Spyda's Blog

A Hawaiian Style Fishing Blog

November Bones

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The hurricane season has kept the weather dark and humid through the early fall. It’s not as though we have the extreme seasonal changes like those futher from the equator, but, the return to “normal” tropical weather is somewhat of a relief. I’m restless, funny, I see the ocean everyday on my drive to work yet I miss her and feel the need to get to the shoreline somewhere.  The ulua bite has been good this year and I feel like I’m wasting a good year not hitting it as hard as I should. Here I sit in the waiting room at my wife’s ob/gyn. …

My workhorse rod, the 12 foot spinner has a broken reel seat, new guides and grip sit on my workbench waiting for some love, remnants of duct tape glue from a summer adhoc repair still visible.

I haven’t been out with my light-medium set up for a while. It may be a good time to give it a go!

A 14 foot Daiwa Sealine Surf rod with the trusty old Penn 550ss.

It’s a great rod for the shallow flats I have in mind. The 15lb test will keep things interesting. Papio, Barracuda and Oio are among the list of regular catches out there and an Ulua is not out of the question, but, something I’ve yet to catch both out there and on this rod and reel set up. Only running 15lb test, but, have it backed up with 20lb braid. Looking to use leadhead jigs in the sand pockets during the rise, I’m feeling the pearl white grubs today. We’ll see how it goes!

The surf is calm, maybe flat to a foot, the water is pretty clear. I see the patches of invasive seaweed making a come back in the calmer inside reef. I head for a channel that has produced for me before.

I question my choice of the curlytail grub, is it big enough to entice my target size oio? The last time was an anamoly, I took a 6 pounder on a Rapala X-Rap of all things! A pale green color, kinda oama’ish. I had put a large wooden floater on and attached a 5 or 6 foot leader to the X-rap. I worked it in the channel letting it drop knowing the floater would keep the line off the reef. A semi-slow retrieve twitching and the occasional jerk to hopefully kick up some sand to catch the attention of a large bone. While not widely accepted as a valid tactic for oio, over the years we’ve learned that the bigger ones seem to show more canivoric tendencies than the typical 2 to 4lbers.

8.9 on a digital scale caught with a live hinalea, if that aint lucky.....

8.9 on a digital scale caught with a live hinalea, if that aint lucky…..

We’ll have to see what if anything takes a liking to the pearl grub.

It’s about an hour and a half after the turn of the tide, the water’s moving a bit and I feel the energy building.

I try, as I always do to look for the oio tailing on the shallow flats, but, as usual, I see no grey ghosts, old eyes. I continue to fish “blind”, using my instincts and looking for sand pockets. Dropping it as close as I can to the opposite edge of the reef and letting sink to the bottom, I twitch the tip of the rod and stop. This time I shake the rod side to side making half turns of the reel handle. No dice…I decide to switch tails and put on a clear with glitter. I also change up the retrieve, a steady, not too fast with side to side and an occasional hard lift of the tip to bring it up and let it flutter back down. This is not totally different, just a little change in tempo.

I feel a little tick, I’m barely even able to react when the Penn starts screaming! I lift the rod and watch as the line rips through the water, there’s a rocket ship on the end of my line! Then the typical Oio tactic, it’s running straight back in at me! I crank furiously to keep some tension. It turns to the right then left, short bursts now, it’s mine!

Waialua oio crop

The drive home is a mental de-brief / plan for next time….as usual.

Dean calls, he and Dan are thinking of an overnighter this week. We set a tentative plan, confirm with Dan. It’s a go!

Red Dirt

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A small cloud of red dirt follows the jeep as we rumble past fields of California grass growing where the sugar cane once flourished. It takes me back to after dinner walks with my grandfather on the cane roads around Camp 3 in Spreckelsville, Maui. I’m guessing I’m now about the same age that grampa was back then.

Grampa’s passion was sumo wrestling. I’m told he was quite the force in plantation sumo matches back in younger days. Back then there was no internet or sumo on tv all he had was sumo magazines from Japan. How he got them I don’t know. Despite the challenges of following the sport from afar, his passion was clear, even to a ten year old. My passion is fishing, I sometimes wonder if people can see that or not.

We get to our planned spot and walk out to check the water. Although we have fresh oama in the cooler for bait today, it doesn’t stop us from looking for schools as we do. The oama season has been pretty strong this year. It actually came in two distinct waves which stretched the season out. The storms of this El Nino year have made things a little unpredictable. It’s been raining and the surf has been big so the beach is washed and the water just outside the inner reef is stained with the red dirt run-off. I like it!

What’s to like about it? Well, using a mix of other theories I’ve heard over the years, I’ll start with the brown (or in this case red) water in the channel outside. In muddy or murky conditions the bait fish get a false sense of security, kind of a “I can’t see them, so they can’t see me” mentality and venture out and about a bit carelessly. The activity brings the predators in who find them and push them into the shallows of the inner reef. In the sudden change to clear water the predators are now “lit up” with excitement dark bars appear on their sides and in many cases their silver bodies turn completely black as they go into attack mode! My bait sits another 30 yards inside in 5 feet of water.

The papio action has been hot and heavy. Well, maybe not necessarily heavy a lot of 10 to 12 inchers are hitting, but, great catch and release action anyway! Hopes are up for big boy action when the evening tide comes.

