Saltwater Kings

New Zealand has always been famous for trophy trout in pristine waters, but it’s the Saltwater fishery that now has my interest!

I first heard mutterings about kingfish on fly three years ago. My assumption was that these were random occurrences and I didn’t take them seriously. The summer after that the stories were more frequent and my long-time fishing buddy Alex and I were pretty keen to have a go. Alex put in a lot of road miles and time before me, going at least half a dozen times to wade the flats and a few days of boating without any success. But the chase kept him going back.

When I was able to free up a weekend, I contacted Lucas Allen from Kingtide Saltwater Fly in Tauranga, a newly established salt fly guide service (and only the second dedicated salt fly guide in NZ), and we arranged a day to have a crack at the elusive fish.

As we headed out into the salt Lucas told us what to look for, and stories about massive Kingfish riding big black stingrays…

I jumped up and for the first time ever began casting a 10wt fly rod in the salt. Out of nowhere, I saw what looked like a big black floor rug swimming across our bow, I asked Lucas, is that a ray?  Lucas replied with urgency, “Yep cast at it.”

I banged out a cast leading the ray by 3 or 4  meters and a few strips later the big green-backed smudge that appeared off of the ray inhaled the fly.

The speed and power of this fish was unbelievable, and if tied together would pull any trophy trout backwords.  I had gotten very lucky, and immediately felt bad for Alex because I knew how much time he had put in for these fish, and for me to turn up and peg one within the first 2 minutes. Hooking that kingfish was the instant fly fishing in New Zealand changed for me, the power and the endurance this relatively small Kingfish displayed was incredible.

Trout were put on the back burner for the remainder of that year, and when work, weather and wives allowed we were out in the harbors chasing these fish. Tauranga Harbour is regarded as the birthplace of kingfish on the fly in New Zealand, and also the stomping ground of Lucas Allen, the Kingtide Salt Fly guide.

It’s not uncommon to see 3 or 4 KingFish riding behind Rays in the harbor or using the ray as a platform from which to ambush prey.  Kingfish will also swim in singles or packs and at times give away their position with either massive explosions of whitewater, or by making wakes and breaking the surface with their yellow tails as the stalk and feed in the shallows.

This is only my second season targeting shallow water, ray riding, fly eating, rod bending, reel screaming New Zealand yellowtail Kingfish, and it certainly won’t be my last. At the moment trout are no longer my main target. I believe they must rate pretty high, and when compared to other saltwater flats fishing.

Over the last 2 years, the exposure given to these fish on social media has been huge, and we now know Kingfish can be chased on foot within many of New Zealand’s harbors and shallow bays from the far north all the way down to the top of the south.

If you’re planning a fishing trip to New Zealand be ensure to allow some time to tick off Kingfish on the fly!

For more content from Gareth, check out his Instagram @trouthuntingnz

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