I was on the Big Island for four full days in early August 2005. I drove around it the first day and got a dose of perspective and perception. The map is not the territory. From Kailua-Kona to Kohala there are beaches and resorts lying at the bottom slope of volcanic eruption. Vast stretches of nothing but black pahoehoe and 'a'a lava. The Hilo side was strange, not just the coast facing east to the sea, but also the tall lava bluffs and rock piles pounded by the waves, the sheer drops and jagged obsidian promontories. Rounding the island, the shore grew flatter, gradual shelves and then black sand beaches. Heading northward, back to Kailua-Kona, the lava flows extend far out into the sea and there are shallow reefs and bays. This was the initial impression. On that first day I checked out a black sand beach and had to be careful not to get stomped by the rowdy waves. I talked to some local men and women who were "whipping" (plugging) and bait fishing from the shore and docks around South Kohala. None of them caught anything but it was a good way to get some information on shore fishing. There is also a concrete pier and seawall just a few steps away from the King Kamehamea Hotel where I stayed. I walked to it and along it every day and watched anglers. Most of them were fishing live oamas, a goatfish around the size of an anchovy or sardine. They caught them on pieces of shrimp and kept them alive in bait buckets. I saw a couple papios caught about the same size as a decent SF pile perch.
On the second and third days I was a tourist with my family, hiking volcanic trails, rainforest paths, and quaint little sidewalks. It was great.
Day Four was a fishing day. In my travels I'd seen enough to know I was going to have more fun if I concentrated on basic local style. I had two of my reels, both Shimano Saharas (1500 and 2500) and bought a cheap Shimano FXS-70MB-2 pole at the Kona Walmart. For $9 it was a good sturdy yet sensitive two-piece 7-foot pole. Perfect for my abuse and slow learning curve. I bought a box of very delicate squid that tore apart too easily and tied a few standard egg sinker rigs with Owner SSW#4 hooks. The locals on the seawall used tiny trout like hooks and not just for the oamas. But I wasn't comfortable risking swallowed hooks for fish I would release.
I was on the seawall at dawn. Most of the local fishermen had been concentrated near the little beach where Palani Street meets Ali'i Drive. Often that meant fishing right in the middle of swimmers and snorkelers, and while everyone seemed to get along just fine, I myself was discouraged from fishing there, even alone at sunrise. I had seen a little jetty ledge peering out at the end of the seawall and investigated it days before. It looked fishable and I wondered why I never saw anyone there. Nice protected shadowy rocks and reefs, a zillion little hiding places and possible lairs. Tiny aquarium fish and perch-sized yellow butterflies strobed the white bottom sands and rocks, and there were larger fish darting and patrolling from time to time. I set up the smaller reel with 6# test, baited a short strip and lowered it. Seconds later, slam and a sudden pop as the line snapped on the sharp lava rocks. I'd fished lava shore before, up in Oregon, with the same results, but this was more savage. I got hit on every drop and if I didn't get stripped I got sheared. Even though I thought I was paying attention, I needed to pay more attention. Shortening the leader helped, as well as keeping the sinker just off the bottom. I caught my first fish in Hawaii, a Blacktail Snapper , locally called a to'au. It fought quite hard for its size, a match for most perch back home, and the added attraction of navigating through the reef's obstacles and traps made it exhilarating. The weirdest sensation, holding a fish that was warm as bathwater. The next fish, also a scrappy runner, was the State Fish, the splendidly named humu-humu-nuku-nuku-apua'a, known vulgarly as the Reef Triggerfish or, appropriately, the Picasso Triggerfish. It was so neat-looking I had to force myself to get it back in the water before my admiration murdered it. Art is violent sometimes. I caught a few more to'au, having fun in the solitary hour and a half before the weekend folks and the humidity descended. Then the fish were gone, maybe due to the growing daylight or the roving blue trevally, which may or may not have taken my line, because suddenly my pole was bent hard and the line went peeling before it snapped. I'd seen the fish work in and out of the shallows earlier but never could get it interested. But something hit hard and I was seriously humiliated. I switched to the 10# reel and made some forays but nothing happened until I dragged the bait in front of a small cave opening. Like a leopard skinned snake, this thing lurched out and scarfed the bait like a vacuum cleaner and shot back inside its lair. I put my monkeyface eel experience together and hunted the creature for about twenty minutes and maybe four rigs before I had a satisfying tug of war followed by a hellacious scrambling run, and then a rather cowardly landing: the thing squirmed up my line as I raised it out of the water and I was totally repulsed. But you gotta do what you gotta do and it was safely released. Found out later it was a Magnificent Snake Eel, or puhi-la'au. Actually it was much later I found out the names of any of these fish!
I was done for the moment. Time to get breakfast and wake up with the rest of Kona. Right before I left the wall, I noticed a fellow throwing out a bobber rig just down the wall, so I chatted with him. He was going after a school of black fish just outside the shallow reef line. You could see the school and the fish chasing his offering but they never committed. Still, it gave me a new strategy.