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The tide is on the rise and its dark out. The moon won’t be rising for a few hours so we are all working the poles hard. It’s been quiet, I’ve been trying in vain to catch something larger then the oama for my heavy spin set up. I decide to throw a chunk of a large tako leg out on the heavy spinner just to get it out there. The fat piece of tako might attract the puhi I’ve been looking for.

I’m running 50lb braid backing under a 30lb mono top shot. I have a 25 foot 60lb mono wind-on leader which terminates with a 3’o swivel and 80lb mono to a #28 circle hook.

The chunk of tako had been soaking about 10 minutes when I got a small bell ring, there’s the puhi I thought! I set aside the leader I was working on and grab my headlamp and stood up. After I ducked out from under our tarp I switched on my my light and looked over at my pole. Woah! The rod is bent over all the way down to the butt!! I start to run, spinner so no ratchet, something big is running hard so the bell isn’t ringing because its stationary! As I finally get there it starts to surge and the bell finally rings hard! I can hear the line peeling out, from the looks of the spool the fish may be out over the ledge already. I give the drag a quarter turn, I need to stop this thing, If it dives, I’m done. Looking at the direction of my line, it went straight for the opening in the reef. It slows a little, then surges and takes more line. I contemplate my drag setting, with the quarter turn I know it’s pretty tight so I resist touching it anymore. It takes another furious run and POP! It’s gone….

I rue my slow reaction to the strike, foolishly assuming it was puhi. Perhaps if I got there sooner I could have stopped it before the drop off. All speculation now….

It’s morning, the rest of the night had been quiet. Just recast the heavy spinner with a 6″ slice of the puhi which finally came up a little later in the night. I put a frozen oama on my medium-light spinner set up. It’s a 14′ Daiwa with a Penn 550ss. Love this rig It allows me to get my bait out pretty deep with out much effort.

The papio action has picked up again right where the previous afternoon left off as we’ve caught and released a few 11 to 14 inch Omilu’s and whites already this morning.

Hard bell ring! The 14 footer is doubled over! I’m running this time…when I get there the long cast coupled with the initial run has the line below half spool! It’s still screaming out line, shoots, it’s kinda big….damn it! I might get spooled. I’ve got the rod up high and I’m following the fish, it don’t wanna stop…it’s through the opening in the reef and over the drop….shit….stay high, stay high….gone. ugh….

I run a lot of light rigs, so this happens, but, the other side of it is that I get the strikes. I release the majority of the fish I catch and yes, sometimes I catch….and that’s good enough.

 

Three old Japanese men from Hawaii and two haoles drifting down a northern California river in rubber rafts. Hmmm, what is this?

We’d been fishing in murky water since we arrived a few days prior, so on this day we were stepping in a few miles down river. I’m looking down into clear water as Herb tries to convince us that we shouldn’t worry about the class 5 and 6 rapids down river. While he’s not kidding about the rapids, they’re actually just down river from where we plan to end our drift, hopefully they’ll remember where to stop…

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Escape, has brought us here. The details may be different, but, ties to our urban lives keep the fires called escape alive. We’ve all known each other for a long time and while the paths of our lives have taken each of us down different roads. Somehow, these roads have brought us back together and led us here to this river.

You can feel the “aahhh” with each breath, a light breeze pulls the chill off the water to cool us as we slowly drift down river. It’s a unique feeling, that of being drained of urban stress and energized at the same time. Every turn in the river brings another “magazine shot” into view. We’re on the Trinity, classic fly water, as good as it gets!

Drifting, a style of navigating trout streams where a drift boat or rafts like we’re in use the current of the stream or river to move us down in search of fish. A pair of oars controls the speed when necessary or guide us to spots in the stream where we can jump out to wade and cast to rising fish. Dean’s riding with Herb, while Daniel and I are with Kit. Herb is hands down the best guide on the Trinity and among the very best in the entire region, but, today, Herb is insisting that Kit is the better, he’ll certainly have his hands full with me and Dan today!

I watched Dean catch and release a beautiful wild Steelhead on a dry a couple of years ago and getting my first steelhead has been on my mind ever since. I don’t have any delusions of busting multiple trophy sized steelhead on dry flies today. I just want to get one, nymphing, wooly bugger, what ever, I don’t care.

Kit pushes us off and jumps in, Herb and Dean will give us a few minutes before setting off behind us. A hundred maybe one fifty down stream we come up on a little funnel that’s pushing the water to the right accelerating the flow, creating a fast lane that catches Kits eye. We pull up on the left bank and jump in. He ties us on some nymphs and calls out how he wants each of us to play the section he’s put us at. Before long Daniel gets a bender and lands a little Bow to get us going! Aahhh yea!!…..you feel that?

We work a few more sections trying different things, not much happening so we jump back aboard and slide on down a bit.

We’re alone on the river, the canyon walls and trees keep civilization far away. The echo off the walls allow Kit and Herb to keep in touch. A few whistles and shouts when needed, are used to keep each other abreast of any action going on even while out of sight around a bend. Their knowledge of the river, their craft and each other allow them to communicate most things with a whistle or a few key words. I don’t think it’s something either has ever consciously thought about, fishermen just talk fishing a lot, so much so you get to that point of familiarization that phonetic or grammatically correct sentences are not really necessary.

