Auckland Marker Kingfish On Fly
Spending a day scouring the flats for kingfish is great fun, it’s New Zealand saltwater fly fishing in its finest form and every fish that eats your fly can be considered a well deserved win. But in order to do that successfully, and consistently, you first need to have some quality flats at your disposal, and while there are (arguably) a few locations in the Auckland area that can provide a similar experience, it’s not really the region’s strong point.
What is available however, is kingfish holding structure, and plenty of it.
Let’s set a scene. You’re less than five minutes from the boat ramp, there's a bit of morning music playing and you're sipping a piping hot coffee (obviously a latte) while the sun rises over the Coromandel ranges and Auckland city comes to life behind you. The first cast of the day at a marker snaps you out of the view and raises a legal 75cm+ kingfish that smashed your popper fly as if it had just said something about the fish’s mother. Now you’ve got line on the reel and the fight begins, but just pause for one second to stop and appreciate just how damn awesome this whole moment is.
It’s seriously good, easily accessible, and world class fun.
But why target marker kings on fly when a stickbait does the same job? Well if you’re asking that question then you’re either in the wrong place or, as much as you hate to admit it, you're a little fly curious. Sure, a stickbait is a blunt instrument that undoubtedly works, but there’s only so many times you can pepper a marker with one before the fish go down deep to avoid copping one to the dome and it’s party over. Smaller flies, presented well, give your fly so many more chances at being considered as this morning's breakfast by a kingfish as they will land softer and you have more control on placement and the type of action to give to your fly.
The satisfaction of a good cast that entices an aggressive eat, combined with the dogged fight on light fly gear, is unbeatable fun and one we recommend you get out and try this summer. Check out a few of our tips and tactics on how to target Auckland kingfish off the markers and hopefully we’ll see you out there one early morning hooked up and taking it all in while the rest of Auckland City wakes up to get on with the day.
WHICH AUCKLAND HARBOUR MARKERS HOLD KINGFISH?
All of them. Sort of. Being a predatory pelagic fish a kingfish will be there one day and gone the next. That means any piece of structure, and especially marker buoys and poles, has potential to hold good numbers of fish on any given day.
Given that there would be way too many of these to try and pointlessly cover we’ll focus on the jewel of the Auckland inner harbour, and an ideal zone to cut your kingfish on fly teeth, the Rangitoto channel.
Right on Auckland’s doorstep and a very short run from either Okahu Bay or Takapuna Beach boat ramps it’s a simple matter of fishing your feet first and hitting the closest markers during that beloved change of light period. This is the prime time to fish before boat traffic from commuter ferries, container ships and anything else that floats and propels forwards really kicks off - and it’s also prime time for kingfish to focus in on hunting out any wayward baitfish.
Depending on how much time you have up your sleeve you might bounce between the green and red markers covering the Rangitoto channel all the way up to the A Buoy, or you might go red markers up and green markers back. Maybe there’s a bunch of birds working near a marker, that’s a great sign to beeline for that – and don’t forget the often overlooked little yellow buoys that have saved many a potentially fishless day on the water.
But it’s that simple really, plan a bit of a circuit, be flexible, and most importantly, stay persistent. That part is especially important because it doesn’t mean that if the first seven markers you cover yield no sign of fish, that the eighth isn’t going to be the one that gives up a 15kg king. Don't be shy to cover the same markers later on in the day either, kingfish move around a lot and much like us they need a rest from time to time. Keep hammering and it will happen.
WHEN TO TARGET AUCKLAND MARKER KINGFISH ON FLY
While there’s always a chance of a kingfish anytime of the day, any day of the year, the markers really have two distinct patterns to them that you can set your watch to.
Late spring and early summer will see less fish on the markers but they will, as a generalisation, be a little bit bigger and definitely a lot badder. So this requires plenty of the persistence thing we just discussed, seasoned with a bit of belief, and accompanied by time on the water. You’ll be working harder and casting more flies but the rewards are worth when you hook that one fish that changes everything.
Once we move into summer the inner harbour really comes to life with big schools of baitfish setting up shop along with the accompanying predators doing their best to ruin the day of many a small anchovy. This is rat king country and while there are still some really, really, nice kings in the mix, getting a fly to one before a small kingfish does can be tough going. But this is also super fun sport with a fly rod and nothing gets the heart pumping like a pack of hyperactive rat kings bumping each other as they try and chase down the fly first. You can really pig out on numbers during summer days like this, always knowing in the back of your mind that there’s a bigger one out there somewhere that might just decide the fly is going to be his today.
And just because things slow down over winter it doesn’t mean it’s not worth a look, and besides, getting up to fish that premium change of light period doesn’t require such a brutal alarm time, so there’s always an upside. Just wrap up warm and get out there.
AUCKLAND HARBOUR FLY FISHING GEAR
We’ll keep this pretty simple because, it’s really pretty simple. Nine and ten weight fly rods are the go. A nine foot nine weight is perfect if you’re really just after a one rod Auckland saltwater fly solution. They have plenty of backbone for decent kingfish, fun on kahawai, and can easily present a stealthy snapper fly in the shallows. Throw on an intermediate tip saltwater line like the Airflo Flatsmaster and you can chug poppers and pull clousers all day long without having to switch rods, reels or spools.
