My names Luke D’Ambrosio and I grew up fishing the Parramatta River in a tinnie that I quite literally used to carry to the water and row. Most of my fishing for kings started with live-bait and since has progressed almost exclusively to lures. There’s not much quite as exciting as catching fish on top-water, especially Kingfish!
Topwater Kings can be a very difficult target at times, what’s the main determining factor when chasing these fish?
There are a lot of factors that come in to play when chasing top-water kings, however, I think it’s important not to get too carried away with trying to work out why you have or haven’t caught anything. Aside from moon, tides, barometer, cloud cover etc. I try to narrow it down to 6 factors:
- Time of year (determined by the location)
- Currents and water temperature (which often go hand in hand)
- Structure (detailed below)
- Bait presence
- Time of day
In most cases, I have found chasing kings on top-water to be best in the early morning and late afternoon. If that matches up with a tide turn then great but I believe the time of day is more important here. That being said there have been a number of occasions where we have had a hot bite in the middle of the day (especially around a tide turn) however those sessions are in a minority comparatively.
Does the current play a major factor?
Current plays a big role in top-water kings, particularly when fishing offshore around shoals, bombies, reef edges, headlands and islands. There have been a number of occasions where we have arrived somewhere in the morning and not raised a fish in 4 hours with everything right except the current. Returning later in the day or even 1-2 days later when the current has started moving to find fish actively feeding. Anticipation is always high when I arrive somewhere and see rippling current lines in front of/on top of the structure I am about to fish. It goes without saying that the leading edge is often the most productive.
What depth of water are you mainly looking for, or is it structure?
I prefer to look for structure when chasing kings, kings will hold in such a vast array of depths that if you focused solely on the depth you would write off a lot of spots. For example, if you are fishing somewhere that is 20m deep, an edge/bombie that comes up 5-10m would be worth a look. Likewise, if you are in 40m something that comes up 10-15m will often hold fish. Steep edges are ideal, a gradual sloping edge will not often be as productive. If you are fishing islands or headlands it’s always a good idea to check out the first edge that leads into it (don’t just cast at the rocks), quite often there will be a deeper ledge a bit away from the structure and bigger fish often like these areas.
Not every reef holds kings, especially up here on the mid-north coast, what are you mainly looking for if you’re coming to a new zone?
Whenever I arrive somewhere the first thing I’m looking for is current. Eddies and pressure points will often give away the location of the structure. Failing currently I will begin sounding around, I call it “chicaning” which involves me zig-zagging around trying to work out which way the edge runs, where the edge starts and where the bait is holding.
What size stick-baits are working for you? Or it depends on the day
When chasing kings, I throw stick-baits from 180-240mm, this is purely a preference as I am trying to target larger fish. I like to replicate the profile of what they are eating, the slenderer/baitfish profile I find to be the best. I have tried broader “GT” type stick baits and poppers and caught fish however without as much success. Personally, I like natural colours like blues/greens/silvers, I have experimented with almost every other colour and they seem to be the most consistent for me.
How import is your sounder? Is it mainly drift direction that’s more important?
To be honest my sounder is my best (and only) mate. I am constantly checking it while I cast to see: where I am in relation to the structure if I’m marking any bait, which way I’m drifting and most importantly if I’m marking any fish!
What kind of retrieve works best?
In most cases, consistent sweeping action is my preferred method. Getting the lures head down with a jolt at the start of the retrieve followed by a slow sweep that increases in speed throughout the sweep. It’s also important to be mindful that all lures swim differently and it can take time to work out exactly how its swimming depending on the sea conditions. Often when it's windy and there’s wind chop you will need to alter your retrieve to ensure the lure is swimming properly. I also do a walk-the-dog retrieve from time to time and a mix of fast burns followed by sweeps for the remainder of the retrieve with both of these also being successful retrieves.
Any tips for someone starting out with topwater kings?
Probably number 1 is don’t be disheartened if you don’t catch anything. There are many days I go without raising a fish. Be prepared to get up early and put the time in working out a spot, the best way to know when to fish somewhere is also by finding out when they aren’t there! Pick a lure that swims reasonably well and that you have confidence in throwing. If you’re confident in the lure you will persist and often the fact that you have a lure in the water is what will make the difference. Look for the earlier mentioned factors and if you have ticked all those boxes just keep casting.
Your most memorable king?
My most memorable catch would have to be the largest fish I’ve landed. I was fishing somewhere I had not fished before and upon arriving noticed a bit of current moving over the structure I was about to fish. As I began casting and drifting towards it I was halfway through a retrieve when I looked at the sounder and saw I had just drifted over 4 enormous arches sitting 6m down. I immediately looked back to my lure to watch 138cm of kingfish shoulder charge his fellow kegs as he scoffed the lure, speechless.
WRITTEN AND EXPERIENCED BY LUKE D'AMBROSIO