Yellowtail kings and amberjacks are two members of the Seriola clan (amberjacks and kingfish) that are popular catches around South East Queensland at this time of year. It’s a pretty simple adjustment for anglers who have been following my cold weather snapper and reef fishing articles to tweak their approach just a smidgen and get amongst this warmer weather run of fish.
School kings and amberjacks are best targeted near offshore reef structures using similar for offshore snapper. A 7’ Moreton Bay Spin Rod, coupled with a sturdy threadline spin reel and 30lb (or even 40lb) braid completes the basics. In fact, this season we’ve been using the new Platypus Sinking Braid as it works well. To the terminal end attach a rod length (reel to tip) of 30-45lb fluorocarbon leader. The new Platypus fluorocarbon Stealth Leader has also been working well for me on recent trips. A spool of it travels in my world travel kit.
Slip a running weight onto the leader, ideally an egg weight of around 3/8oz or up to 1/2oz in deeper water. Then, tie on a serious soft plastic hook such as a Mustad Mega Bite 38104 6/0 or Reaction Innovations BMF in size 4/0 or 5/0. Both of these hooks are tough enough to do the job with the Mustad proving to be the toughest offset shank hook that I’ve tried. The Reaction Innovations BMF (made by Gamakatsu) is a specialist hook with a barbed shank (rather than notches that weaken the wire), chemically sharpened and with a welded eye ring – it is the only soft plastic hook that I know of with these features.
I carry both hooks as I use them for different applications. When jerkbaiting weedless style amongst the big fish, I’ll use the Mustad in either a 6/0 or 8/0. I prefer the BMF although all those features that I mentioned do make them a little expensive but they’ll produce more fish. When using this approach you have the option of customising your weight and rigging style along with it. Such a refinement is a fantastic benefit for the intelligent angler.
This technique is designed around the use of very flexible soft plastic 7” straight tailed shads, 6” fish profiled straight tailed shads and 6” soft twitches in colours that replicate local baitfish. Above all, make sure the lure is of the type that stays flexible.
One question that springs to my mind is why the straight tailed shad is proving so much more popular than the typical fish shaped, fish tailed, bait style soft plastic whose tail kicks away nicely when you retrieve it. One explanation I’ve heard is that the straight tailed shad can be presented in a variety of ways to tailor-match the lure to the situation. The angler controls the amount of action, thus making the lure more versatile and yet also more specific to each scenario. Sounds like a good theory to me.
The team at Penn Reels organized a Penn Slammer 560 spin reel for me recently and I spooled it with 30lb braid. Penn reels have a long pedigree in the blue water scene – I have some Penn forerunners to the Slammer that are over 20 years old and are still catching fish – and I expect the Slammer to be just as tough. Some weeks this reel can produce 20 to 30 fish per day, which equates to a year’s worth of normal fishing. This is a good enough test for a reel whose pedigree we already know – I’m sure you’ll agree.
It won’t surprise regular readers that I recommend an EGrell S10 for this application. There are three models of the S10: the Bear S10, the Bear S10H and the EGrell S10. All three are rated at 10-20lb but please note that these are ‘pull the kinks out of braid’ ratings. People trying to offer customers other 10-20lb rated spin rods as a substitute for EGrell rods have missed the point. EGrell ratings are serious ratings. If you are looking at other softer rating regimes you’d have to look for something 30 maybe even 40lb rated and nobody else that I can find makes rods with such heavy ratings yet with tips that can still cast and even shake.
When comparing rods look first for the power in the butt, then do the shake test. If the tip doesn’t shake such that it can impart action to the lure without you having to lift the rod then you’ll catch less fish. Similarly find something else with an okay tip and you’ll most likely find the butt section is lacking in fish-controlling power. Copies are the sincerest form of flattery, but more importantly ‘similar is not the same’. The copycat crowds need to copy the performance not just the sticker, so it’s good to see homegrown Aussie ingenuity making the industry sit up and take notice. Egrell S10’s, the blue high modulus ones, retail in the mid $400 brackets which makes them extremely good value for money. They are in high demand, so when you pick one up in the tackle store, don’t put it back down.
