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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!!


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It happens now and then in the fishing world, you just happen to be at the right place at the right time. Some crazier than others, much more common for boat fishermen, the fish just get crazy and the bite is on! For Ulua fishermen it’s much more rare, but, it does happen.

Back in the eighties Mel Hamada and his friends were out at Kaawaloa near Kealakekua bay when they experienced what most of us would consider a once in a lifetime thing. Being such a long time ago I’m not sure of the exact number, but, it was something like 8 to 12 Ulua on that one trip!! A couple were big boys I think one was in the 90+ range. Incredible trip for sure, these days I’m sure some of the fish would have been tagged and released, but, Ulua tagging programs had not been implemented back then. I seem to recall that the late Mike Sakamoto was with them and documented their awesome outing on his TV show “Fishing Tales”.

Our gang experienced something similar, no where nearly as impressive size wise, but, for sure a once in a life time deal for us. It all started about a month before when my friend Carl came home from a solo outing with a nice Omilu in his cooler. He said he was out at a near by spot that both of us had fished before. The fish in his cooler was not the exciting part, he told me he had seen a huge school of Omilu pass by while fishing, “Not just a few!!” he said, “too many to even guess!!”

Naturally this peaked my interest, so, a few weeks later Keith and I decided to “scout” the spot for our gangs annual summer camping/fishing trip. I’ve mentioned this trip a couple of times before as there were some memorable things that happened on that trip, both good and bad. I mentioned the good in “Catch or no catch” http://spyda.ifishhawaii.com/?p=596 and the bad in “When Fishing Friends Leave” http://spyda.ifishhawaii.com/?p=50 The good was catching 4 Omilu Ulua on that overnight trip and the bad unfortunately was finding out someone had died there the day before.

A week later we arrived at the same spot with the gang for our summer outing. That first afternoon Judys son Greg experiences “beginners luck” when he catches an 18 pound white ulua with the first bait on his first time using an ulua rig!! He had caught the first bait fish of the day, a Moana and used it to catch his first Ulua!































Later that afternoon I picked up a 12 pound Omilu on my spinner using a live Mamo for bait. We were off to a good start, but, while we had hopes we would catch more we had no idea how many would come!













The next day my spinner takes a hit again and a 15 pound Omilu is in the box! That one took what I call a black mamo, don’t know the Hawaiian name for it I believe it’s a Rock Damselfish. Looks like a Kupipi, but, much darker colored with no discernible spot like the Kupipi has.













Later that afternoon a 10 pounder takes a Mamo on my spinner again and as I am walking back to camp with my fish, Steve’s pole takes a hit and lands a 16 pound Omilu! Five fish in the box! Never happened to us before!!














Needless to say dinner was joyous occasion that night the beers were flowing and even a bottle of bubbly popped! Boy did that cot feel good that night! But wait!! Bell and ratchet!! My 6’0 is going off!! I had slid down a live moana before going to sleep, a 24 pound white Ulua decided to join the party!!















Well, the fun had to stop sooner or later, the final day of the trip Keith takes a vicious strike, his first on this trip, a screamer! After a 40 minute fight he gets cut off….oh well, it’s a real bummer for Keith, but, how can we complain?













The happy campers!!




Fishing vehicles come in all shapes, sizes and configurations. When you add the last bit, configurations, the permutations are endless. Like leader set-ups they vary depending on which island you live on and what kind of areas you fish. The urban fisherman for example, may just throw their gear in the family sedan or mini-van. Even on the Big Island if you have access to private lands, some of them have pretty tame trails that allow a long wheelbased work truck to do the job just fine. Other more “raw” trails require a more serious off-road set up to get there and back.

One of the many benefits of a strong military presence in Hawaii has been the number of trails they have carved over the years to set up various outposts, radio towers, etc. These bulldozed military roads along with the ancient trails of Hawaiian messengers and warriors are a big part of the trail system that gets  ulua fishermen out to the remote areas that they prefer.

The further off the “beaten” path you go, the more extreme the requirements for your vehicle become. Unlike the typical off-road enthusaist, whos load consists of some tools, their best friend and a cooler of beer, the ulua fishermens normal load is much heavier and demands a balance of carrying capacity, approach/departure angle and wheelbase. Balance being the key word here. An old flat fender jeep will get you to most places, but, is limited as far a the amount of gear you can haul. A F-250 will carry a lot, but may “high center” or sit on the rear bumper on the rougher trails. Imagine putting a hole in your gas tank two hours from the main road! I know of one case where this happened and they used a wad of chewing gum and duct tape to make it back to civilization! They were lucky, it doesn’t always work out so easily.