We’ve swung around a bend on to a wide, straight section of the river.  Kit sees a rise way down ahead of us, a shrill whistle back up stream lets Herb know. They refer to this stretch as the “football field”. Kit pulls us over to the bank just ahead of a little feeder steam that’s pushing through just enough energy to create a few lanes in the flow down river where we saw the rise. A couple of drys get tied on our lines and Kit directs us into spots where we can cast into the lanes where fish are rising. I get a little scolding from Kit for trying to cast too far! I guess it’s the Hawaiian shorecasters mentality kicking in, I can’t help myself! (I actually think that Kit and I were looking at different fish!) Anyways, I eventually get with the program and dial it back to “delicate” and drop my fly in the correct lane. I’ve always believed that some people learn and see things differently and feel like I’m one of those. Kit keeps on us and things are finally beginning to click for me.

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It’s a little blurry as far as who took the first fish at the football field, but, we all did manage to take some Steelies. Daniel and I got our first ever! After a break for lunch on the bank we work the football field a little longer before moving on down stream.

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As we drift along, Kit suddenly swings his head around! “Hear that?” he says, Daniel and I are clueless. “I heard a fish rise behind us!” says Kit who starts paddling madly back up stream. So, he heard a rise, but, not just behind the raft we’re talking 50 yards behind us!!

The section is narrowed by a gravel bank pushing out from the left. Kit jumps out and tells us to stay in the raft, he’s our anchor holding us against the current with the back side of the raft against the gravel bank. There’s a tiny feeder coming off the opposite bank that’s pushing pretty firmly into a deep pool. Kit tells me to cast just upstream of the joint on the top of the riffle. “Feed it, Feed IT, FEED IT!” I’m frantically waving the tip of my rod while stripping line trying to keep the drift drag free! The fly stays dry and drag free, but, no take. “Pick it up and toss it a little higher and closer to the bank”. I make another cast and somehow manage to drop it right in the slot and start feeding line madly again. This time we get a pop and fish on! It makes a short, hard run down stream with the current so feels like a good fish. Not quite a beast , but, enough to put up a good fight on 5x.

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Dean and Herb slide on downstream ahead of us and find a shady riffle that produces another healthy steelie for Dean.

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It was a fun day, on some gorgeous water, we’ll be back……

(This trip back in April of 2015, it’s taken me a while to get this up here! Now I need to start work on our trip two weeks ago…..)

“Same old Bays” says Dean, I just nod in agreement. The tall ironwood trees still stand guard at the edge of the road, looking down at the small patches of naupaka fighting to reestablish after the hoards of 4×4’s and atv’s tore at them for years and years. Help has come in the form of large concrete blocks that prevent the entry of the motorized demons. Not especially pretty, but, effective none the less. They have brought back a touch of the peacefulness that we once knew here. I was first introduced to this little gem of a beach back in the mid ’70s when Steve brought me here to surf. It was also when I first met and got to know the boys. They had all been coming out to this area since the ’60s and had their own names for all the surf breaks along this stretch. Bays became our regular surf, dive and fishing spot. While a few things have changed over the years the one thing that has always been the same is the water. All the time we’ve spent in the water here has brought us to know the reef and currents well. The spot has become like and old girlfriend. We know her moods. We respect her when she’s angry and are always grateful when she’s generous.

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Naturally the ride out to Bays is familiar one for us. Over the years we’ve made that drive at all hours of the day and night. The decision to drive out here has on occasion been a questionable one when considering the number of glasses we raised prior to heading out.  Some of those late night  journeys resulted in us all sleeping in the car until the heat of the mid-morning sun would wake us. Sometimes we’d just get out of the car, take a pee, get back in and drive home.  In those early days we were mostly there to surf. A quick surf was always the best cure for a hangover. It always took one person to break the ice by paddling out, usually Steve, then one by one we’d drag our boards out and jump in.

While we’ve had some success fishing there and certainly a lot of good times, Keith remains as the only Zee Packer on record to score an Ulua there. A mystery we’ve circled around for many, many  years. It’s been a long while since we’ve caught much of anything there, but, there we were. Perhaps ecouraged by the oama in our live bait bucket, maybe just because it was comfortable being there. It was in fact the first time we had been out there since Keith passed away. Neither of us had said it out loud, but, I think Dean and I both felt it was the place to be that day.

Keith’s funeral had been a mixed bag of emotions. Touching bases with a few old friends, looking at the collage of pictures of his life and seeing his portrait on the mantle. This had been the first time any event had caused the whole gang to pull in the fishing poles and drive into town from our annual beach house vacation. With all that he and his family had been through in the last few years of his life you could sense that within the veil of sadness there was a breeze of relief and a feeling of joy knowing that he was done with the pain and in a much better place. The MC at the service gave a nod to the fishing gang by asking everyone to keep Keith in our hearts and minds and that perhaps Keith would bring a fish our way someday!

As we made the long drive back to the country from town we reflected on the service and talked about some of our favorite memories of Keith.  While the general mood was pleasent, I know it was tough for all of us to accept that we had just said our final goodbys to our brother.