I’m reminded of a truth in the tackle trade that lures that you have to fish actively always generate sales of high end rods. The angler stalks the fish with the aid of their electronics, presents the lure and uses the rod to impart action to the 7” lure. The fact that elite lures sell quality tackle is without doubt.
Every South East Queensland offshore reef will be loaded up with school kings and amberjacks right across summer. Normally we look for schools of baitfish close to the bottom in water of 30m depth or greater. Early in the season (August/September) these fish will be in the 10-15lb bracket and then the bigger fish move in and it pays to push wider into deeper water. For mine, the biggest and deepest fish are the domain of metal jigs and super tough tackle using 80lb braided lines or heavier. Meanwhile your ‘standard’ 30-40lb braid spin outfit will get you in with a chance on the smaller to mid-sized fish in 30-60m of water. On a recent trip we landed 20 kings and amberjacks up to 20lb and got broken off by another three of them. The statistics are that even on the small Seriolas, one in ten of them will get to the bottom and rub through your leader.
I’ve caught Seriolas on a handful of stock standard retrieves and some minor variations that I’ll share with you.
The first is the simplest. After casting ahead of the boat’s drift, let the lure sink and, shaking your 7” soft plastic on the bottom in the hope of snaring a snapper, begin a fast retrieve back to the surface. Hopefully the hoodlums will eat your lure on the move as it races back to the boat. With this style of retrieve it is imperative that you use a soft plastic that is tough so that it stays on the hook, yet very supple so that a straight tailed shad generates a fish attracting tail and body wiggling action on the retrieve. We’ve proven time and again that 6” and 7” shads have a superior fish attracting profile over the smaller lures and 90% of our most productive colours can be described as either bright (such as pink) or white (alewife or crystal shad).
Another addition to the package is to dip the plastic in Spike-It scented dye. I prefer red coloured crawfish scented Spike-It dye in which to dip the head; 3cm of the 7” plastic should suffice. Also, especially when using active retrieves with light coloured lures, I like to dip the tail of the lure in chartreuse crawfish dye. I reckon it makes a pretty neat customized lure. Interestingly, my mum prefers to use the orange dye. I guess everybody has their favourites that they’ve evolved through their own personal experiences and trial and error. If it’s worked for you before then you expect it to work successfully for you again. It’s a confidence thing.
The second retrieve is my favourite when it works. Cast out an unweighted or lightly weighted 7” straight tailed shad and retrieve it with a medium paced cadence across the surface so that the tail is kicking about and creating a disturbance. When the kings race to the surface to attack your surface lures then its party time. This is a great way to tempt fish from a school that has come to the top alongside a hooked fish. Here’s a tip: hold the hooked fish on the leader beside the boat and look deep into the water to see if his mates have accompanied him up. If so, have one or more of your fellow anglers flick lures around to solicit another strike or two. Get it right and you can have a production line going catching and releasing more than 20 fish in succession – you’ll get over the muscle ache next week when you’re back at work!
A minor variation on this retrieve is to jerkbait (walk the dog) the lure back to the boat just under the surface using long jerks of the rod and long pauses. Soft jerks and short pauses is another cadence worth trying. These techniques work best when using a 1/8oz free running bullet weight in the texrig genre, which will be something I’ll be discussing in a later QFM issue.
Probably the most productive of retrieves, in terms of quantity, is jerkbaiting the soft plastic lure back to the surface after you’ve free-spooled it to the bottom. The cadence can vary between a long stroke of the rod followed by a long pause when the slack is wound out of the line, to a rhythmic flick of the rod. When doing this, a rotation stroke of the rod tip works well as you spin the reel handle to pulse the lure and change the pace. Even the slightest change of pace (speeding up or slowing down) on most days will see your strike rate increase.
As far as big fish go it seems that the shaking technique has a lot going for it, specifically shaking (and pausing) behind the drift. Don’t be surprised if you hook Seriolas that are too big to stop!
As you may have gathered from the start of this article, I find the free running sinker ‘Texas’ and ‘Texposed’ rigs to be far superior to the jighead rigged approach. As an added advantage the texrigs can be cheaper to make up, take up less space, cover all the options with a lighter load in your tackle box and offer you your choice of hook. We rarely bother with jigheads any more when going offshore with plastics. The TexRig solves all your problems, but expect more information on this in a future article.Reads: 5774