My old Scout "Ben" stock with 31's.

Note in the picture above my scouts backend is sitting a little high. The reason for that is I had air-shocks in the back to level out when the truck was loaded down with stuff. In this picture we had unloaded the big coolers, 170qt packed with ice, 120qt with food and drinks and a 48qt of bait. Not a radical rock-crawler, but, capable on most established trails. The little extra the air shocks gave back after loading up helped a lot!!

Reliability is another key, don’t matter how capable your truck is if it don’t run, overheats or something! You never know what will happen and not many tow trucks are gonna come get you hours deep off road.


A lot of us used to roll with CB radios in our vehicles for the purpose of communication on the trail. Depending on the number of trucks your in your gang, the caravan can get pretty stretched out especially if it’s dusty. We were crawling along the shoreline once in south kona, I was at the head of the line in my old Scout “Ben” when the CB crackled to life. It was my friend Al at the very back of our group. “Ho, hold up! Something just wen broke on my suspension I think!” I stopped and looked back, we had only four trucks that day, but, were spread out over about a quarter mile. I could see Al getting out of his truck and looking underneath. A minute later, “The leaf spring wen break!” I could see everyone starting to back up to where Al was stopped. On a’a lava trails you usually can’t turn around unless there’s a turn out or a big flat spot, so reverse it was!

The main leaf had just broken off clean, weird, how can you prepare for that? Luckily there was a turn out about 20 yards away from where he had broken down. We managed to jack the Scout high enough to stuff a piece of 2X4 between the axle and the frame to keep the tire from jamming in the wheelwell so he could slowly crawl to the turn out. There was enough room for all of us to park in the turn out, so, Als Scout had just selected the camp site for us! (Well, it was a “Scout” after all, isn’t that what they do?)

It actually turned out to be a pretty good spot for red fish which is primarily what we were out there for. After a couple of days of menpachi/aweoweo action it was time for most of us to head home. Al? Well, luckily he and Jerry had a few more days before they had to go back to work so, Al stayed put while Jerry made the long trek back up the trail to the main road and home to Hilo. Once there Jerry tracked down a new leaf spring for Als scout loaded up some fresh supplies, dropped off a couple of coolers of fish and repacked them full of ice and headed back! Now that’s a good friend!! All told it was a good 6 to 7 hours of driving plus the time to get the spring and reload. When Jerry finally got back the next day Al had filled up another cooler! After swapping out the leaf spring, the two crazies stayed another couple days before heading back home!!

Typical bunch a local guys I guess, some friends from back in their hana-bata days others from work or school. Me from Maui, two from Kauai, one guy from Boston (hah?!) and the core group (or hana-bata boys) from Oahu. Surfing was our thing during the day and when not working, hostess bars at night. Life in general was a lot more free and easy. Beers at the bar were a buck and a drink for your “hostess” was three. No curfews and no D.U.I. check points!! Yea, life was good!!

Don’t recall who started or made the suggestion, but, one day we found ourselves being drawn into the fishing thing.  We had all done some fishing in our youth with parents or friends, but, never took it to the real hobby or pastime level. I guess there was enough of a seed planted that once we started into it, we got pretty serious, quickly.

One of the guys, Steve, had gotten serious about a young lady from Maui and had taken a transfer to Maui to be close to her. This started a series of day trips to Maui by Dean and I to go fishing on the back side of Haleakala with Steve. Our success rate there was much better, further setting the “fishing hook” if you will.

Several “sayonara” strikes later, Ulua became the object of our fishing desires and we upgraded our equipment. We got pretty good……at finding things…..We found a five pound lobster stuck in a tide pool, another time Daniel and Bruce (the Bostonian) found a 67 pound ulua!! Catch an ulua? Nada……

Sayonara strikes, the fishing gods way of setting the hook in you without letting you catch one! When you least expect it, violence! The bell clanging like something scared the s*%t out of it and the ratchet screaming like your hook got caught on a freight train passing by!! Your pole’s bent over further than you ever though possible, shuddering and shaking like it’s possessed!! THEN…..”pac”……..suddenly you speak fluent “French”……As you wind up your line your legs are shaking, your mind racing with “What ifs” and the could’a, should’a, would’a!!