Getting back to the beach house I wondered how much energy I would be able to put into fishing after such a draining evening. As Daniel and I sat drinking some beers on the deck Dean got right to checking the live bait well and re-rigging his lines. After a bit Dan and I finally decided to get on it too and got some baits on our lines and tossed them out. It was a clear beautiful night, so in the softer country lighting there were a ton of stars in view. As I was gazing up at them I saw a formation that looked like an Ulua with its mouth wide open ready to inhale a helpless baitfish! I was about to point it out to the guys when I thought better of it and decided it would only bring waves of drunken ridicule my way….

Just after midnight, Dean had gone down for the count and Dan and I were still up talking story when a hard bell ring penetrated the alcoholic blur! I looked up and saw the tip of my spinner rod dip out of sight behind the plants between us and the beach, wow fish on finally!! When I got to the rod I could hear the line smoothly peeling out of the Fin-nor despite the rather tight drag setting I was using. I removed the bell and the tie-down. After a few seconds the run eased up and the tip started to lift. I pulled the rod out of the spike and leaned back on it. The fish turned and headed left crossing Daniels line. I had to follow to the left to try and get it to clear. I had just managed to do that when it decided to head back to the right. This time it stayed clear and I shouted to Dan that it was coming in. A short while later we saw the flash of a white ulua in the shorebreak and the next wave tumbled it on to the sand! What’taya know? Ulua, first in a long time for me. I had not caught any ulua since leaving the Big Island over 18 years ago!

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Small bugga, but, definately ulua for sure. It would later weigh in at 14 pounds. The first thing that came to mind when I landed it was Keith! Keith had brought the boys an ulua!! I couldn’t stop repeating it the rest of the night, Keith brought us a fish! It made us all happy, it was a clear sign. The first sign came few days after Keith had passed when Dean had a dream. All his life Dean has had dreams about people close to him shortly after they die. In his dream about Keith, Dean said Keith told him he was fine and he looked good. The second sign was the ulua I saw in the sky that night. This ulua was the third and final sign, a confirmation if you will, for all of us that Keith was indeed okay and doing fine!

Keith had made the long ride home.

 

 

The Grey

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Morning grey, my favorite time. I’m usually alone during the grey, after recasting the poles for the dawn patrol it’s a time to sit back and collect my thoughts about what did or didn’t work the night before and formulate a plan going foward. One of the best times to throw out a lure in my opinion. I’m always amazed how the fish can see the lures I throw in the dark. I’ve had strikes at the moment the lure hits the water! How is that possible? You hear about papio and ulua tracking a lure in the air and hitting as it lands, but, in the dark? Baffling!

I actually try to get up well before the grey to recast so, by the time it starts, I’m done with all of that and most times already have a hot cup of coffee in hand or if the grounds are calling me I may have my whipping set up in hand ready to work the shoreline. Which ever it is there is nothing, for me anyway, like watching the sunrise down at the oceans edge somewhere! It’s not only about being on the east end somewhere to see the actual sunrise, as beautiful as it is here in Hawaii, it’s about seeing the world around you “waking up”. The color change as shadows fade, the movement of the ocean and trees come into focus. Natures original version of the “fade in”, think computer animations are cool? This is the real deal! Appreciate it, the view may not be the same forever.

By the way, this picture above is one taken about a half hour after “The Grey”.

Smell the coffee?

 

Ulua Blood

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“If she’s amazing, she won’t be easy. If she’s easy, she won’t be amazing. If she’s worth it, you wont give up. If you give up, you’re not worthy. … Truth is, everybody is going to hurt you; you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.”
Bob Marley

It starts simply enough, a bamboo pole with Dad, Grandpa or an Uncle. That first tug of a fish on the end of your line, the fish is hooked and so are you. Like so many of us when I got to the point where my understanding was beyond just catching a fish and became more focused, Ulua became the “Holy Grail”. We wanted the secrets, because as hard as we tried, the Ulua never came. Were we really that bad?? We read, we asked questions, we watched other people, but it just wasn’t happening.

After the first two ulua poles I built failed to catch an ulua, one lost to a monster strike and the other a catastrophic failure, I realized that I had to step up my game to succeed. When the second rod I built broke a foot from the tip I was mad, embarrassed and really felt like a failure.

The rod was a 540 Saber which was a two piece blank which came with a dowel to splice the two pieces together. I drove down to McCully Bike to look for a top half to replace my broken one. I got lucky, there was a black top half which was cracked at the bottom. I took the damaged blank up to the counter and asked the clerk if they would be willing to sell it to me at a discount since it was cracked. The store manager agreed and I had my top half!

I knew looking at it I could cut off the cracked portion and still be able to use the dowel and splice it on to my old bottom half. It would be a little shorter, but, I still felt it would be fine. I had to build it better, stronger and well, something else. I couldn’t figure it out at the time, but, there had to be something I could do differently this time that would make the difference.

The first problem was getting the old top half off. I had loaded up on the epoxy when I had spliced it together so this was going to be tough. I had little experience with this sort of stuff, there wasn’t Google or Youtube to turn to, so I had to wing it, make a decision and go for it! The bottom half was a straight tube, no taper so I guessed where the dowel ended and cut it off! Second problem, not quite as serious, the bottom half was white. So, after I epoxied the butt cap on I got black butt wrap cord and started wrapping the bottom half. Part way up I decided to add some trim for accent. I found some sheets of stuff they use to dress lures with and cut some strips, red and silver placed them on the blank, that’s when it hit me! Blood! This rod would be all black with red pin stripes to represent the blood of ulua!

