Fishing topwater lures has to be one of the most exhilarating ways to catch kingfish – but it can also be a frustrating and expensive addiction! Don’t let that discourage ya though – beginners can get in on the fun too.

The gear

Kingfish by their very nature are generally found in rugged environments, so you need some reasonably serious kit to go toe-to-toe with the dogs. I recommend a sturdy spin set with at least 24kg braid. Cheaper reels will do the job but once you’ve experienced the drag output, smoothness and durability of top-end spin reels like the Daiwa Saltiga or Shimano Stella, it’s hard to go back! An 8ft rod is a good all-rounder and you want at least PE4-6 strength. 

Good knots connecting braid to leader are important. FG knots with the tags finished well have a smooth profile for casting. Jump on YouTube to find ample knot-tying tutorials and get some practice in. After all, you don’t want your knots beginning to unravel when the kings are hangry! 

Again, for terminal tackle, err on the heavier side of the ledger – I hardly ever use less than 100lb shock-leader for topwater. Hooks, split rings and connections also need to be solid as you’ll likely be running some hefty drags. Treble hooks generally get you attached to more fish than inline singles, but do cause more damage to the fish and yourself if you get in the way. 



The lures and the technique

Choosing your lures is half the fun of a healthy topwater addiction and most of the cost! I favour floating stick-baits that have a strong zig-zagging action – handmade wooden lures such as the Carpenter Gamma and CB One Zorro are great but hard to find (and expensive to lose), while plastic lures such as Maria Rapidos and Shimano Ocea Rocket Dives are decent cheaper options. Any colour will work on its day, but I like lures that imitate common kingfish prey such as mackerel, kahawai, koheru and squid. 

This style of lure is best worked with a long steady sweep with the rod, and at the end of the sweep, wind your reel to take up the slack line. Practice makes perfect, and every lure has its own subtleties. For example, some stick-baits also work well with a faster wind accompanied by a twitching rod action. Try keep as much of slack out of the line as possible to maximise your chances at setting hooks. If the water is choppy, then you may need to slow your rod sweeps down to keep the lure in the water and looking appealing – as opposed to skipping along the surface. 

Keep your eyes peeled for boils or wakes behind your lure. When you see yellow-tailed brutes nosing in behind your topwater lure, try to remain calm and focus on keeping your lure swimming nicely. If they still aren’t taking it, try pausing the retrieve and leaving your lure bobbing on the surface for a few moments – this can sometimes entice a lazy king to bite. On other occasions fish will crash your lure from nowhere and you’ll become instantly attached.  

Poppers can help draw the fish in by starting a big commotion or encourage an aggressive bite. Working poppers requires a similar but more aggressive technique – pull the rod back forcefully to make the pooper splash, then wind up the slack and repeat. Because poppers don’t move as far forward as stick-baits with each rod sweep, the action should be quicker than with stick-baits. Stick-baits can also be used to create a ruckus – try ‘slapping’ your lure repeatedly by swinging it hard onto the water’s surface below your feet to fire up sighted kings. 

Pick the right spot

Topwater lures are very versatile for both boat and landbased fishing – you can use them anywhere kingfish are lurking in shallow to medium depths. Remote ledges that offer depth, current and decent water clarity around the Far North, Coromandel, East Cape, and offshore islands are where you want to head if you’re after consistent year-round kingfish action. However, there are many more accessible locations that produce kings – especially during the warmer months. Think harbour entrances, marker buoys and poles, break-walls, wharves, shallow reefs, and other areas where baitfish congregate. The kings often cruise the drop-offs and casting parallel to the shoreline can keep your lure in the strike-zone for longer. Target the current-lines, back-eddies, underwater reef edges and areas where birds are working or smaller fish are feeding. If you are sighting fish, try positioning your lure to intercept their path – or land it right on their nose!


Start early

This is crucial – start your trip in the dark to get that all-important sunrise bite. 

Go well out there!

Article by: Nick Jones