Our quest for ulua continued, many nights and days of vienna sausage, pork and beans, leaky tents and puhi strikes. No, not strikes on our puhi bait, puhi strikes! You know, you jack up your pole, rerig, cast and slide down a fresh bait, then after you wash your hands and finally settle back down on your cot, “ding ding”. Not the previously mentioned violence, just “ding ding”….#*%^!!!

Now comes the hard part, do you leave it and risk getting bankrupt, lose everything? Or do you get out of your warm sleeping bag, put your headlamp back on and go out there? #*%^!!! No goin catch nutin when your rig stay deep inside one puhi hole!!…#*%^!!!

It was one of those times, third re-rig and slide in one hour and of course, “ding ding”……..apparently I had set up my pole right in front of a puhi honey hole! Silence, I guess everyone else was getting some sleep or quietly snickering, wondering if I was going to get up again. Funny, haha! Why are puhi only bothering my pole? Damit! I sit up, grab my headlamp and walk out to my pole. I give the pole a good boost, stuck…..sigh…..So I take a couple wraps of line and go for the “full pull” to break the line and it gives! I quickly take up the slack and start reeling, it’s coming, but, some dead weight on the line. Guess I got lucky and got the puhi to come out! OK, boost, crank, boost, crank, crank, woh big paka! Aurite, fresh bait!

About 30 minutes later, the pole is casted back out and puhi is filleted. The head is sitting on the cutting board, it’s about the size of a 20oz soda bottle with some backbone and guts hanging from it. OK, lets go for it! I put a knife edge on a 52 BKN point and shove it through his mouth out through the top of his head. Slide da bugga down! “Let’s see a puhi swallow dat!!”

OK, fillets bagged and on ice, wash hands, wash face, tide goin turn in about two hours, time for a short snooze……”ding ding”…What da…”CALANGA LANGA LANGA LANGA!!! ZEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!ZEEE!!” YEEEEHAAA!! “CLANG CLANG CLANG!!! ZEEEEEEEE ZEEEEEE EEEEEEE EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!” “Eh who’s pole dat?” AZ MINE, NEVA MIND GO BACK SLEEP!! “ZEEEEE PAC!!!” @&$^#(^&#&%!!!

Yep, das us!! Da “ZEE PAC” Casting club!!!


“In the end, one loves ones desire and not what is desired”. Friedrich Nietzche

You kinda gotta let it digest for a minute……

No doubt, we would all love to catch whenever we go fishing, but, history seems to tell us that when the challenge fades, so too does desire. The quote is a favorite of mine.

In a Ulua fishing sense, what he is saying is, it’s not the fish itself we love, it’s the challenge, the one on one battle, an Ulua in it’s element the sea and you in yours on land. Would it be such a prize if they were easy to catch?

Of course, I hear you out there, “Yea! I’d to like catch every time!”, but, think about it…how long would you keep going if every time you threw your line in the water you caught an Ulua? It’s desire that gets you to pack all the gear in the truck, haul it all out to the ocean, unload everything at the beach, set up and sit in the elements waiting for a strike.

Would you be out in the middle of no-where without some kind of motivation?

The last few years I was in Kona there was one spot that really started to produce for us. It became our regular “Summer Camp” spot for a number of years. Keith and I went out to this spot the week before the first of those camps on a scouting trip of sorts, just an overnighter. It turned out to be quite a trip! Keith caught his first ulua ever! Then, he caught his second and then his third! I only managed to catch one, but, it was (ahem!) the biggest one! They were all relatively small Omilu ulua, but, hey, how often you gonna catch four on an overnight trip?

So, what does this have to do with catch or no catch or motivation? Well, this trip happened in 1992. We started our serious pursuit of ulua back in 1981! Eleven years! How or what enabled Keith to maintain his desire for so long? Where did his motivation come from?