With the rod finished there was one thing left to do, go get that first ulua!

Well, as most of us know, that was easier said than done. I set about reviewing my entire process, knots, leader set up, where and when I went fishing, moon phase, tides, hook sharpening and drag setting. I thought about it constantly. In doing this I got a little obsessive and pushed myself a little further than I ever did. I was only working part-time back then so it did give me more time, but, even then it didn’t seem like enough.

One day a good friend of mine from work told me he was taking some vacation time and planned to spend a good part of it fishing. He planned to be out at Moi Hole out on the west side and told me to come on out if I could. Problem was I couldn’t get any vacation time off so would be working the entire time he was going to be out there. “Bummers” I thought, well, if I want to succeed I need to make some sacrifices. Like they say, “The good things in life never come easy!”

So the week comes and I figure my friend Hiro is out there pounding it already. I have to work in the morning so I pack what I can in the trunk of the car, the poles and cooler will have to wait until after work. One pm the next day I’m leaving work, I head to Tamashiro Market to look for bait. No tako so I pick up some fresh akule and ika and head home to finish loading up.

Out at Moi Hole, Hiro and a few of the other regulars have about 6 to 8 poles out and are kicking back when I roll up. No strikes so far they report, but, the weather is nice and the company is great so sprits are high! I get to work setting up. My patched up black and red Saber is the first I cast out, I slide a whole akule down on a 36 bkn. Next out is my Harrington with a Surfmaster (2’0). This one gets an akule fillet bait casted out. Soon it’s dinner time and the hibachi is lit up and everyone busts out some kau kau for the pot luck table.

One of the regulars in attendance is Andy Miyamoto, the Mayor of Moi Hole back then. Andy is a big man, I’m told he played semi-pro baseball in Japan. Casting was just casting until the first time I watched Andy cast! It was clear, when he casted he was fishing in an area we weren’t despite the fact that we were fishing right next to each other!

Dinner was great as it always seems to be out on the rocks or the beach. Just after sunset before it got real dark my Harrington takes a strike! A few minutes later a 5 pound Awa is on the rocks and into the cooler! Yes! Action, we’re all feeling energized and work our poles late into the night. I have to work the next morning so I’m the first one down.

Six am, after a little coffee I jack-up my poles and leave them by Hiro’s car, I’ll be back àfter work.

One pm and I’m driving to Tamashiros again. This time they have fresh tako. I buy tako and ice then hit the freeway back to the west side!!

When I get there Hiro kids me saying “Eh, you better not catch again, I never even get strike yet!!“. We all laugh except Andy, who just gives me a wry smile. Andys wife has come out and is in their tent cooking up a storm, she cooks for everyone. Good people the Miyamotos!

I work my poles hard, but save one whole tako for the big tide in the morning.

Five am music to my ears! The bell and rachet on the black Saber are goin off!! I had forced myself out of my warm cot about 3 in the morning to slide the whole 1.5lb tako I had saved for the morning rise. My mind is a blurr, but, quickly getting jacked with adrenelin! Is this it? The fish is straight out, now starting to angle to the right. it slows then swings to the left and runs again. I feel like I’m lost in a dream. Hiro is standing next to me coaching and giving me encouragement. The fish surges again then slows and swings back to the right. I’m gaining some line now, holy smokes! It this happening?! Suddenly someone yells “Color!!” I look down and there it is, the broad silver side of an ulua is shimmering underwater below us. I hear Hiro’s calm voice telling me “Easy, easy…watch the tip…let um take line if he like…” My anxiety is soaring! After what seems like forever it pops to the surface! “Kagami!!” “Hit um, hit um!!” The gaff hits home and the fish is hauled up on to the rocks, unbelievable!!

My first Ulua! My first and only (to this date) Kagami Ulua! What an amazing feeling!!

Later after breakfast, I pack to leave and say my good byes and thanks to everyone. The only thing not packed is the slide rig with the still fresh tako on it. I walk over to Andys tent and place it on his cooler. We say nothing, just nod and exchange wry smiles…

Magic bait, for me is the last bait that caught me an Ulua, but, for many of my friends it’s Oama. The little goats, papio candy and the reason that once a year all the stores run out of aerators. Every year, August there abouts, (as early as April or late as October) the schools of juvenile Weke appear near shore on all the Hawaiian islands. Fishermen and women flock to their favorite spots to catch Oama for consumption or for bait for papio. Newbees or just plain lazy ones ask “Where dey stay?”. In this day of the internet and smartphone technology the word gets around quickly and the schools get pounded. All part of the game, good or bad, unfortunately the fish populations don’t increase proportionately with the increase of fishermen and we see smaller “per angler” counts being caught each year. What has increased despite increased awareness in the community is poaching. Illegal throw nets and night trapping have become a common occurrence because truthfully, there is no active enforcement taking place. Brazen poachers perform their illegal craft in front of beach goers with no conscience what so ever!

