Last summer in Auckland was not the greatest for the swoffing -inclined (especially land-based) – almost constant gusty winds and plenty of rain made it difficult to juggle places and times to find suitable locations that didn’t have churned up mud or sand in shore.
Now the spring has arrived and have managed to get some windows in the weather to get a fly into the mostly clear water. And God be blessed for kahawai – nothing else was turning up even when I tossed some berley in to wake the fish up.
And a pleasant surprise after the last 5-6 years of catching mainly juvenile fish in the sub 25cm cohort around the harbour, this year has provided mostly 35-45 cm specimens who definitely bend the 7 weight rod and even rip into the backing on occasion.
Anyone who takes up the hunting of kingfish by stalking them on the flats will know this is not a big numbers sport. There will be hours of watching for distant ripples in the waves, days without without even making a cast to sighted fish, weeks without getting an actual take. There will be few you can even talk to about your pursuit. This is not about popular locations such as Tauranga Harbour or Golden Bay – this is the secret squirrel world of suburban swoffing around Auckland.
And on this morning there were kings on the flat. I had been up and down following them, waiting for them track closer in so I could get a chance to put a fly in their path. This morning’s strategy was not to use a popper or a streamer as all previous offerings had been ignored. Today it was going to be a crab fly, so it had to be on the bottom in the path of the fish before it arrived. The trick was to only tweak it once it was was in visual range of the fish. All in all a riskier presentation that the usual baitfish imitation dropped close by and then whisked away on a high speed retrieve that would trigger a reflexive pursuit from the predator.
So after about 30 minutes of watching and walking a pair of wakes started heading in shore. I got ahead of them and made a cast of about 5-6 meters out and about 10 metres ahead of their position, giving plenty of time to sink the fly to the bottom and no suspicious splash of fly hitting the water to alert the fish.
They changed course, turning away from where the fly was waiting. I let them swim past without moving the fly as they were a few meters further out. Often these fish zig zag on their approach, so I retrieved the fly and recast whre I hoped they would go if they turned back towards me.
They continued on for about ten meters then turned around and came in parallel to the shore only a few meters out and on track for the fly.
When the V-ripples were about a meter away I did a couple of short quick strips to imitate a crab’s flight response. The surfaces ripples stopped- the kingfish were diving down to check out the fly. A couple more short strips and there was a heavy pull. I set the hook with a long pull of the flyline and a split second later the water exploded and then a hole opened as the fish turned and thrashed towards deeper water.
The rod tip was wrenched over as the fish aserted its strength and took off. Immediately I started to reel up the loose flyline, but within seconds it was gone as the fish took off and the reel screamed.
On a seven weight rod I felt quite confident as I had previously successfully landed two kingfish on other outfits of the same rating. Also I had 300 meters of backing so the risk of being spooled was low. However once the fish had taken over a hundred meters I was wondering if had long distance travel plans to the main channel so I started to wade out to keep closer.It was about 15 minutes later before I saw the flyline join come up out of the water and king wallowing and kicking on the surface some 40 meters away.
Ito minimise any panic reactions from the kingfish I began to quietly and steadily wade back towards the shore some 300 meters behind me by now.
It was only in the last minute of two that I got a decent look at the fish to see that it was definitely not a “Rat”.
And managed to beach it without any big panic thrashing:
Snapper are justifiably popular as a sport fish in New Zealand, which arguably has the best snapper fishing on the planet. They are a hard fighting, handsome, widespread and delicious fish that is a prime target for saltwater fly fishers.
While a snapper is a colourful spectacle in its own right, I offer a couple of black and white views of this wonderful species to evoke its no-nonsense character and gritty nature.
One of the more reliable locations to find Yellowtail Kingfish is around harbour buoys or other marker structures.
The basic procedure is approach the buoy, cast your fly as close as possible then rip the fly back as fast as you can. The speed achieves two things: it triggers the predator reaction to pursue the fly, and the further you entice the fish from the buoy increases the chance that once hooked you will be able to stop the fish diving back around the buoy mooring line.
On this occasion everything followed the text book. First cast, no response. Second cast, a flash of green and yellow behind the fly. Third cast the fish followed the fly 4-5 meters before smashing it. Perfect!
The reel drag is set tight and I clamped down on the reel spool for the first few seconds as Matt reversed the boat (as in photo below). The fly rod was “only” a 9 weight which is at the lower limit for this sort of combat and as the fish was “only” a rat (ie small ) so we got away it. Bigger fish will usually dictate the battle in the early moments and often the angler is totally at mercy of the whatever the greenback hoodlum wants to do.
If you think kingfish fights are visually spectacular, like a berserk leaping kahawai (or rainbow trout for the freshwater anglers), then you’d be disappointed, they are down and dirty ( like a big brown trout) thugs with one intention to get a near any structure to wrap the line around. Most of the time your rod will be at least half submerged in the water to hold the line off the boat hull. Unless the fish kindly runs away from the boat, or heads towards the surface (unlikely in the early stages of the fight) any attempt to pull the rod tip up above the surface is to invite a broken rod.