You’ll want a fully machined fly reel as a minimum just for all of the beatings it's likely to receive around the boat, and while drag is always an important feature of a saltwater fly reel you can still get away with something “good enough” in the meantime while you see how this style of fishing gels with you. Be warned though, one decent ass kicking from a big kingfish will have you browsing for a bulletproof saltwater fly reel before the boat is even back on the trailer.
Keep it simple with a straight fluorocarbon leader of anywhere between 20lb-60lb depending on your level of comfort and ability to play a fish away from structure. Going too light can result in bust offs on the strip strike as you pull one way and the fish turns the other at precisely the same time, and sometimes it’s just nice to know you’ve got a rock solid connection as a big fish dives deep towards structure.
If we had to choose one favourite rod for fly fishing for kingfish out of a boat then the Scott Sector two piece 8’10” ten weight is hard to beat for lifting power, ease of casting, and stowage in the boat.
FLIES AND TECHNIQUES
Hands down our favourite thing is watching a popper hit the water almost on the marker and with one, big, water moving strip seeing the surface explode in a mess of greenbacks, silver bellies, and a heap of white water. It seems to come from nowhere and catch you completely by surprise no matter how much you’re trying to stay composed and expecting it to happen. We’ll talk about boat positioning in a moment but let’s just assume you’ve got that nailed and you’re about to let that fly touch down. The first thing to do here is start stripping line while your fly is in the air and about to land. This will remove any slack from the cast (remember, big flies have a tendency to bounce on the back cast) and ensure you’re in contact and the popper is moving water as soon as it hits the surface.
So now you’re in the game – strip, glug, stop…and repeat. Don’t feel the need to rush the fly in, and from time to time just leave it to sit for a moment longer than you feel comfortable with. Ever wondered what a kingfish dry fly eat might look like? That’s it right there.
If there isn’t any immediate action make sure to fish the fly all the way back to the boat and resist the temptation to lift and cast again too soon. This is a likely time for a pack of kingfish to reveal themselves at the boat as their curiosity and competitiveness leads them after the fly. Now you have intel and you know there are fish around, game on.
Fishing a big baitfish pattern on a 500gr or 700gr Airflo Depthfinder is another high conversion method of catching kingfish off markers. It’s less visual but gets down deeper to where the fish might be sitting and is a very effective prospecting tool. Employing an elliptical, constant tension style cast is great for handling these lines as well and bug bulky flies, so look it up and get practicing. Cast up current of the marker, let it sink for as long as you dare (remember, there’s an anchor chain there) and then strip like crazy. If nothing hits then try a few more before covering the down current side. The subsurface bait pattern takes are solid but not crazy and gives you just enough time to get the boat into gear and start to walk the fish slowly away from the structure. Don’t try and play the fish until you’re well clear of danger because as soon as you put the hurt on they’ll know exactly where safety is.
BOAT POSITIONING & CASTING
Getting into position to cast a fly at a marker is pretty simple with an electric trolling motor like a Minn Kota. The main thing to pay attention to here is slowly working your way in to a casting distance you’re comfortable with and making that first shot count. The added benefit of sneaking in slowly is that quite often the fish will reveal itself as it rubs its back on the bottom of the buoy or fins at the surface. Making sure to cover all sides of the marker is worth it too as you don’t ever quite know where the fish are sitting and how much of their view of your fly is obscured.
Not everyone (read, most people) has a Minn Kota just yet, so when the current is really running fishing the markers is a bit of a challenge on fly. Targeting the slack tide an hour or so either side is a good way to get your boat drifting correctly and it’s really a two person affair under these circumstances, with one person fishing and one person driving. But with a little trial and error you’ll get a system going pretty quickly.
SO YOU GOT THE KINGFISH TO EAT YOUR FLY?
The fly is in the zone, you’ve stripped it just right, and (just like you planned) you got the eat from what looks to be a very decent kingfish. Congrats! You’re halfway there, and assuming you didn’t just trout strike (please don’t trout strike) you’ll be connected to the fish and all hell will be breaking loose. Fly line is ripping off the boat floor, maybe it’s wrapped around your foot, your boat partner can’t get the boat started, and the kingfish has also been kind enough to wrap some more line around the Minn Kota…and that’s if things are going well. From here it’s hang on and hope, with a sprinkling of angler skill and boat management thrown in.
In the moment there’s a couple of things to consider – did you set that hook? Like really strip into it after the eat? Are you high sticking your rod, giving it every chance to break, or are you using the rod parallel to the water and letting the butt section do the heavy lifting? And are you paying attention to what’s happening in the channel behind you because those container ships are surprisingly quiet and it’s easy to lose spatial awareness when you’re connected to an angry kingfish?
All going well from here it’s just a battle of wills and before you know it you’ll either be heartbroken by a bad knot, had your ass handed to you as the kingfish wraps you around a marker chain, or (all going well) victorious with a green backed hoodlum safely in the net.
There’s definitely something special about releasing a feisty kingfish back into the green depths while the Auckland City backdrop serves to remind us just how close real life responsibilities are - but that makes you realise just how special this fishery is and how spoilt we are to have it right in front of us every single day.
May as well get out there and make use of it, right?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tailing loops, bad knots, and trout strikes on kingfish are part of Chris' ever-growing repertoire of fly fishing skills. Thankfully he makes up for it by being ok at some other stuff that we find useful from time to time.