So, where do we go from here? Many foolishly think that the fish will always be there. “How?” I ask, “What makes you think that?” I’m no expert, I have no college degree, I don’t even read all the information the real experts put out there to keep us all informed. What I do know is if we continue in this mindless direction of “Fish now, worry later” future generations will only have the stories handed down by their elders.

When Cook first landed in the Hawaiian islands for the first time over two centuries ago the Hawaiians already had serious concerns about conserving the oceans resources and many very focused restrictions (kapu) designed to keep harvesting of these resources in check. Contrary to the popular belief that the over throw of the Hawaiian Kingdom was the cause of the loss of this forward thinking, in truth it was the son of Kamehameha I, Liholiho (Kamehameha II) that abolished kapu. This is not to say that the kapu system was without fault, but, rather that the greater loss was the understanding that the then abundant resource was not infinite.

So, what’s the next step? I’d say little steps for the most part, as long as they are in the correct direction forward. Perhaps we should start with our keiki, instead of teaching them to keep everything they catch, teach them to appreciate catch and release. To let the little fish live!!

“You may not be her first, her last, or her only. She loved before she may love again. But if she loves you now, what else matters? She’s not perfect – you aren’t either, and the two of you may never be perfect together but if she can make you laugh, cause you to think twice, and admit to being human and making mistakes, hold onto her and give her the most you can. She may not be thinking about you every second of the day, but she will give you a part of her that she knows you can break – her heart. So don’t hurt her, don’t change her, don’t analyze and don’t expect more than she can give. Smile when she makes you happy, let her know when she makes you mad, and miss her when she’s not there.”   ―     Bob Marley

Northern California, off I-5 through Redding another 20 to 30 minutes will get you to the town of Lewiston in Trinity County. With a population of just over a thousand in 20 square miles, life is slow and easy. We’re back again to see what fresh water fishing adventures we can find. We’re towing Deans 13′ whaler behind us and hauling along our trout and bass dreams. Those of ulua and oio are stashed away for now. When the elixir flows after dinner they’ll surface along with the debates we’ve repeated for the last thirty plus years of our lives. We can’t help it, it’s what fishermen do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seventeen years ago I came up here with Dean for what we were calling at the time “My last hurrah!” I was getting married in a month and it appeared my days of packing a duffel and rod case to disappear for a week or so were going to be lot less frequent, if they happened at all…

Magical, is the only way I can describe that trip. We caught fish everywhere we stopped. Strictly fly-fishing mind you, as much as I love the style I’ve never been a prolific fly caster by anyone’s standards. So to catch fish at each stop, river mouth, little stream, fast water, slow lazy water, it was beyond what I could have ever realistically hoped for! Was this a sign? If so, what did it mean?

This trip we fought a headwind all the way up the coast, it wasn’t until we turned into Redding and headed west towards Trinity that we got into more normal air. Redding is a typical rural Californian town, for us fishermen though, you can’t ignore the river as you pass through. The river, the “Upper Sac” as they call it, refers to the northern regions of the Sacramento river that meander through the state and is particularly prominent in Redding. Big water, typically fished from a drift boat or from the occasional low banks that allow one to toss a shiner or worm out with a spinner.

Five and a half hours and we are finally there! Turn on the utilities, flush the water system, turn on the fridge and we’re good to go! Down to the lake for a shake down run in the whaler to make sure everything’s as it should be before we hit the big lake later in the week. Fly fishing purists would be appalled, but, we tied some “needlefish” spoons on our fly rods to troll for trout! What the heck, our spin rods are all 6 to 7 foot so the 9 foot fly rods gave us a much more efficient spread between our lines. Laugh all you want, but it works!

 

 

 

Lewiston Lake, the smaller of two lakes in the immediate area, with about 750 acres of surface area sits just below the hillside where we would be staying for the next few nights. We had just tied up the whaler next to the launch the night before so it was a matter of minutes after we stepped out the door that we were in the boat headed out. I’ll let my buddy Dean describe the morning on the water.

“Next morning we hit the lake again, but still no flow going through. Trolled a bunch with no success then decided to head up to the north end and do some “Scotty fishing”. This method entails northern cali type driftboat fishing. Light lines (4lb) on a 2lb leader with a floaty egg and some real salmon eggs attached on a small lead splitshot. We took a few strikes but no hookups except for many encounters with the bottom as we were not getting any kind of drift. So screw dat. We went in for lunch and decided to suit up and hit the fabled trinity river fly-water 5 minutes away.”

Hiking and wading with a fly rod in hand, my absolute fave form of fresh water fishing, nothing like it!! For me it’s not all about the catching, just something about the serenity, the sound of the river and trees, reading the water looking for those little rifts or big rocks that create a slack water where the fish will hold. I suppose part of the draw is the amount of finesse and technique one needs to master to effectively present a dry fly well enough for a fish to want to take it. Not easy, but, so beautiful when done well.

