Kingfish Off The Rocks VII – Great Barrier Island

My friend Paul from the UK is here, visiting the Barrier during his annual rockfishing holiday. We’ve been going hard, walking the extra mile, buying the extra burley, getting up early and all the rest. However, we experienced extremely poor fishing too many times in the first week of his visit. We had a great session last Saturday and Sunday though, and, once again, were proven that it’s best to go fishing when the conditions are right.

Conditions & Timing

Saturday, 28.02.2015, Great Barrier Island, calm sea, hot, no cloud in the sky, variable 5 knots of wind. Low tide at 1000. We had the burley deployed and the first bait in the water at about 08ish.

Early Morning Low Tides & Remote Spots

If you want to tangibly improve your chances of landing kingfish off the rocks, head out to a remote spot, a place that is just too far away to walk for others. Aim for low tides in the morning.

On this particular day, we got up early (0500) and drove to the southern part of the Barrier. Our adventure began with an 80 minute walk and climb down to a ledge that boasts plenty of current. Neither of us had landed a kingfish there before, but after so many failed attempts, we concluded that we will certainly encounter his majesty there. The salmon burley was deployed at about 0730 and plenty kahawai were swimming in its trail shortly after. We were elated to see those kahawai, it has been so long since I’ve seen more than just a couple of kahawai. Where have they all gone?

Catching Kahawai & The Perfect Live Bait Size

Different spots will boast different types of bait fish. Typical species used for live baiting are kahawai, trevally, piper and jack mackerel. My preferred option is kahawai, but don’t just send any kahawai out, try using small to medium sized one. Why? Because there are just less and less big kingfish left! The only healthy thing about the fisheries in New Zealand is of economical nature.


A perfect-sized kahawai, rigged for live baiting.

Another important point I like to make is that you will very likely require backup live baits, so catch a couple and keep them in good nick. Put them in rock pools or into a bucket, but make sure to replace the water as necessary.

Backup kahawai kept in a bucket, ready to be used for live baiting.

Backup kahawai kept in a bucket, ready to be used for live baiting.

Priorities & Watching & Being Ready

Losing fish is hardly ever a good feeling, and in a way, most anglers will go through the same experiences until it makes ‘click’. When you’re fishing not just for fun, but are targeting big fish or in this case kingfish, ask yourself what your priorities are.

Our number one priority was to land a kingfish on that day. The spot boasts a strong current and there are a few areas where a big fish can bust off easily. Thus, there was just not enough space on that ledge to fish two live baits at once. Paul sent his kahawai out under a balloon, watched the water constantly and kept the live bait rod in his hands.

Often, you see a kingfish before hooking up, and much more often, if you haven’t been watching and staying near your gear, because you’re busy doing something that has less priority, you’ll lose the kingi within seconds after hookup. You’ll miss out and the fish will swim off with stuff that should not be attached to a free fish in the ocean.

Live baiting a kahawai under a balloon. Certainly not exciting, but you need to be ready and focus on the top priority.

Live baiting a kahawai under a balloon. Certainly not exciting, but you need to be ready and focus on the top priority.

The Hookup

It was about 0900 and as I was only catching just legal or undersized snapper, I decided to go for a short walk over a boulder and shoot photos. I managed to take one shot before hearing Paul shout: “Ben, kingfish on.”

Calmly, but quickly, I walked back to the ledge and saw my bud being hooked up. The gaff was next to him, as it should be. The kingi wasn’t gaining any line on him, basically it didn’t stand a chance to his setup and drag setting. There are arguably plenty theories, but the best way to land a kingfish off the rocks is to use heaps of drag and don’t give the fish any line.

We saw the wonderful colours of his majesty, it was pushing the one meter mark. There was no communication between Paul and I. The first time the fish was in reach, I gaffed it effortlessly, and to my surprise, yet again through the gill plate without scoring the any of the meat. We secured the fish high up on the rocks and congratulated each other.

The Gaffman

Often understated, but the gaffman has a big job, especially when fishing off the rocks. While a few are expert gaffers even if they never gaffed a fish, experience is what most of us require. You know, sometimes a plain ‘sorry and I thought…’ doesn’t cut it. Gaffing a fish is a serious job, this is how I do it:

  • if the fish looks under-sized, the gaffman needs to clearly state that and repeat to the angler that he/she doesn’t think the fish should be gaffed. From then on, it is the angler’s decision.
  • if the angler calls that the fish should not be gaffed, the gaffman steps aside. It is the angler’s fish.
  • if the fish is clearly legal in terms of size, the gaffman should not ask questions, he/she should just gaff the fish
  • the angler should keep quiet unless the gaffman is doing something wrong and/or if he has something useful to say. “Gaff the f****** fish” is hardly ever useful.
  • gaffing a fish is a first row job. You need to get down to the ledge, be weary of sea, ledge conditions and if necessary call out to the angler to watch the swell for you.
  • do not just hit the fish on the head with the bend of the gaff hook (use the sharp end), do not touch the leader with the gaff either. This is for some reason all to common.
  • anticipate the movement of the fish, go over the shoulder of the fish with the gaff hook so the sharp bit faces back toward the rocks. Gaff the fish strongly and quickly
  • the fish might go crazy once you lift it out of the water – well, why not, it has just been impaled – so be prepared for that, hold the gaff strongly and walk, together with the angler, high up onto the rocks.

benisland_kingfishbenisland_kingfish2benisland_kingfish3More Photos


The Great Barrier Island Photography Blog

Ben Island’s perceptions of Island Life, a blog dedicated to Aotea and photography. If you like these photos, you should check out my new blog. Cheers.

The Gist Of It

Fish: Kingfish – Caught Rockfishing: Feb. 2015 – Bait: Live Kahawai – Where: Tryphena – Weight (estimated): 23 lbs – Gear: 80 lbs Main Line, 130 lbs Trace – Fish landed an hour before low tide

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