Spyda's Blog

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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?


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!

Rolling Your Own

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I was ten years old, we had recently moved to Oahu from Maui and my cousin Ken had come for a sleep over and some fishing at the marshland nearby. He had brought his brand new rod and reel with him. It was a Garcia-Mitchell 304 spinner and a beautiful emerald green rod also made by Garcia-Mitchell. At that age I had not seen or maybe never really paid much attention to many other fishing poles, but, I was absolutely sure that the shiny green rod was the most beautiful one in the world!

A beautiful rod is definitely eye candy for anyone involved in our sport! Even a beginners eyes light up at the sight of a shiny rod in their favorite color! The Nitro rod importers got it right bringing in a bunch of candy colors to mix in with the standards like black and yellow and even some new wave stuff like chameleon!

Me, I’m still kinda old school, most of my ulua rods are 20+ years old. Even got a half and half I built some 25 years ago. I recall hearing about a comment made about that rod by a friend and very well respected  angler, a hundred plus member in fact that, well, was not too complimentary. However, being that he is not a rod builder himself, it didn’t really bother me. Rod building for me is a personal thing, I put as much time into the design of the rod as I do building them. My rods are built for function not beauty and I can proudly say all the ulua rods I built for myself with the exception of the first two (I’ll explain), have caught more than one ulua. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say I’m some kind of bad ass builder, far from it, there have been failures along the way, that’s how you learn. After losing the first build out to sea on a monster strike, the second rod I built snapped on a big strike out at Laie point. I got hit up with everyone’s theory about why. Didn’t spine it correctly, drag set too tight, blah, blah, blah…..what ever! My friend Edmund who caught his first ulua on a rod he built, later had that rod snap in nearly the exact same spot on the blank, which was the same brand blank I used for mine. It happens, you inspect it carefully, learn what you can and move on.

My old half and half, sitting in the spot I took two unstopable strikes two years in a row!

For professionals it becomes an art, truly, a custom built rod made by a pro is, in an anglers hands like a diamond necklace, the Mona Lisa and a Ferrari all rolled in one! For amateur builders/fishermen like myself, the thrill is two part, first designing and building exactly what you want, second and perhaps even more thrilling is catching an ulua with a rod you have designed and built yourself!

I’ve never built a “jewel” like the professionals do, not saying I didn’t try, it just takes a lot of practice and a ton of patience. Those of you just starting out building your own rods, don’t fret about it, concentrate on balance and functional strength. This will catch you fish, not bling!


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They walked by holding long bamboo poles with no reels and a bucket. Just a silent nod of acknowledgement as they passed. I watched them walk out to the right side of the point and settle into a little pocket in the ledge. They sat in darkness setting up their poles. “Hooking lobsters, I think….” says Dean. I had never heard of such a thing!
Hand pole fishing for lobsters it turns out has been around along long time. When we went home the next day I took a look at Edward Hosaka’s book “Shore Fishing in Hawaii” and found a description of several methods used.
Years later in Kona, my friend Carl came by one day and described a slightly different rig that he used. This rig used a reel to accomodate spots higher above the water.
It was a very basic rig, kinda like an Oio set up. 18″ to 20″ leader 40 or 50 lb test, short leadline 3-4″. Use a lead slightly heavier than you normally use for that rod and reel, i.e. if you dunk with a 4oz use a 5oz. We liked to use odoul hooks, I don’t see them around much these days, so, those hooks they call “octopus hooks” look like a good replacement. The rod needs to be at least 10 to 11 feet long to keep it clear of the edge as you will be dropping the the rig straight down.