“We cast small dries into the pocket water below a big pool and had our share of dinks fight over the floating candies. Joel said he saw a monster fish rise and check out his little hooked struggling smolt then slowly disappear. I thought to put a big ol’ trinity wooly bugger and strip it across and down. Joel did this for 15 minutes without a hit so we moved downstream. We came to a nice pool/run just below a riffle that looked nice and fishy. We cast a few times with no takers. Then, a big silver shadow moved up from the bottom to stick his nose out and check out the increasing hatch of caddis and baetis bugs that were floating by. It appeared he didn’t take anything off the top: I figured he wanted something more substantial for his trouble. I tied Joel on to a Herb Burton T-Bone, a fly that had taken me a 6lb. brown many years ago. Joel worked him for awhile but no takers. After a while, Joel said to try him. The riverbank was tight behind us, lots of casts into the bushes, not much room for a nice long reach and drift. finally, I remembered how to roll cast again and got the big dry down the lane. I never experienced a large steelie coming back more than a couple times to take a dry, but this one did. I missed him two or three times until I told myself to let him take it and put his head underwater before striking. After about an hour he cooperated and we had a fish on!”

I had just walked back up to where Dean was still working the run trying to get the big shadow to come up to take his fly again. I sat on the bank to rest and watched Dean casting. He told me that while I was gone downstream he had missed the fish yet again. I sat listening to the sound of the stream and Deans fly rod and line whooshing through the air. Then, a flash, a huge silver log appeared, sucked his fly in and rolled over towards the far bank, I held my breath for a second, then Dean lifted the tip of his rod and yelled as his reel started to scream! The rod was a 5wt Sage re-wrapped by our buddy Keith, a 5x tippet made for a challenging fight. It took all of ten minutes to get the fish to the net, which was actually way too small for this rather long chrome slab! Steelhead, ocean going rainbow trout, a real beauty for sure. One we will remember forever….I gently eased her back in the water, a few seconds later she shook her head to let me know she was ready to go, I relaxed my grip and she slipped away…

“Smile when she makes you happy, let her know when she makes you mad, and miss her when she’s not there.” 

 

 

I talk about the core group of guys that cut our Ulua fishing teeth together all those years ago quite often. After much mis-adventure which included what seemed to us anyway, an inordinate amount of missed opportunities to catch fish of our dreams we took comfort in making a little fun of ourselves. It certainly wasn’t for lack of strikes as we experienced a fair share of those. We just wern’t able to capitalize on many of them. At times it felt like we were cursed, that the fishing gods were determined to show us every possible way to lose a hooked fish.

A couple of clubs on Oahu at the time were Atlapac and the Pacific Casting Club, taking the “Pac” theme from those club names we decided to call ourselves the Zee Pac Casting Club. Never truly formalized as an official club it was basically just us making fun of our own misfortunes. Given the number of times we had experienced the dreaded strike (Zeeeee!) and resulting breaking of our lines (Pac!!) Zee Pac seemed an appropriate name for us.

Fast foward to the present, we recently re-united with one of the original Zee Pac members Keith and when Dean came to town we decided fishing together would be a good chance for us to really reconnect and reminisce about the early days of the Zee Pac.

After securing a spot where we could overnight without getting hassled the plan was in gear! Just like the old days a tent, our gear and a cooler of bevera….um….bait! We were ready once again for fishing adventure!!

Adventure……..well, three old farts humping fishing and camping gear over a couple of hundred yards of sand was, in its self, quite the adventure! More squeaks and groans then a 30 year old Yugo going over speed bumps in a K-Mart parking lot!

One thing we were always pretty good at was rigging up a mean tent! Well, the weather report was predicting 25mph gusts and a 50% chance of rain so, we had our work cut out for us! What the heck were we thinking?

After about an hour, there it was! The little three-man (more like three-munchkin) tent and a strong wind-break to protect it! See, we know what we doing! On to the fishing.

We had done some diving here before so knew there were a good amount of baitfish to be had. Of course there was also a week old frozen tako in the cooler too. Dean and I set off down the beach with our small spin outfits rigged with floater set ups. Soon we had some lively hinalea lauwili in our live bait bucket.

The low tide had swung its way through and the waves picked up a touch as the rise began. An 18 inch snowflake eel was the first to bite one of our live hinalea baits. We put it out of its misery and set it aside for later. If we were sliding it would be one bait, but, since we were baitcasting it would be three.

Late afternoon, Keiths new Nitro takes a solid strike, it doesn’t seem too big, but, takes a few good rips straight out then turns. Oh oh…..line’s hung up….can’t tell if it’s gone or not. It’s cold and windy, but, why not, Keiths first strike on his new rod, I strip down to my surfshorts and jump in the water. I follow the line out to where I can feel it stuck and pull carefully away from the obstruction, it’s free, but, the line is cut off…

Zee Pac!

Disappointed, naturally, but, encouraged by the strike early in the rise we all get busy working our poles!  My hinalea comes back strong and lively so I toss it back out to give it another go while I prep the snowflake eel. I cut the head off leaving about another 5 inches or so of the body attached. The fillets are left attached to the head, but, cut away from the spine which is left in place, cracked once or twice to release some smell and the entrails hang from the head also.

After dinner the tide is really moving now, time for the puhi! Being that we had to hump all our gear out to the spot all I brought was my Rainshadow baitcaster, a 1567F Rainshadow blank the good folks at 5O7S (5 Oceans 7 Seas) were nice enough to special order for me. A step down from the 1569F which is the heaviest they make, the 1567F still has impressive power and very light weight. My return to fishing with conventionals has admittedly been a little rough, too much spinner fishing may have taken me out of rhythm, so, lately I have been leaving the spinner home to force myself to work on my casting. It’s finally starting to work and I am casting with much more consistency and adequate distance. Didn’t bring the big stuff so had to search for a bigger hook among my baitcasting stuff. I find a pack of complimentary hooks from Bruddah Bill at Ewa Beach Buy & Sell, they look like about size 26 or 28. Perfect!!