Back to the chase. The most frequently asked question by newcomers to the sport of ulua fishing is how to catch that first one! It’s this quest that provides the motivation that drives them.  There certainly isn’t any problem these days getting decent equipment. In this day of ulua rods being sold at Sears, we are also seeing a lot more used equipment for sale. While some of it may be anglers who have upgraded, much of it I’m afraid is from those who have given up the chase. Lost desire…

Some that have given up the chase are those who got straight into Ulua fishing and had little if any other fishing experience. Most of my fishing buddies and I all worked our way up the ladder so to speak from bamboo poles to spinners along the way developing a desire or understanding that papio were the fish we wanted in our buckets. Of course as the accent up to heavier equipment continued Ulua became the prime target. Climbing that ladder taught us the ups and downs, the patience and persistence that is necessary for success. The knowledge gained climbing is invaluable when the serious bug hits. Part of that knowledge is respect for the ocean and the land we stand on fishing for ulua. A little good karma never hurt anyones chances at the big one!

I’d never tell anyone that it’s easy! For sure, some certainly make it look that way! You could say it’s often just plain luck that brings an ulua to someones line. While that may be true in many cases, luck is not exactly something you can learn or buy more of, so, learning to do it right is the way to go. Studying and learning techniques can be a huge motivation! With knowledge comes confidence and with that motivation!

For me, I’ve caught my share of Ulua over the years, although I’ve never caught “the big one” myself,  I’ve seen many and gaffed a few. Perhaps that is part of my motivation, that glimmer of hope in the back of my mind that the big boy will come to my line. Honestly, these days I’m very happy just getting out there, catching is a bonus, but, you can’t help thinking “maybe, maybe…..”

This trip was bound to be special, Deans cousin Charlie’s position with the Forestry Department provided him with access to basically anywhere on the Big Island! As part of his job he had hiked miles and miles of  Big Island shoreline! He knew all the regular fishing spots as well as all the lesser known spots that were on private land. He has seen places very few other people ever have! He and his crew hiked areas not accessible by normal means. In some areas they followed trails that were probably used by ancient Hawaiian messengers.

I like talking about the things in my minds eye, I can only wonder about all the things Charlie has seen!

This was a family trip so, me being the only non-relative in the group, I felt privileged to have been asked to come along. Besides Dean, Charlie and I, Charlies wife Lorraine, Deans Mom, his grandmother, Auntie Nancy, Uncle Mits and Uncle Wakida were with us on this trip. It was a long drive from Volcano where Charlie lived, to the southwest end of the Big Island. This is where we finally turned off the highway and on to a dirt road that headed us down towards the ocean. About a mile down we came to a locked gate, Charlie jumped out and pulled out his “magic” key chain. Nothing really magic about it except for the fact that it held keys that gave him access through various private lands to get to the oceanfront pretty much anywhere on the island! This would be my first trek out into a remote, generally inaccessible area of the Big Island, excited doesn’t completely describe how I felt! Having been born into a home nestled in plantation camp 3 near Sprecklesville Maui I’m comfortable in rural “country” type environments, but, this was something beyond that, it was like stepping back in time! Save for the modern vehicles we rode in, the scenes were not unlike what travelers in the islands would have seen a hundred fifty years ago!

We were headed to a bay in the south Kona area. After passing through the gate and locking it behind us we followed the dirt road down through pasture land. At the lower edge of the ranch we passed through another gate and out into open land. Hawaii, or the “Big Island” as it is more commonly known is made up of several large mountains, the Kohala mountains, Mauna Kea, Hualalai and Mauna Loa. This day we were working our way down the southern slope of Mauna Loa. You couldn’t help but be impressed watching Uncle Wakida, all of 65 maybe 70 years old 4 wheeling that big Ford pick-up down the rough lava trail. Some parts of the trail had been partially washed out by the winters rains so, it was a little gnarly in a few spots. Uncle took it all in stride, nary a blink of concern, he’d been here and done this before!

When you go to these places there are no “facilities” at all, period. Problem? Not really, Charlie brought all the facilities with him! I’m serious! His Ford F250 pick-up and attached trailer were filled to the gills with everything you could imagine and more!