Set up a spike the same way you would for a hang bait, basically straight out almost laying flat. If all you are going to do is fish for lobster you can just hold the rod if you like. We usually did this to kill time when ulua fishing so used a spike and a tie down for the rod. No bell, you do need to watch the pole if you are not holding it.
Bait the hook with a strip of ika, set the rod in the spike and drop the line straight down. When you feel the lead hit bottom, engage the gears (or on a spinner, close the bail) then reel the line up a few turns to get the lead off the bottom, not too much, you want the bait draging back and forth across the bottom with the surge.
Then you sit, wait and watch, if it’s too dark to see the tip of the rod you can tape a small glow stick on it. If the set up is good you will see the rod tip bend and move in the direction of the surge, back and forth. Now, what you are watching for is break in the back an forth rhythm. Usually, it will stop at one end of the swing, then slowly start pulling the tip away. When you see this happen, carefully take the safety cord off, lock down the drag, slowly take the rod out of the spike, take up line slowly as you point the rod down to the water, then, quickly lift the rod up, if you feel weight, reel as fast as you can. Hopefully when you get the line up a lobster will be caught on your line! Swing it over land as quickly as possible. Many lobsters have been lost back to the sea at this critical moment! If you don’t get it coming up when you first lift, just hold steady pressure on the line hopefully it will give up it’s grip and come free. You need to be ready to reel it before it gets another grip on the bottom or wedges its self in a hole.

This is me holding a fat one Carl caught off "High Rock" at Milolii.

Look for places that are fairly deep, it helps to have a bit of a ledge so the “swing” doesn’t take the line into the rocks. It will take some trial and error, you’ll get stuck a lot until you find the right setting and/or spot. That first place I mention seeing the guys with bamboo poles was Laie Point back in the early ’80’s. Truthfully, I learned and only used this technique on the Big Island, where there are a lot of spots where this can be done.

Spots that work usually are the same spots that you can catch moi and mu at. In fact, I later modified the rig with another swivel and short leader and hook about 3 feet above to catch them with.  I use a #18 oio hook for this and usually aama crab for bait.

Moi or lobster, I'm happy with either!

We usually spent time catching red fish for bait, but, when everybody started to settle in for the night and it got dark around the shoreline, this was a great way to get your mind off the ulua poles. I have always believed in not “vibeing” out the rods, in other words staring at the poles waiting for a strike. I don’t think I ever got a strike when I was looking at my poles. Going bolohead on the ulua rods is not as bad when you bring home moi or lobster!

Some kau kau on the infamous "Ulua Premonition cooler".

Spinning Ulua

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Recently on the forum Bruddah Bill posted a challenge for members to come up with a low cost set up for newcomers to the sport. Had to be using market prices for brand new equipment, including rod, reel, line and total out at less than $200.


Bill started us out with a pretty good conventional set up that quite frankly would be very hard to beat price wise! So, I decided (keeping the newb in mind) to go with a spinner set up that I believe will help keep them fishing and perhaps cement the stoke if you will, so that when the desire to try conventional gear arises, it won’t present challenges that turn them off.

Although I’ve not seen both components I selected in action matched together, I have seen both in action and know that they are both decent performing and most importantly tough!

My selection was a 12ft Ugly Stick Big Water rod matched up with a Daiwa BG90 spinner and Ande 30lb test. Over the years there has always been the thought that if you want to catch Ulua you needed conventional gear. No doubt, conventional gear is still King among Ulua fishermen and women, but, spinning gear can do it! Some of the modern spinners have very stout drag systems and frames which will stand up to a lot of abuse (by angry fish). Spectra braid line used as backing under monofilament on spinners has upped the capacity to a level where the odds of stopping a large Ulua have increased dramatically!

Getting back to my selection of a Daiwa BG90, while this reel is definately old school, it has proven itself many times over the years to be a capable and solid performer.

My good friend Steve hooked and landed a 20lb Omilu using a BG90 mounted on a Master 12ft rod. On that trip we brought home three, two were caught on spinners. The year before our annual trip produced six and four of those were landed with spinning equipment!

Steve and his 20 pound Omilu!

A 15 pounder with my trusty spinner behind me.

OK, so these are not large fish, but, ulua none the less! My point here is that newbies always think that they have to have a conventional to break the ice, I say, not so!

Here’s the video of Steve’s tussle with the fat omilu!