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Fishing Hawaii

A day fishing from a boat is a must to complete any family vacation here.

Hawaii is one of the world’s top fishing destinations and the Big Island’s topography makes Kona the sportfishing capital of the Pacific.

Five huge mountain masses protect the Kona coast from the winds, resulting in sea conditions that are usually as calm as a lake. The steep slope of the island continues into the pristine blue waters and bottoms out around 6000 feet within a short distance from the shoreline. Just three miles straight out of the harbor, multiple species like Marlin, Mahi-mahi, Ahi (Yellowfin Tuna), Ono (Wahoo), Ulua and Aku, Sailfish and Swordfish can all be caught. Several species of shark and a wide variety (size and color) of fish are also possible when bottom fishing.

With so many kinds of fish and fishing styles available, there’s little excuse for not catching fish there.

bill
Captain Bill spends 330 days on the calm waters northwest of Kona.

Hawaii offers both professional and beginner anglers a great fishing experience. Tourism being the number one industry in Hawaii, there’s no doubt you will have a plethora of choices when it comes to choosing a fishing charter. Below are some tips to help you systematically make the right choice for that, and an explanation of how I went about choosing the ones I did.

  • Ask about tackle, techniques and agenda. Some boats troll at high speed for endless hours, others cast light tackle onto reefs or jig the bottom, which offers smaller fish but more action. Other add-ons might include a swim break in a secluded snorkeling spot. Choose an agenda that pleases you, unless you are up for anything and everything on the water.
  • Cheapest is NOT best. There are plenty of people who operate as fishing guides even though they aren’t trained, licensed, or bonded—and often, they’re the least expensive option. If a charter seems surprisingly low in cost, ask the captain to provide license numbers ahead of time, and ask about his or her credentials. There are also guide associations in most areas; if your captain isn’t a member, ask why.
  • Go fishing online before you go fishing for real. There are plenty of fishing-oriented chat rooms and websites that provide reviews that charter customers can view which offer either praise or vent time after a charter. Take it all with a grain of salt, since some of the comments could come from people with a score to settle. But, if you detect a trend, take note.
charter
This is not your typical fishing charter attire, but in Hawaii, this is the norm.
  • Ask if they encourage catch and keep or catch and release. Some boats kill everything and then sell all or some of the catch; some consider the fish your property; some are catch and release only. The only way to find out what’s what on a boat you’re considering is to ask. Knowing ahead of time will prevent disappointment.
  • Never book on a dock-walk. Some captains will sit at the dock and try to engage passers-by in conversation, then sell them a This doesn’t necessarily make these captains a bad choice but booking on the spot doesn’t give you time to research the charter’s reputation. Beware of boats that are available on prime days, on short notice. If a charter isn’t booked on a peak holiday Saturday, there’s probably a reason why.
  • Try a half-day charter. This is a good option if you’re new to fishing or ocean fishing in general, and if this is your first go. If you decide you enjoy fishing, you can always come back for more.
fishing
Bottom fishing produces a quantity and variety of fish, much more than sport fishing does.

DEEP-SEA SPORTFISHING (HEAVY TACKLE)

My family and I wanted a family-friendly, deep-sea fishing experience for a large group. There are only a few boats in the Kona harbor that will accommodate more than four to six anglers on a single boat. Manta Adventures was the one we choose. Captain Bill and crew spend 330 days a year on their newest boat, the Maheli-Heli.

On the morning of our trip, a few of us were sick, so our group was downsized to seven from 10. With the help of the moonlight, we found the dock slip where the large boat was tied up and Kerri went through the fishing orientation as we departed the harbor in the dark. There was a possibility of catching a fish from 5 to 1000 lbs. You could feel the excitement in the air, despite captain Bill stating, “It’s called fishing, not catching” in a humorous tone.

As soon as we cleared the harbor, we headed northwest and Kerri set up five heavy tackle rods for trolling, two of which were attached to outriggers. Every line had a squid imitation for artificial tackle about the size of jumbo perch. Nicknames such as “bomb boy” and “lsd” for the big game trolling lures are common with experienced guides in the area.

tuna
Good-eating tuna.

When deep sea fishing, the trolling speed rivals most large boat cruising speeds, so for those not paying attention (like my mother), you can hear questions such as, “Are we fishing now or still going to the spot?”

Although we did not know it at the time, Captain Bill headed for aggregation buoys, which are used as tsunami warning indicators. The buoys are the only structure in these vast deep blue waters and can hold fish like tuna and Mahi-mahi. Sometimes boats will even jig near the buoys for hours, even during the night.

