Targeting Yellowtail Kingfish
  |  First Published: December 2009

Yellowtail kingfish are one of the ocean’s great fighters.

Their ability to power away to a piece of structure at the drop of a hat or carry the battle on way past what you would think is incredible.

Yellowtail kingfish (Seriola lalandi) are a reasonably fast growing species that mature around two years of age when they are 50-70cm in length. These smaller kingfish are often referred to as rats. Whilst still great fun on light gear, it’s the larger kingfish that really get anglers arms twitching.

Kings in the 6-9kg are magnificent sports fish and once they get over 10kg they can take some serious extraction. Yellowtail kingfish are found all around the world in temperate ocean waters. In Australia they range from north Queensland, right down to the bottom of Tasmania and as far up the west coast as Shark Bay in WA.

Victoria is perhaps not as well endowed with kingfish as some states, but there are significant populations distributed along the Victorian coastline. Tasmania is seeing increasing numbers of these wonderful sportsfish, especially on the east coast.

There are a number of ways in which you can target kingfish, no matter where you find them.


As with most species of pelagic fish, trolling is a popular way of targeting kingfish. The major advantage of trolling is that you cover lots of ground. Kingies can move around a lot and trolling keeps you on the move and actively looking for them.

Like any pelagic fish, kingfish, particularly in large numbers, can turn on a frenetic bite where just about anything thrown at them will draw a response. Most times however they can be pretty choosy about what they eat and how they go about eating it, particularly the larger 10kg plus fish.

You hear of the odd fish being taken on all manner of trolling lures but skirted lures, in combination with strip baits, are the most popular way of enticing a king to bite when trolling. The skirt helps keep the strip bait from spinning as well as providing a bit of extra flash and bubble. Having fresh strip baits is also a crucial part of the equation. No use having the best spread in the world at the back of the boat if the fish are fussy and demanding fresh bait.

Fresh squid strips are a well-known and frequently used strip trolling bait. Strips of snook and salmon are also good as they are often a freshly caught by-catch of a trolling operation. Make sure they are long and thin and don’t spin when trolled though the water. Teasers can be employed to assist when trolling but they work best in glassy conditions. Having plenty of help on board to clear such teasers and other trolling lines is crucial, particularly if big fish are involved

There are a couple of disadvantages with selecting trolling as your method of extraction. If the water temperature is down or the fish aren’t in surface column, they may not even see your presentation. Alternatively they might just follow along without hitting the lure. It is here where smart trolling applies, rather than just driving around the ocean. Constantly checking spread for followers and being able to adjust speeds up or down may induce a strike. Alternatively having a large soft plastic rod rigged up to cast out and crank through the spread may turn those followers into strikers.

Bait fishing at anchor

To use a well-known bass fishing term, trolling is basically looking for active fish by inducing a ‘reaction bite’. This works well in good conditions when water temperatures are up. However this may not always be the case. Water/weather conditions or the kingfish attitude on the day may not be suitable for inducing the ‘reaction’ bite. It’s times like this that bait fishing at anchor can be the best method of enticing a king.

Basically this involves anchoring in a likely area, usually just of the drop-off of a reef or pinnacle. A large live or fresh bait is usually then drifted out under a balloon or float, usually in conjunction with a light berley trail. Many kings are taken this way and it also provides the opportunity to fill your bag with other desirable species such as snapper, King George whiting or trevally whilst you wait for the kingfish to come along.

This technique though also has its difficulties and disadvantages. Fresh bait is again crucial, but even more so than when trolling as the fish have a longer time to inspect the offering when you are fishing at anchor. Catching and keeping that bait alive or super fresh does have difficulties. Locating stocks of suitable livies, capturing them and then keeping them alive can often seem harder than catching the kingfish in the first place. Obtaining quality live baits at the same spot as your hoping to catch kings has its obvious difficulties.

If there are hungry kings cruising around there’s probably precious little chance of securing a live bait in the same location. Of course anchoring also means you’re a restricted to fishing one spot. This is good if you know you’re on a hot spot, little use if the kings are 5km away. Judicious use of berley can help attract the kingfish but will probably draw many other species; some desirable some not so. Patience is the key to this method, as too many moves will hinder the berley trails’ ability to do its job.

Slow trolling

Slow trolling live baits is something of a compromise between the trolling and anchor/bait fishing techniques. It is best done from a small electric powered boat. This of course has the obvious disadvantage of requiring excellent weather/sea conditions to be effectively undertaken. It’s also important not being too far from a nearby ramp should things go bad.

You do cover more ground than being at anchor but are still fairly location specific, as you can’t cover the ground a normal trolling boat under outboard power will cover. The benefits are you can present baits such as live fish and squid in a very natural manner. Another benefit of this method is how quiet the boat is compared to trolling with an outboard. If you keep your eyes peeled as you creep along you can come across a school of fish that you otherwise may not have seen

Being mobile also has its benefits. The reputation of how hard a king fights is well and truly justified. There will always be an element of luck when it comes to landing the fish, particularly if it’s a quality fish over 10kg. There are a few things you can do to keep the odds in your favour. Fishing from the moving boat, whether trolling on the electric or outboard, gives you the ability to give chase easier than when anchored and baitfishing. Some keen bait anglers have buoys rigged up to their anchor so they can drop the anchor and quickly give chase – retrieving it later.

Being able to keep as short a distance between you and the fish gives the fish less of a chance of being able to cut you off on a nearby reef. A big king on lighter gear can sometimes be carefully led away from trouble in a small manoeuvrable boat, provided you can keep close to him and maintain a constant pressure.

Casting Lures

Whilst slow trolling for kings you are able to cast lures around the boat. One option is to use lighter tackle outfits aimed at adding more table fish to the bag or assist in keeping up the live bait supply. Pulling up a constant stream of struggling fish into the boat on light gear can also have the secondary effect of attracting any large yellowtail predators that may be in the area.

The other option is to throw larger soft plastics on heavier tackle aimed at the kingfish themselves. Having a 10kg plus king smash a hastily retrieved plastic at your feet is not something for anyone with a heart condition. It can be many casts between fish but when it all happens it’s worth the effort.

Large minnow or slug style lures are best for this method. They are rigged on a short 40-60cm trace to aid with repetitive casting, by not having the knot travel through too many guides each cast.


Deeper water jigging using knife style jigs is an exciting way of tackling kingfish that has really taken off in other parts of Australia. The majority of kingfish taken in Victorian waters however are taken either inshore areas or out of the surface column. It is an area where surely with a bit more research and exploration, some offshore king jigging grounds will appear.

On the table

If it isn’t enough that kingfish fight hard and look awesome, they are also good to eat. Yellowtail kingfish has white, firm flesh and is renowned for its high level of Omega 3 and other beneficial fatty acids. Problems that exist in warmer areas of their distribution, such as parasites and a disease that causes the flesh to turn soft and milky when cooked appear non-existent in cooler southern waters.

Victoria currently has a bag limit of five fish per person on yellowtail kingfish and a minimum size of 60cm. Tasmania has a possession limit of five fish per individual – this includes possession in the home.

Particularly if they are large fish, five is a generous limit. One big king has plenty of meat on it. Please carefully release any you don’t require so someone else might enjoy the exhilarating battle you’ve just enjoyed

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