I get a decent cast out and set the rod in the spike for the wait. I stop for a second to think back to years ago when I lost a 540 Sabre with a Black Marlin 6’o on it out to sea on a vicious strike, gotta tie the rod down. I find a strong two foot section of driftwood, tie my safety cord to it and bury it two feet deep in the sand. All set!

10:30pm just starting to fade off to sleep…..calang calang….zeeeEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!! I shine my light down the beach and the Rainshadow is bent way over pointing out to sea the safety cord is a tightrope!! I get there unclip the safety cord and pick up the rod. It’s pulling hard, but, feels manageable, it’s still taking line then stops I get a couple of pumps in then it goes again, then, gone…….

Zee Pac…….

01:30am I’m dreaming about the strike all over again…no…wait!! ZEEEE……EEEEEEEEEEEE…..EEEEEE!! Another strike!! I pop up and shine down the beach again…the rainshadow is at full arch again!!! I finally get there and the line is still ripping! I unclip the safety cord and just stand there holding the rod and watch the line peel. It finally stops I pick up the rod and try to start working it…”wha da hell?” I was so pumped up I had pulled the spike right out of the sand with the rod! Dean shows up and helps me get the spike off, it’s running again….it’s way out there now! It stops again and I try to lean on it, it doesn’t budge. Another run, all I can do is hang on. I’m loving the Rainshadow though, it’s standing up well, not noodling out. Finally I lean back on it and get some line, then it takes it all and more back. This goes on for another 20 minutes or so, back and forth. Gain some lose some, now I’m gaining more than its taking so the reel is finally filling back up. Suddenly it stops the side to side and turns straight out and makes another run.

Zee Pac…..

I curse myself for not leadering up this rig before leaving home. At my age I wonder how many more opportunities like this are going to come my way. Complacency, it’ll get you every time! I should know better….next time…when the Zee Pac rides again!!

 

Ol’ skool

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When did I become old school? Have to admit I am. When I think back to days out on the lava fields on the big island I realize just how lucky we were as many of those places we used go to are now gone under new construction. In a few decades there will be even fewer places still.

Long way down, slow going, hot, I still miss it a lot!!

 

When we started, old school was things like Templars and full bamboo rods. Black Penn 6’os, Long Beaches and Jigmasters were the norm.  High speed Penn 6’os, 4’os and Newells were gaining popularity along with their kits to modify Penns. Daiwa had just entered the market with their Penn “clones”. Half and half rods were still common and one piece rods were the rule.

The new ulua blank in town was the Sabre 540, a two piece blank that came with a fibreglass dowel to splice it together. The standards were Lamiglass SB160 or SB162’s and the Fenwick 16810. Two piece ulua rods were the exception rather than the norm as they are these days.

A half & half and a Sabre 540 restored beautifully by Gilbert Madriga

So, there I was trying to get back into it after a decade plus hiatus. It’s not as though I totally gave up fishing, just didn’t go very often and outings were far, far less serious, fishing primarily with spinners. I’d rig up the big spinner when the family or neighbors picnicked or stayed at a beach house. Then Facebook came along and I started to seek out other fishermen to share the interest with and met “Bruddah Bill” on his Ulua Fishing page. I enjoyed talking fishing and giving beginners advice on the page. This eventually led to Bill inviting me to become a moderator on a new fishing forum he was starting up. I had no idea what that entailed, but, I dove in anyway just happy to feel a part of the fishing scene again! http://forums.ifishhawaii.com/

It was the “big” forum in town commonly referred to as “HFF” that taught me a lot about the “New School” and made me see that I was “Ol’ skool”.  The nice thing was that through the forum I was also able to re-connect with old fishing friends from my time living on the big island. http://www.ulua-fishing.com/hff/index.php

So, in this day and age of social media on the Internet, where are our historians? Is it just the data stored on servers that will become our historical libraries? As far as Ulua fishing, the only “official” Ulua fishing historians I know of are Brian Funai and John R. K. Clark. Brian was born into the family of an ulua fisherman and has done much research on the subject for articles he has written about ulua fishing history. John Clark, a former life guard has written a number of books about beaches in Hawaii and spoke to many ulua fishermen while researching his book “Guardian Of The Sea – Jizo in Hawaii” which chronicles the Jizo statues and obelisks placed as warnings near spots where fishermen have died.  Much of our sports deeper history is so to speak “under-ground” or local knowledge handed down from friend to friend, father to son or daughter. One of the old friends I mentioned re-connecting with through HFF is known on the forum as “kona-ulua-style”.  He is one of many who have transitioned from what the young guns these days call old school to the current state of ulua fishing. He continues to “pound” as they say, perhaps in a slightly more laid back fashion then back in the days of casting club affiliation and more serious, less family oriented outings, but, his knowledge of all things “Ulua” is un-questioned. Perhaps it’s people like kona-ulua-style, that we, who may be interested in the history of ulua fishing need to tap into to help keep the knowledge and adventures alive!!