When we got down to the bay, Charlie guided us into a clearing under a group of huge Kiawe trees. Setting up camp was a serious undertaking. He first tied a heavy rope between two large trees, over this a canvas tarp created a huge (20’x40′?) tent. Another canvas tarp became the floor. A couple of sheets of plywood and some posts came together like a puzzle and created a table with a shelf underneath which became our pantry. Stands for stoves were set up. Another rope was thrown over a big branch and tied to a 5 gallon bucket that had a shower head attached to the bottom. When it came time to shower the bucket was filled with water and hoisted up. Now of course we did have a mixed group of men and women so some privacy was required. No problem, a wooden cargo pallet was placed below the bucket as a floor, pvc pipes were fitted into pre-drilled holes to create a frame and a plastic tarp was wrapped around and attached to create a shower stall! Not done yet, Charlie grabbed a shovel walked around a clump of bushes and started digging. When the hole was of satisfactory size he put another wooden pallet down over it. This one had a hole in the middle, getting the picture? He wasn’t done yet! On this pallet he attached four equal sized pieces of plywood that formed a box over the hole, a big garbage bag was put down into the hole and a wrapped over the top of the plywood box, then, (get this!) a pre-fitted toilet seat was snapped into place. Then, again a pvc pipe frame went up the tarp wrapped around and the private toilet was done, even had a toilet paper holder inside and a bottle of pine-sol to “tone things down a bit”!! Extreme? Well, we did have gramma there, so, Charlie made sure that she and the other women would be comfortable! He had good reason, for the next couple of days the women cooked and fed us three square meals a day at camp! I ate better than I did at home, way better! I think I gained weight on that trip!

One morning when the tide and wave action were favorable we worked the shoreline harvesting opihi. Later that evening we came in from fishing to a hot bowl of miso soup as a starter to our meal,  a scoop of a half dozen or so opihi were dropped into your bowl, in a few seconds they would be tender and slide right out of their shells! Beach gourmet cuisine ala head chef Gramma! She knew what she was doing, if you put opihi in a soup while cooking they’ll get hard and rubbery, this was the way to do it! Sooo ono!!

After cleaning up the dinner dishes, Gramma would settle in to sleep. Charlie, Dean, his Mom, Auntie Nancy and I would grab our Menpachi equipment and hike out about a quarter mile from camp to a spot that Charlie knew would be good for red fish.

It was just as advertised! The action was great! While Dean and I worked it with light spinners, his mom, auntie and Charlie used long hand poles and pretty much schooled us on Menpachi fishing! Everyone caught a bunch and we all hiked back with heavy buckets!

Thinking back to that trip, I recall that Dean and I had not yet graduated to heavy Ulua equipment and were just dunking with spinners. It makes me wonder what kind of action we might have had sliding live Menpachi and Aweoweo out at that remote spot!

It really kills me to think that I don’t have a single fishing or camp photo to commemorate that trip! Ah well, once again, the minds eye will have to do!

A few years later when I moved to Kona to pursue what had now become a passion, fishing for Ulua, I would often dream about Charlies key chain and all the places I could go with it!

Just Hangin

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The Big Island, miles and miles of barren shoreline, some accessible only by boat or helicopter, in other areas access is limited to those who possess a much coveted key. This trip, we had a key!

We slowly worked our way down toward the shoreline, the three of us, in three trucks as is typical for a serious ulua outing BI style. That moment when you break through the treeline and see the dusty black lava landscape is for some, just a lot of rocks, but, for me that first gust of wind you felt as you broke into the open was like feeling Pele’s breath, hot and rough like she was there watching and waiting. Beautiful, yet hard and serious, unforgiving, yet, alluring. I always felt somehow undeserving, as though dues remained unpaid.

The better part of  an hour past before we reached the shoreline and worked our way towards the planned campsite. We were traversing a pahoehoe flow, a typical example of Madam Pele’s deceptive artistry, appearing smooth in comparison to an A’a flow which is essentially a field of large loose chunks of lava cinder, pahoehoe is the type of lava that forms huge underground tubes hiding pockets of air that can suddenly crumble under the weight of four-wheel drive vehicle like the ones we drove. Put wheel wrong and you can quickly end up in Pele’s grasp…


After selecting a spot and setting up camp we all walked out toward the water to look at the grounds. I was immediately drawn to a hump in the lava on the far right side. As I looked around I noticed an angled crack that looked like it would position a rod perfectly for hang bait! I normally would set up my big spinner as a hang bait rod, but, the crack was a little loose for all my rock spikes except for my largest one which I always used for my half and half rod and Daiwa 600H. So be it, I set up the half and half rod for hang bait. After setting up the rod I walked out to the spot and set it in the spike. Hmmm, a little awkward. I had built this rod with the idea of big baits and big fish so had set the reel seat up high (43″) so I could wedge the rod in the rocks and stand up and fight the fish (I’m 6’2″), problem here was the reel was out over the edge of the  water! Pulling the rod out with a fish on might prove tricky!

