Spyda's Blog

A Hawaiian Style Fishing Blog

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Wheels

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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!!

“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…..”

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…

Gotcha!!

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

Ben

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Getting there is half the problem sometimes, a capable and reliable vehicle is an essential part of your fishing gear. Sometimes it’s your friends rig or maybe your dads truck, the main thing is that it can get you and all your gear to and safely back from fishing.

As the balance of our time spent slowly transitioned from surfing to shore-casting, we found that except for those spots that required hardcore four wheeling the vehicles we had did the job just fine. Surf-racks were great for carrying our fishing and tent poles, even becoming part of the framework of our makeshift tents. As my passion for fishing got more serious, so did the vehicles that carried me there.

My surf-mobile, an Audi Fox four door with the afore mentioned surf racks had seen better days. It’s brakes and shocks were shot along with bunch of other little maladies that made it a little more funky than foxy. Time for an upgrade!

I spotted an International Scout II at a used car lot on the way to work one day so stopped by one afternoon later that week. I purposely ignored the Scout and the greasy salesman’s offer of a hundred dollars trade-in for my Audi for the first hour I was there while I feigned interest in a Datsun pickup. Long story short, I ultimately got $1500 for the Audi and got $1000 more knocked off the original asking price for the Scout! Woohoo! V8, four wheel drive, granny low 4 speed and Dana 44’s front and rear!!

For obvious reasons we called my scout "Ben".

I didn’t know at the time I bought Ben we’d end up on the Big Island together, but, boy did he turn out to be a great investment! A good fishing vehicle over there requires a balance of short wheelbase/ground clearance and carrying capacity. At most spots a quick run to the store is not an option so, you need to take everything with you.  A typical load for 3 day trip would include a 170 quart cooler packed with ice, a 120 with food and drinks, a 48 full of bait, camp kitchen box, a box of dry food, tent, cot, 15 gallons of water, of course all your fishing tackle and a small (50lbs.) tool box.

Ben hump'n it nice and easy!!

I liked bragging about Ben, telling anyone who’d listen how tough he was, built like a tank I’d say. There was one time though, I nearly had to eat my words. We were an hour down the trail, just reached the level ground before the shoreline. I had just finished telling the guys for the umpteenth time how Ben was built like a tank when the engine stumbled and died! Crank, crank, crank, no fire! Shoot, can’t keep crankin gotta find out what’s up, no triple A down here! A couple of hours prior while we were loading up Dean had questioned my bringing the 50 lb tool box, he wasn’t complaining now! Anyway we had to unload the whole truck to get to the area where the fuel line had gotten pinched. I ended up using a big screwdriver as a cold chisel to rip a hole in the bed to get to it.  An hour later we were all packed up again and headed down the trail to fish!

Ben wasn’t pretty, but, he was plenty tough.

There are many places on the Big Island where the access to a spot is across a pahoehoe lava flow. Pahoehoe lava while it may look smoother than an a’a flow in truth it’s much bumpier crossing over a trail on one. The a’a (which looks like a bunch of loose cinders) has a lot of give to it, where the pahoehoe does not. Because of this trails are harder to find and follow. To alleviate this, hard working dedicated fishermen carry a load of white rocks with them to mark the trail as they go along. Pahoehoe flows are notorious for awkward dips, abrupt ledges and holes in the middle of nowhere so a marked route is necessary for safe passage.

I had ventured down one of these white rock trails for a solo outing and despite making the trip down during the day it was still slow going. It had been a while since I had gone out on my own so I was content with taking my time to make sure I got there safely and without hanging up or dropping my Cherokee into a caved in lava tube. By the time I parked at a spot that looked promising it was mid-afternoon and the Kona sun was blazing.

The shoreline was about 6 to 8 feet high in this area which is what I was looking for, if I hooked up I would have to gaff and land the fish on my own. The water was about 8 feet deep right off the edge and dropped into what I estimated to be 30 feet deep within casting distance.

I set up my gear in my normal style. One rod for casting as far as I could, one to slam-dunk 20 yards or so out and one hang-bait. This would allow me to have bait sitting in several “lanes”, hopefully one would be the Ulua road!

Ulua road? Well, an old timer had once told me he believed that Ulua hunted around the same areas following the same “trails” in the ocean all the time. He referred to these as “Ulua Roads.” I thought it was feasible, but, there was no real proof. Still, I always stagger my lines when I throw more than one pole out.

There were a lot of Mamo in this area so I had a bunch in my live bait bucket, one on the hang bait and one slid down the deep rod. I slid a big puhi fillet on the slam dunk rod.

Mamo, Sargent Major, live bait extraordinaire!!

The afternoon of the second day, no strikes yet despite working hard keeping fresh and lively baits down. I was sweaty and salty so I decided to get a quick rinse. Had the camp shower hung up on the side of the jeep all day so it was nice and hot! I looked around, no one in sight for miles! Ah, what the heck, I stripped down and started to shower. Just as I was finishing rinsing my hair I heard the bell on my hang bait pole ring.

I looked up and saw the rod bent over and bobbing up and down as the reel spit line out! Now, what to do? Put my clothes on and risk losing the fish or go fight um buck naked? No time to ponder, I went for a compromise, I stepped into my surf shorts, commando of course, no time for anything else! Put on my slippers and made my way out to the rod. After removing the bell and safety cord I pulled the rod out and leaned back on it to say “Hi.” It took off on a hard run to the right. I leaned back on it again and it stopped and turned. “Good, not too big! Get chance on this spinner!”  A few minutes later it came up with it’s mouth open, now gotta gaff um! I grabbed the gaff and started to climb down to the water. The last obstacle was a large smooth boulder, I sat down and started inching my way down when I slipped, luckily I landed right on the flat rock I was trying to get to. The fish then decided this was a good time to make one last run and took off! I stood up and my shorts fell down (velcro popped when I slipped). Now I had the gaff in one hand, the rod with the fish making a run in the other and my shorts around my ankles! Great! Aren’t I a badass fisherman! Anyway, the fish decided to end it all by cutting me off on a big rock! Oh well…..at least I can put my shorts back on….

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!!