We started to notice boats nearby and all were heading in the same direction. It was a race for the buoy and whoever got there first would likely hook a fish. Well, we arrived second, but none of the boats hooked a fish from what we could see. We continued trolling the lures at staggered distances in the boat wake at a good speed. Suddenly, flocks of birds appeared, and a blue marlin swiped at the bomb boy causing the reel’s drag to buzz and let out some line.

big-game
For big-game fishing, strapping into the fighting chair is essential for the safety of not going overboard. It also helps prevent fatigue.

Unfortunately, it didn’t hook up or follow up again. That was the only fishing excitement for the morning.

We trolled back towards shore, but still fishing deep water. We anchored in a secluded calm bay and enjoyed a swim to cool off and fresh island pineapple for lunch. It definitely was a welcome break from the monotony of trolling the deep blue ocean waters.

Snorkeling, like fishing, offers no guarantees. With endless reefs and sandbars to snorkel with 50-meter visibility, you see what you find and enjoy it no matter what. Our crew kept us safe the entire time and were really helpful with beginner snorkelers in our group.

fishing

The boat had a great freshwater shower to rinse off in before we headed out for some afternoon fishing. Our hopes were still high as the moon was about to set and supposedly that is when the next bite turns on. I asked our guide: “Do you get depressed coming out here day after day and not catching fish?” His response was: “No, it’s big game fishing. If you are an elk hunter, you don’t expect to get an elk each time you are out, do you?”

Finally, in the afternoon, one of the outrigger lines hooked a fish. Kerri practically jumped off the elevated captain’s deck and I strapped into the fighting chair. Once he confirmed the fish was on, he handed me the rod and I cranked in the fish for quite some time before getting him into the boat.

It was a terrific experience. I originally thought I would tire out, but I was able to reel the fish right into the boat. The crew worked hard all day for us, as they do all year for many tourists, but unfortunately, they can’t control the fishing. That was the only fish we caught that afternoon. But needless to say, our charter allowed us to keep our fish and we had some great table fare for the next week during our vacation.

fishing

REEF/BOTTOM FISHING (LIGHT TACKLE)

If trolling for six to eight hours for one large fish does not sound like your cup of tea, then try bottom fishing. Bottom fishing charters are an excellent choice for families looking for a shorter day on the water using lighter gear but with more action. While the fish are generally much smaller than what you’ll catch sport fishing (most are under 3 pounds), you do have a chance of hooking into larger species, and your overall catch odds on a four-hour bottom fishing trip are better than four hours of just trolling.

cooking
In-house catered cooking.

The smaller reef fish near Hawaii include triggerfish, surgeonfish, goatfish, blueline snapper and lots more. Larger fish can include Gray Snapper, Giant Trevally, Bluefin, Shark and even the occasional Octopus.

During a recent wedding in Maui, my cousins had a great half day on the water bottom fishing. They caught a variety of edible fish and a 150-pound shark! They each were able to reel in their own fish, which isn’t always the case when sportfishing. Casting and retrieving artificial lures/spoons/natural baits with ultra-light to medium spinning gear is the technique they used, sometimes referred to as “popping” by bass fishermen. Most of what you catch is very good eating. The basic rule of thumb is that if it’s colored silver or red, it’s good to eat.

sportfishing
Deep sea sportfishing uses heavy tackle. You don’t want to hold that all day while trolling.

FISH FOOD

Whether you catch your own fish or buy some, you should at the very least, eat some fish while visiting the Hawaiian Islands. Most, if not all restaurants, offer fish on the menu, but we decided to do something different on our recent trip to the Big Island. We hired a local private chef named Tim James to cook our Mahi-mahi catch for us in our own condo.

rookie
A successful rookie tourist spearfishing outing.

Tim, along with his assistant, prepared a terrific five-course meal with all local organic ingredients. These included giant creamy avocados from the local farmer’s market and tasty juicy mangos right from his own yard. His secret blend of herbs and spices was rubbed on the fish before he slowly cooked the fillets in coconut oil on low heat. The fish tasted amazing. All the food was splendid, and the presentation far exceeded anything you would get in a restaurant. I highly recommend an in-house fish fry while visiting Hawaii to enjoy the local fishing market.

lines
Deep sea sportfishing consists of staggered lines trolled behind the boat at a good speed, so the bait cannot sink down low.

Whatever fishing you choose in Hawaii, you will be in good hands with the majority of established charters. Poor fishing charters don’t last long these days with online reviews, plus word-of-mouth travels fast on the “Island.” There are no guarantees with fishing, but there is always a chance you’ll catch a monster, just like my cousin-in-law did the day after his wedding. Talk about setting a precedent for years to come!

fish
Chef Tim’s secret blend of herbs and spices fish rub.

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