After we got all the rods out and slid some tako and puhi down, I set up a small spinner to hopefully get a nice bait for the hang bait pole. I tied on a floater with a 6′ leader and a small piece of shrimp. I dropped it right down about where my hang bait would be sitting and immediately hooked a good size hinalea lauwili (saddle wrasse)! Alright, good sign!!

I had 80lb test mono on the reel, a bimini twist doubled up the line which was albrighted to 8 feet of Berkley Big Game 120lb wire braid, a lot shorter that normal, but, I wanted all the knots already though the guides and tip when hanging the bait. I attached a 36 bkn with a flemish eye and crimp, hooked the hinalea on, dropped it down and watched and adjusted until I got it to stay right below the surface at it’s highest point of the swing. The water below was about 15 feet deep and the set up looked great!

Quiet night, puhi on the tako, nothing on the puhi. I walk over to check the hinalea, still there, lively as ever! The sky is starting to grey, time for the dawn patrol!

Before going to sleep I had set up my whipping rig with a black Pili so I only had to throw on the tabis and my backpack and I was ready to go! I glanced over at my hang bait as I walked past to the next point, I remember thinking it looked perfect, the surge was just kicking up enough white water to create some “natural cover” for the bait without being too rough.

Whipping, except for lack of strikes or follows was really nice in the soft morning light. I had worked my way along the shore about a quarter mile when I decided to turn back toward camp. I was working my way around a particularly rough section of shoreline when from the corner of my eye I saw something in the water, I turned to look and saw a spray of small bait fish and that distinctive black flash of an excited predator swirling below them! I had to slowly pick my way across about 20 yards of big rocks and large tidal pools to get to the actual edge where I could get a cast out into the zone. When I got there I crouched down on a rock and just watched the water for a minute, trying to catch a glimpse, a flash or another spray…….nothing. I stood and tossed  the pili out at a two o’clock angle, pop, pop, pop…nothing. I switched my footing and tossed it the opposite way about 10 o’clock position, pop, wham! It throws a semi-circle spray like a surfer does when they snap off the top of a wave, I raise my rod instinctively, “Gotcha!”  The omilu was about 8lbs, but, looked small compared to the black flash I had seen earlier. I took me a while to get the fish off the lure, as is typical it had hit the forward hook which was in it’s mouth, but, the trailing hook was also embedded in the area near it’s pectoral fins. I slipped the fish into a small pool and got back up on the rock to try for it’s partner. I worked the area for a for while with no success so grabbed the omilu and headed back to camp.

I was almost back to camp when I saw the boys looking over at me so I was mack’in it up raising my arms in  a “victory” motion when a bell rang and I heard that sweet sound of the ratchet on the hang bait line!! I could hear them laughing as I madly hopped rocks trying to get to the rod from the opposite side. I set the whipping rod down and un-clipped the safety cord. As I leaned forward to try and get the rod out something poked me in the back of the head! I had forgotten about the omilu in my backpack! I took a step back and took the backpack off (more laughter from the peanut gallery!) I finally managed to get the rod out of the holder and got to feel the fish, it was clear, but, still fighting strong. One of the advantages of hang bait is the fact that the fish will be closer after the intial run than when you bomb it out there, the trade off is it’s not fighting a long length of line in the water so the strength of the fish is more directly at you. Case in point this fish turned out to be much smaller than it initialy felt. Anyway, despite a clear lack of confidence in my skills by my so called friends, I managed to land it and one of the boneheads actually stopped laughing long enough to gaff it for me!

36 lb white ulua and an 8 lb omilu to go with it, not too bad a weekend!!

Spyda 2 Boneheads 0

The boys had gone back to Honolulu following our annual camp/fishing trip, Dean and Judy were staying another couple of days, so I decided to take them down to a semi-secluded white sand beach that I knew Judy would like. We packed some lunch, the dive gear, a couple of spinners and Deans 9wt fly rod in my Cherokee and headed down to Makalawena.

