger run of fish than the average Summer fish and range from 70cm to 120cm.

You won’t see them on the surface or the sounder screen. The only way you will know they are there is to fish for them.

They don’t come near the surface and they mostly hold under the marinas and moorings, making them hard to find on the sounder. These areas are the major strongholds of arrow squid and my bet is that this is why the kings are there, too.

About Christmas time, the rats come in. These are the fish that will swarm throughout the Harbour all Summer and Autumn The first signs are on the surface and through these months you’ll see a lot of surface action with bonito, tailor and, recently, salmon on the lower Harbour.

The kings get in on the act as well. They are hard to catch at this time and your best bet is with a fly. They are feeding on ‘eyes’ (tiny baitfish) and it’s hard to interest them in anything else.

Once they go off the ‘eyes’ they move in around the marker buoys and yacht moorings in about late January and are much less selective. This is the time to catch large numbers of them on squid, Slug-Gos and flies.

You can see the fish on the surface and on the sounder. They are smaller fish, from 50cm to 70cm, and are real silly puppies.

Kingies mostly hold from mid-water down so obviously this is a good place to present your bait.


High tide and the first two hours of the run out, especially early morning and late afternoon, is when you will find them really feeding. That’s also a good time to catch squid.

Big kingies like whole live squid but small ones don’t. Big kingies will just as happily take a squid head.

So, by using a squid head you will get lots of big and small kingies. If you use live squid you will get fewer fish which they will be bigger on average.

The gut of a squid is an exceptionally good bait and also the best berley you can use for kings. Its all about the guts. Use the guts, and especially the ink, to entice the fish.

You can burst the ink sac before you send the bait down or you can let the first king burst it for you. The gut is always the first bait to go, which must mean it’s the best bait.

Strips of squid cut from the tube are good baits, particularly after the guts and heads have got the school in a frenzy. Rub it all in ink.

You won’t have to worry too much about tides or time of day if you pay very close attention to what I said earlier about the bait, the guts and the ink.

Kings are easily turned on and off again if you know what buttons to push. The worst thing you can do is to keep presenting something that has been rejected, in the same manner.

A school of following kings can be turned into a school of taking kings by something as simple as changing the presentation angle. This applies to lures and bait. If they follow a lure or show interest in a bait more than three times without taking it, don’t present it again.

Kings are the exact opposite to barra in this sense. Barra can be teased into striking where kings can be teased out of striking. They are stubborn bastards and the more you shove it in their faces, the more they’ll reject it


Change the lure size, let it sink, change the presentation angle or, best of all, go away, try another spot and come back in half an hour.

To turn them on, surprise them.

Rock up to a spot noisily. Throw your anchor with a big splash and then get all your baits out there quickly.

Let the baits sink to the required depth and then rip them back in. Just as an excited, dumb dog does stupid things, so do kingies. As soon as the anchor hits the water, they come straight over to see what is happening.

The key is to not give them to much time to think about it. Trick them into an impulse attack. Action excites them but not for long, so work quickly

In addition, you are better to have five or six baits in the water rather than just a few. Again, this is more likely to excite them. If you can’t handle six rods, just take a few out of action once you have the fish on the bite.

One final, but equally important, tip is to fish with your reel in gear and with your normal fighting drag. Don’t feed kingies any line when they take your bait.

Once a take is felt, lower the rod down and move with the fish. Once the rod reaches the water it’s time to strike.

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