How To Catch A SW Victorian Kingfish

05 Jan 24
During summer, the number one species on the south-west Victorian saltwater anglers bucket list is the yellowtail kingfish. These hard hitting hoodlums make their presence known along the coastal areas, often arriving unexpectedly and causing mayhem for those targeting other fish. But there's plenty of reasons to dedicate time into finding these often elusive fish; they're big, pull very hard, grab both lures and baits, can be found close to shore, and make for great eating. Let's take a look at how you can get amongst them; as we're right in a good bite now!


At the time of writing (5th Jan), we are right in the middle of the southwest kingfish season with plenty of fish being caught. Kingfish will be present along our coast anywhere as early as September and late as May, but the definite peak each year is December to February. Kingfish are quite dependent on water temperatures, and as the water took some time to warm up this year, the fish showed a little later. During February, at the peak of the south-easterly winds, the waters will cool and become green as the Bonney upwelling goes through its usual cycle. Kings will slow during this time, so try concentrate your efforts earlier in the season. Flat days are best; obviously more pleasant to fish in, but the kings can also be spotted rippling or tailing on the surface easily, especially when close to shore. This is usually more noticeable earlier in the morning, so be on the water early to beat the summer crowds and have the best chance at visually spotting a school. So what's the best time to snag a yellowtail? A hot, calm morning in mid January would normally be ideal; but like any fish, they don't have rules so you could draw a blank on such a morning yet find a big school of feeding fish on a cold April day!


Portland's North Shore remains the most consistent spot each year, for both numbers and quality of fish. Portland is the hotspot for rat kings; smaller fish around the 50-75cm range, which are usually tightly schooled and are popular light tackle targets. These fish are often found around the Lee Breakwater (where they can be taken landbased) and town reef areas, easily accessible in any sized boat and often protected. However, the Portland area also holds a number of much bigger fish up to 120cm; a completely different prospect which could easily snap lines, break rods or crack lures intended for smaller kings, if they don't bust you off on a reef first. These bigger fish will hang out in the town reef area but also further east around the abalone farm and Wally's ramp. So why do they keep coming to the North Shore? Being a large, shallow bay, this area will warm up faster than other stretches of local coastline and will fish better earlier in the season. Also, the expansive shallow reefs here hold excellent stocks of kingfish food; squid, yakkas, slimies, small salmon, whiting and trevally, so they're never short of a feed. 

Closer to Port Fairy, Lady Julia Percy Island has always been another hotspot, and in the last couple of seasons, produced a better quality of fish with kings to 130cm caught. It's quite different to fish compared to the North Shore; being much deeper with heavier reef. Kings can be spotted on the surface here but also will often be fished for with deeper water tactics such as flatline or downrigger trolling, and jigging. Fish will also move around the surrounding coastlines, with reefy areas such as Peeping Tom (Yambuk), Killarney, and Helen's Rock all holding kings throughout the summer. These spots generally aren't as consistent but a lot less targeted, and excellent fishing can be had if you're in the right place at the right time.


Unlike a lot of our local offshore targets, there's many ways to catch a king. Many anglers agree the most exciting tactic is casting at spotted fish. Using your eyes and a good set of polaroids (maybe the help of a teaser and trolled lures), kings can be spotted on the surface and will usually respond well to a popper, sluggo or stickbait cast amongst them. Fish them back with a moderate speed and sweeping of the rod; maybe a pause or two. Trolling can be a great way to cover water and fish for kings which aren't showing on top. A good spread would include a well-rigged livie (you don't want to be killing valuable livies by poor rigging), a strip of squid, a sluggo and even a popper worked by hand out the back too. Strip teasers with a bit of flash work wonders to excite the fish and fire them up. Stagger lures back at different lengths from the boat, and keep things pretty slow too. Jigging isn't as commonly employed down here, as the shallower waters we usually fish for kings aren't as easily jigged as deeper seamounts and reefs elsewhere in Australia. Still, Lady Julia Percy can be definitely fished with a jig when schools are spotted on the sounder.


In terms of rods and reels, there's a few combos which are worth having in your kingie arsenal. The first is an all-rounder, leaning slightly towards a casting setup. This would be a 7'4 PE 3-5 rod with an 8000 reel. Daiwa's Saltist Hyper 'Power Rounder' is the most popular for us, as well as the Shimano Extraction 7'2. Match this with an 8000 reel and 50lb braid; we find the Daiwa Saltist MQ, Shimano Saragosa, Shimano Spheros, Penn Slammer, Penn Authority, Daiwa Maverick MQ, Shimano Stella and Daiwa Saltiga all to be very good choices at a range of budgets.
Next up would be a slightly lighter, shorter rod which you can use for trolling or jigging. Daiwa's Combi Jerk (6'4) has always been a good one, as is Shimano's 6'9 Extraction. Match this with either a 6000 or 8000 spin reel. Finally, an overhead combo is perfect for trolling. A Shimano Talica or Speedmaster in a 12 or 16 size, with a 6'6 rod and again 50lb braid is perfect. There's plenty of other combos you can try, including a specialist jig combo, light casting rod for rats, or heavy casting rod for mega poppers, but the three mentioned are perfect.

Lure wise, a sluggo is something that should be in any kingfish anglers box. A 12" rigged sluggo in chrome or white is possibly the best lure ever made for hungry local kingies, and accounts for probably half of all the kings caught each season. Poppers are ideal for casting at schools of kings; try a Nomad Chug Norris, Williamson Jet Popper or Halco Roosta Popper. Stickbaits can also be used in the same situation (Rapala Skitter X, Nomad Riptide, Jackfin Stylo, Maria Loaded). In terms of jigs, it's hard to beat a Nomad Streaker in a 60-120g size best suited locally. 

When it comes to terminal tackle, match your gear to the location and targeted fish size. You could go up to 130lb leader for big kings in heavy reef, or as light as 30lb for smaller kings in close. 60-80lb flurocarbon is a good median, attached to your braid with an FG. Hook sizes need to be matched to baits; a heavy duty live bait hook from BKK, Black Magic or Gamakatsu should suit either livies or squid strips.


Kings are definitely a top table fish and can be cooked a number of ways, as well as making a superb sashimi dish when eaten fresh and looked after well. Like all fish, don't let them go to waste; kill them quickly, bleed them and get them on ice. A lot of anglers these days are choosing to release their fish, as data is showing high recapture rates for our kingfish which suggests a small, potentially vulnerable population which could easily be susceptible to overfishing. There's a number of tagging programs currently on including Project Kingfish, so keep in the loop with these programs to learn more about the habits of our local kings, and how you can help out with providing valuable information.