We get there and there’s no one in sight, cool! Got the whole beach to ourselves!! Judy took a stroll down the empty beach while Dean and I messed around with the spinners. We didn’t have much for bait except some stinky pink ika, so we weren’t having much luck. We decided to switch gears and go for a quick dive for tako and maybe change our luck.

Dean was the first in, he stuck his face in the water and popped right back up! “Oama! Brah get Oamas!!” What? We had been so layed back coming there after some serious Ulua fishing that we didn’t even notice the Oama in the water! We stripped off the dive gear and rigged up our light spinner top halfs with light line and oama hooks. Try as we may, the stinky ika just wasn’t doing it! We chased and chased, but couldn’t hook any Oama. We went over to a finger of lava that went out into the water to look for anything that we could try to use for bait. I was just grabbing some pipipi off the rocks when Dean said “Eh, check dis out! Get Oama in this pool!!” Lo and behold a small tide pool in the rocks held about 20 Oama captive! Woohoo! A natural live bait well with the bait inside already! Hows dat!?!

The smaller bay on the left, you can see the small lava finger.

I grabbed my 9 foot rod that had my trusty old 550SS on it and tied on a big floater. To that I tied a 6 foot leader of 40lb test with a # 18 hook and no lead. I hooked an Oama through the back and tossed it out. It didn’t take long maybe 5 minutes max, I was watching my floater when I saw a black streak rushing towards it! BAM!! Hanapaa!! This place is one of the rare shallow water spots in Kona so I kept my hands up high taking full advantage of the 9 foot rod. Fortunately, I had only tossed it about 20 yards so the height was effective and I landed the 12 pound Omilu a few minutes later.


Now Dean only had his small spinner and his fly rod, so after seeing the Omilu come up he was madly casting the biggest flies he had with him in hopes of getting something on the fly rod! Finally, I told him, “Eh, dis not one IGFA tournament! Hook one Oama on your fly line and tro’um out! Who cares if not textbook fly fishing?” He just kinda looked at me and said “Oh yea no? What da heck!” He tied an oio hook to his tippet, hooked on an Oama and tossed it out. Again, didn’t take long, BAM!! BIG strike!! Screama!! Woohoo!! “Hold um brah!!” This one was a lttle too big though, he couldn’t keep it up high and it eventually cut him off… too bad! I looked at Dean and he was in a daze, knees shakin! I just had to laugh! “Ho brah! How was dat!!” Finally he looked up at me and laughed shaking his head. “Dam! Dat was nuts! F#%K!!”

While Dean sat and sipped a cup of wine to calm down I tossed another one out on the floater. Blamo, again and again and again!! This would be the first time we ever released Ulua and big papio! There was one small one about 8lbs, but, the rest (lost count, maybe 5 or 6) were 10 to twelve all close to the same size as the first one that went in to cooler. To bad I didn’t have a tagging kit back then!

You know, sometimes it just happens that way. We had no expectations, just hoped to maybe get some Mamo for pupu that night, but, we ended up with pupus, dinner and one heck of a day of fishing!

Although the beginnings of my fishing bug started when my Dad took us fishing for Aholehole off of the piers at Maalaea harbor on Maui, it really took hold here on Oahu when our family moved here in 1965. The first house we lived in was near the north-east end of Kawainui marsh in Kailua. There you could catch talapia and Chinese catfish off the levee. Then just further north was the Kawainui canal where the Moilii would run now and then bringing in the predators like Papio and Barracuda. I got my first spinning outfit with 3 1/2 books of my Moms Royal Stamps. A “Red Devil” spoon purchased at Hughes Drugs fooled my first Barracuda. Funny how all fishermen can remember these things. We moved across town to Enchanted Lake in 1967, my Dad bought a house right on the lake. Talk about a dream for a pre-teen kid in love with fishing! The schools of Talapia were so big that when you tossed a stone out into the lake half the surface of the lake would erupt with scattering fish! When heavy rains came the lake water level would rise. On such occasions they would dredge out the opening to the ocean at Kailua beach, this would bring schools juvenile fish of all kinds into the lake. Barracuda, Papio, Awaawa, were great fun for kids fishing in the backyard! Into my teens motocross became my life and I fished only on occasion. The bug surfaced again when my sisters boyfriend started taking me with him out to Kewalo Basin to fish off the piers behind the fish processing plants. Then surfing set fishing aside once again and we traveled all over the islands surfing spots that I now know to be great fishing spots as well. As the surfing became a daily thing we spent more and more time at the beach which led to many nights camping out at our favorite spots. What to do with all those nights? Fish!  The bug hit hard this time as we quickly progressed up the scale of shore fishing equipment. Soon we were loaded up with conventional reels and long casting poles with Ulua on our minds! We still surfed but more time and money was being spent on the pursuit of Ulua. We toiled long and hard, many whitewash nights, big fish hard to come by. How long would it take, how many more nights? Papio, Oio, Kumu, etc…..not good enough….I even lost a brand new rig! 12 foot pole, extended 6’o out to sea on a monster strike at Mokuleia! What??? What’s it going to take? Finally, a breakthrough… Edmund brings our first ashore, a 24 pounder out at Laie Point. The ice is finally broken…I would eventually get my first, a 28 pound Kagami out at Moi Hole. We were on a roll! Some people pay more dues than others, we paid a lot!

