Saltwater Fly: Kahawai Encounter

My eldest son Josh phoned to say he was organising a weekend fishing trip with his brother Callum, to track down Kingfish in the Huaraki Gulf… would I like to come along? I had been toying with the idea of having a crack at Kingies on fly, so a plan was hatched!

Finally I managed to hang on to a fish!

A calm sunny morning gave way to a sweltering afternoon, with only a light sea breeze to cool things down on the boat. Early plans to tempt fish out from a mussel farm using ‘burley’ met with limited success. Just as we were discussing where to go next, a 70cm Kingfish turned up in the burley trail, picking out lumps of diced pilchard. The fly rod was set up and I was ready to cast.

It was heart stopping to see the fish move in on the fly, only to turn away at the very last moment. After five aborted ‘follows’ I decided on a different approach. Rather than strip the fly back in an attempt to mimic a fleeing fish, I simply let the fly drift like a chunk of pilly. The sea fishing equivalent of matching the hatch perhaps! First cast and bingo, the Kingfish engulfed the sinking fly without hesitation.

What happened next might be best described as a brutal demonstration of power. I’ve never seen an aftm 8 weight fly rod tortured in this way before… while the reel simply screamed as line was ripped off the spool. Fortunately for me the first run headed away from the mussel farm and deep towards the seabed. My luck was not to last however, after a couple of minutes the fish changed tack and found the sanctuary of submerged structure within the mussel farm. A short tug of war and everything went slack… the leader had been shredded.

There was no time to dwell on the loss. We shortly came across a fast moving pack of young Kingfish and large ocean Kahawai chasing a shoal of small baitfish, driving them to the surface and causing the water to boil. Callum took responsibility for driving the boat and chasing the pack, while Josh and I manned our rods… Josh used spinners and baits while I elected to stick with the fly.

Spinners were immediately successful, connecting to a couple of large Kahawai. Just as Josh was bringing one to the boat, we noticed two very excited Kingies following. A couple of casts with the fly rod and I was on again. A blast of speed and power saw backing fizz off the reel while the rod contorted into a now familiar arc. Once again I survived the first run but this time we were in open water… I had a chance! The rod and drag were working hard absorbing plenty of punishment from the young Kingfish. We got into a cycle of gaining and loosing line… 5 metres to me 8 to the fish, 10 meters to me 6 to the fish, 15 metres to me 10 to the fish. Just as I began to get the upper hand… that sickening slack sensation. The fish was gone. I wound in expecting to find a break in the line but everything was fine, the hook had simply lost it’s hold.

Not to be deterred we continued following the feeding frenzy knowing that it could stop at any time. Josh and Callum both caught good sized Kahawai on lures. I landed a large fish trolling a softbait while Callum was positioning the boat, trying to get ahead of the action. However it was a fly caught fish that I really wanted.

Callum perfectly positioned the boat, and Josh was soon playing another fish. I cast towards a violent splash and 3 good Kahawai immediately turned to chase my fly. The middle fish connected with venom. Not to be overshadowed by the Kingies the Kahawai did his level best to reach the horizon. After a couple of initial searing runs the battle turned into an arm wrestle. The Sony Action Cam caught the final phases… see movie clip above.

My first serious attempt to catch a Kingfish on fly may not have been wholly successful but the  magnificent Kahawai more than made up for it. I have no doubt that a 75cm Kingfish can be tamed on an 8 weight trout set up – you just need lots of backing and plenty of open water to play it. A reel with a more robust drag system might also prove a valuable investment!

Finally it was great spending time on the water with my sons Josh and Callum, who both caught plenty of fish. I’m looking forward to the next trip.