A couple hours later I was out again, this time totally working from scratch. I walked to a surprisingly secluded niche near the Kailua Pier. There was a series of lava ledges resolved at an inlet and I had to cross a narrow shelf (exposed on the low tide) to get to the most likely spot. The inlet was deep and carved by a swift channel that flowed by a myriad little volcano shaped mounds. The water was so clear you could see down for 15-20 feet. I changed the rig to a bobber-weight-leader setup and threw into the current. It traveled ten feet and the float vanished, never to return. I had a brief battle and then felt the liner razored on the rocks. I set up the same way threw out again, the bobber dove, and this time came up with a strange looking fish. A Bird Wrasse, hinalea 'i'iwi. It was like holding a very warm cross between a lizard and a bird. The tide was coming up, I was losing rigs and all but pestered by these rockfish types which, though fairly rambunctious, only rarely came up to a size that meant a fight. Stocky Hawkfish, po'o-pa'a. Also by this time there was a luau tourist thing setting up close by and the beach area was swarming with Miami shaped bodies. I had to swim back to land while carrying pack, rod, and bait, but that was all part of the experience.
I had neglected to put sunblock on and I was wearing shorts, something I rarely do, but I walked on oblivious and strolled through the shopping area, blending right in with the crazies and visitors as they peered at t-shirts and palm tree motifs, bought and consumed bright shiny wares. I had two slices of some of the best cheese pizza I'd ever tasted. Almost by rote, fused by the rays of the sun and the afternoon vibes, I found myself back on the little jetty beside the seawall again. I had one bobber left and saved it, returning to the same style as the dawn patrol. I did not last long. Hawaii is hot and humid and verges on overwhelming for a Nordic type like me. I caught some more to'aus, always fun and then got smacked by another odd fish that did not look like a fish, but rather something amphibious. Stripebelly Puffer, 'o'opu hue, and loveably ugly. I was just lowering my rig when I saw a large shadow and pulled up, just in time to see a fantastic sea turtle swim blithely by. So cool. Immediately afterward, the little jetty ledge was besieged by local kids around 10-12 years old. They were about to snorkel. We talked, they were friendly and polite, and I got a very good scope of shore fishing places and methods for Kailua Bay. They also told me it was good thing I didn't hook the turtle, because then I'd be cursed. Thanks, Brah! Mo'bettah I didn't do da kine.
Back in the hotel room, laying back in the air conditioning with legs as scarlet as an overcooked ham. I persuaded myself that putting on sunblock now was sensible and that I could get out for yet another stint and be able to travel fine the following day. Fishermen are nuts.
But I did go out, just before sunset, which on the Big Island occurs pretty damn early, say 7pm. A new locale albeit in proximity; already it felt like my skin would split open with too much pressure. The spot was a typical reef platform but shallower than the one I'd tried before. It was like two plateaus and an underwater rift between them. I saw a school of large silvery fish and kept my presentation on target and well placed, but they were unimpressed. Every now and again I would get tapped but nothing substantial. And almost every time, I got nailed by one of those po'o-pa'a when I got close to the shore. Some were larger this time, however, and reminiscent of a hefty grass rockfish. Throwing a bobber rig just past the reef mounds, I got slammed, pulled on, and let go several times. It reminded me of the fellow I'd spoken with early in the morning. So I tried something a little different than him and lengthened my leader. I also made sure I was on the bite and able to play out line enough for the fish to commit. It did the trick. The line got slapped hard, the bobber, disappeared, I paused, set the hook, and the drag sang on my reel. It looked like an enormous mutant pogie and had the tenacity to match. A Black Durgon, aka humuhumu 'ele'ele. The light was fading, I had to rejoin the family for dinner, my day fishing must end. But one more humuhumu 'ele'ele, a pretty big one, to race line and thrash hard. On the way back to the hotel I talked with a big local guy who was fishing live bait directly off of Kailua Pier. He caught a large needlefish that looked like a mix of gar and kokanee, a nunu, I think he called it. Its belly was scarred with a red ring as though someone had placed a rubberband around it.
The next morning I went back to the seawall and waited for a fisherman to show up. Two sea turtles were munching on the himu seaweed below Kailua Pier. And there were dozens of nice sized blue trevally all over. I found a local guy who was fishing before work, and donated my pole to him. Sometimes you can see him and his red ice chest here:
A couple of good panoramas. The first is the seawall; look closely and find the little jetty ledge I mentioned. The second one is from the perspective of the pier.
Shimano FXS-70MB-2 7'
Shimano Sahara 1500 and 2500
P-line CXX, 6# and 10#
Owner SSW Black Chrome #4 hooks
15# and 30# leader line
Kailua Kona, Big Island, Hawaii
Units are feet
Sunrise 6:01 AM HST, Sunset 6:57 PM HST
Moonrise 7:22 AM HST, Moonset 8:21 PM HST
High Tide: 4:26 AM HST 1.01
Low Tide: 9:46 AM HST 0.20
High Tide: 4:49 PM HST 2.22
Low Tide: 11:49 PM HST 0.27
I'll return. It will be different, probably some beach fishing, and there is one hellish shelf I have to explore North of Hilo. I might have to move there.