Catching a fish that doesn't fit inthe cooler is always a nice problem to have!

Fishing on the Big Island

Obsession? Call it what you want, I needed more, the desire for Ulua burned strong. Yea, we had broken through on Oahu, but how long would the high last?

Speaking of “High”, life on Oahu was getting out of control the partying was never ending. Money burned quickly, paycheck to paycheck life was the norm. Had to find a way out. Dean left for California to look for work as a writer, for me a chance to move to Kona came up so, I went for it.

The Big Island, home of the Hilo Casting Club and its renowned annual shore-casting tournament. It’s legendary high cliffs and deep water promised great fishing adventure. I had lived in Hilo for about six months back in 1976 but couldn’t take all the rain. Weekend trips to Kona had convinced me that was where I wanted to be. I packed my fishing and camping gear in my trusty old Scout “Ben” and put it on the barge to Kahwaihai.

The first few weeks after my Scout arrived I had nowhere to live so I drove down to the shoreline behind the airport and camped out every night! This meant a chance to get a line in the water. Red fish like Menpachi and Aweoweo were fairly easy to catch for bait or a quick pot of “Sabao’ on cold nights. It was all-good, except for one thing, where were all the big Ulua?

My rods praying to the Ulua gods.......

The Club Scene
A friend at work told me he was a member of the Kona Coast Casting Club and if I was interested he would introduce me at the next meeting. I jumped at the chance figuring if I got accepted into the club, it would be a great chance to learn and experience more of the “Big Island Style”.

The Club experience turned out to be all that I expected and some that I did not. It was a small club at the time with twenty or so members. I was surprised to see Kinney Loui of Hilo Casting Club fame there at the meeting. I couldn’t believe that someone would take the time drive the two hours from Hilo to attend a small club meeting. The meeting was at Teshimas restaurant in Honalo. I happened to be living in a studio right there next to the restaurant, I didn’t even need 30 seconds to walk there!

I got accepted into the club along with another guy whom I later found out was from Oahu also. We also had another thing in common, we were about the only ones that weren’t married or living with their parents. The three of us, Chester my friend from work, Carl the other new guy and myself became regular fishing partners. Besides the Club outings we started fishing together regularly. Club outings were fun, the chance to see other styles of casting, setup, bait-cutting and selection was a big draw for me. Of course making new fishing friends is always fun. New friends means you can tell all your old fishing stories again just like there’re brand new!

Of course I wanted to catch big ulua but seeing a few big boys never hurts. It just jacks you all up! Gives you the urge to throw line someplace! The first hundred plus ulua I saw was at the weigh in for a weekend Club tournament. Two day quickie tournament and here comes Bernie with this big tail sticking out of his cooler! 127….holy cr#%!!! Sadly, on a recent trip back to Kona I found out that the spot where that big boy came up is slated for a new resort construction…..too bad, the trail to that spot was a pretty gnarly one that kept the crowds and “part-timers” out of there. Over the years a lot of “hardcore” spots have disappeared under new construction. But, the BIG Island is just that, big, and there are a lot of still untouched or rarely touched areas. Still it’s sad to see another one bite the dust.

This blog is dedicated to the late Kinney Loui who passed away in June of 2008.  His great passion for the sport of Ulua fishing, kindness and willingness to share his knowledge will forever be an inspiration to me. Rest in peace Mr Loui!!