Kingfish - Hunting Tips


Learn more about how to identify kingfish, where to find them, and their feeding preferences here: SPECIES ID - KINGFISH

Limit your catch, don't catch your limit. Please check the latest rules and catch limits in your area on the MPI website:


So you’re keen on landing a big kingfish, but where and how do you find them? New Zealand waters are renowned for some of the biggest kingfish in the world - international and local spearfisherman hunt these mighty fish right here on our doorstep.

From early October through to April, we see kingfish populate the North Island but with current climatic changes, we are seeing them as far as the Deep South. Kingfish love rocky structures with dominant underwater pinnacles and currents that hold baitfish.
nick kingi-928
Nick Kan with a nice kingfish off the Kāpiti coast.

Hunting kingfish can be very rewarding and challenging at the same time. The ecstasy of fighting very powerful fish and the hunt to locate them; for some is a bigger rush than diving deep.

The fun begins once the kingfish have been located. They will most often swim in schools hunting in packs; the fish will work a pattern of coastline, revisiting the same pinnacles every 20-40 minutes. Inquisitive by nature the kingfish will most often come right up to you - stealth is not an art that you have to master. Presenting yourself as a foreign object in the water is enough to entice them.

Due to their curious nature, keeping your body calm and motionless in mid-water is enough to draw them in. In most situations the kingfish will swim towards you to see what you are, usually a few smaller fish will lead the school; then within seconds you could have hundreds of fish milling around you or the rocky structure below.

When hunting on a deep pinnacle, the kingfish will usually approach you. The approach is crucial! Always dive away from them, and not directly onto them. The best method is to dive in the general direction that they are swimming. Diving towards them will only make them spook and detour away.

Keeping your eyes slightly hidden, you should lock the fish in your peripheral vision as this allows you to approach them indirectly without scaring them. Plan your descent so that you intercept their swimming direction and execute your shot from there. Shouting through one’s snorkel underwater can also draw in a disinterested kingfish.
Careful placement of a shot will ensure your odds of landing a kingfish; they have very soft flesh and tearing often results in lost fish.

When spearing the fish -  try to land your shaft just above the pectoral fin along the lateral line behind the gill plate; this will provide a solid holding shot which will effectively bleed the fish out, resulting in less struggle and a quicker death. Refer to the cross-section of a kingfish on the previous page. Once a solid holding shot has been achieved, the diver can surface and begin the battle.

An injured kingfish can be deadly; there is a risk of drowning from entanglement – caution and alertness is paramount. Injured kingfish will have a violent and powerful first run; most often it will head for the rocks below trying to dislodge the spear. The most important factor is to keep your line away from your body and fins. Kingfish will swim in circles so it is vital that you do the same to avoid becoming entangled.

Once the fish has tired somewhat - get a mate to apply a second holding shot – this will often calm down a violent contender. Eventually, when it runs out of steam, you can secure the fish by grabbing it under the gills and wrapping your legs around it - delivering a quick “iki” to seal the deal.
brett kingi
An elusive Marlborough Sounds kingfish speared by Brett Orchard.

So what’s the best set-up for tackling these beasts? Ideally, you will have a decent-sized speargun, bungy or hardline and a sufficient float with one of two flasher rigs attached. We’ll examine these in more detail next.
Using flashers is an effective way to attract kingfish into range. There are two types of flashers that can be used: drop flashers and inline flashers. When diving on deeper pinnacles, both inline and drop flashers can be used to lure kingfish closer to the surface and within range of a shot.
A drop flasher is used with two divers - one diver will concentrate on ‘teasing’ or working the flasher - while the other will wait for the kingfish and dive down to intercept the fish once it is in range. Essentially, one diver is the ‘bait’ while the other is the shooter.

To work the flasher you have two options: firstly unwind the flasher to the desired depth which should be a depth to which you and your dive buddy can safely dive. You want to be able to reach your dive partner if he gets into any trouble – so it is paramount that you can both hit the same depth.

If the pinnacle is deeper than you can safely dive, one would use the flasher to attract the fish up from the bottom. Unwind your flasher down to the sides of the pinnacle and pull it up and down; the kingfish, being very curious, will investigate it and swim in circles around it.

At this stage, you can keep ‘teasing’ or ‘jigging’ the flasher and raise the kingfish up - while the second diver can descend and take the shot. The second option is to unwind the flasher to a safe diving depth and lock it off so it won’t unwind any further.

Holding the float in your hand, you can dive with the float to the desired depth. Once at your limit, you can ‘jig’ the flasher a few times and then let it go – the float will rise to the surface along with the flasher, flashing its way to the surface; leaving you free to watch for an approaching kingfish.
This is an effective way to bring kingfish in when you’re descending. The inline flasher is a series of smaller flashers attached to your float line. The flashers are approximately 2m above you and, as the diver descends, the momentum while diving will make the flashers spin/move.

The inline flasher keeps teasing as you dive, which eliminates the need for a separate diver to jig it. It is, however, wise to have someone spot for you, while you dive to the bottom – to make sure that you surface safely.
A decent long-range speargun is best. When selecting the speargun you should consider accuracy and range as the most important factors. The most commonly used size is a 120cm railgun. An even longer gun or a roller gun will increase your shooting range. The more range you have on a shot - the easier your job.
An important factor to consider is having your shaft balanced with your speargun. For targeting kingfish, a shaft not exceeding 7.5mm in thickness would be very effective. A 7.1mm shaft with a 130cm railgun is a well-balanced setup delivering a long and devastating shot.
A well-placed shot using a standard shaft with a flopper will hold effectively - yet a slip-tip is usually a guaranteed fish on the boat! A slip-tip will penetrate the fish and provide a “back-up” so in the case that your shaft did get dislodged – the slip-tip would remain in the fish.

When selecting a slip-tip you do need to ensure that it’s balanced and will not cause your shaft to drop during flight resulting in an inaccurate shot. I feel it is very important to mention once again: treat these powerful fish with respect, dive within your limits, and if you are not comfortable don’t take the shot!
WARNING: Kingfish are powerful fighting fish and should always be treated with respect. Before attempting to hunt these fish- one should always seek advice and ensure that he/she has adequate experience.

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