Spyda's Blog

A Hawaiian Style Fishing Blog

Browsing Posts tagged Hawaii Fishing News

I wrote this story based on an incident that happened to a friend of mine, Carl Nakai, who was renting a room in my house in Kona at the time. The story was published by Hawaii Fishing News in their July 1989 edition. Carl and I had planned this outing together and as it turns out Carl went down alone in the morning and I arrived later that day after work. This entire incident happened before I got there, so, the story is written in third person as it is Carl’s story entirely. I recall thinking it was odd to find Carl just sitting with no poles out when I pulled up. The look he gave me when we fist made eye to eye contact confirmed my feeling that something wasn’t right. 

The road finally broke through the treeline and I got my first look at the shore. Rugged black lava bordered the deep blue ocean. I reflected for a moment on how lucky I was to be living on the Big Island and having the opportunity to come to beautiful places like this to relax while enjoying one of my favorite pastimes, shorecasting. I did not realize at the time the horror that was about to unfold.

When I got to the camping spot, I stood on the cliff overlooking the little island that we cast from. There was a strong swell pushing in from the south. Because of the depth of the water in the area it was difficult to determine how strong the surf was just by watching the point. The answer came quickly, however, as a large swell slammed into the bay to my right and sent a fountain of white water 20 feet high out of a blowhole some 15 feet back from the edge of the cliff. A stiff breeze out of the north blew the spray over everything including me and my freshly polished truck. I kept watching the island. The water splashed and boiled all around, but never on it. Somehow, the shape of the ledge and the depth of the water kept the little island safe. I decided to go ahead and cast my poles.

I set up my two Fenwick rods, one with an extended 4/o reel, the other with an extended 6/o and crossed over the bridge to the island. After casting both rods I slid down tohei fillets. I figured I’d leave them there for several hours till my fishing partner Joel arrived in the afternoon. I knew from experience it was very difficult to “jack-up” your poles alone at this spot.

Having gotten that done, I started back to set up camp. I looked at my watch. It was 10:30 a.m.

Suddenly, my 4/o reel went off! The bell clanged loudly and a short burst of line ripped off the reel! Then, just as quickly, the pole stood straight up and the line went slack. As I made my way back to the island I figured I had “cut line” or “no hookup.” After removing the safety cord and bell, I took up the slack. The mainline was hopelessly stuck somewhere on the bottom. I struggled with it for a while, but, due to lack of space on the island, I was unable to break it free. I finally cut the line. Feeling a bit frustrated, I carried the rod and reel back to camp to rerig. When I got there I decided to shuffle around some of the equipment and while doing so, “BANG!” the 6/o reel went off!!

I looked up fully expecting to see the rod stand up and the line go slack again, but, no, not this time! The rod arched over  violently and the ratchet screamed! Again the rod shook and pointed to the depths as the scream of the ratchet became even more frenzied! When I finally got back to the rod, line was still paying out. I knew I was hooked up solidly to something huge!

The rod was stuck in the holder, so I waited patiently as the runs started to come in shorter spurts. Finally, the rod tip slowly lifted as the pressure eased up and I quickly pulled the rod out. I leaned back on the rod to let the fish know I was there. It responded with another run. The extended 6/o was now down to below half spool. I could see the blood knot now which told me I had about 150 yards left. I remembered a discussion I had with Mel Hamada about fighting fish here and recall that his advice to me was “let ‘um run!” That’s what I had been doing to this point and I felt confident I had things under control.

As the fish slowly started to slow, I was lucky enough to find a hole in the rocks where I could set the pole and still pump the fish in like I was using a gimbal. With this added leverage I started to work the fish a little harder. It made a wide arc to the the right. Then, as it got closer, it started to veer to the left. That was the one thing I didn’t want because I had seen and heard of other fish that had gotten stuck or lost on the left side. Moments later what I had feared came true, the fish was stuck!

I slacked off the line and put the pole back in one of the holders, leaving just enough tension on the line so I could watch the tip respond to any changes. As much as I didn’t want this to happen, it was a welcome break for my arms and back. I had been fighting the fish for nearly 45 minutes. I sat and watched it for another 15 minutes and then the tip suddenly started to dip and the lines angle changed. I quickly picked up the rod and took up the slack. It was clear!

With renewed vigor I began to pump the fish up again. Slowly the spool refilled. Then, there was a huge silver slab quivering below the point just above the ledge. Ulua! I kept looking behind me up the mountain hoping to see Joel’s white truck coming down the trail. I knew it was too early for him to arrive, but, I kept hoping, realizing that landing this fish alone was going to be difficult. As I brought it closer and closer I could see the ulua was very weak and could not swim against the strong surges. Just then a large wave pulled it around the backside of the island and I lost sight of it in the white water. It resurfaced a few seconds later in front of the point and my line got caught under the island. I tried to clear it, but, to no avail. I slacked the line again and put the pole back in the holder. Quickly, I went over to where I had laid my slide gaff and uncoiled a few yards of it’s rope.

The huge ulua was 15 to 20 feet off the point being tossed around in the surge like a little 1/2 lb. papio in the shore break of some white sand beach. Each time the water receeded the fish was sucked under the point out of sight. The only thing on my mind was getting the gaff in the fish before the 80 lb. test monofiliment gave way to the sharp rocks below. Knowing full well that time was of the essence, I walked to the edge in waist deep water and began tossing the gaff out to the fish, hoping somehow to latch onto it. Time after time the gaff slid over the back of the big fish without hooking up. Finally, after what seemed an eternity (actually a few seconds), one of the gaff hooks lodged itself in the uluas massive head.

As I pulled the ulua closer, I could see a long scar across the lower part of its body. It had numerous other scars on its head and body. This was no pretty boy, it was a grizzled old-timer. I pulled the fish in and tried to lift it onto the rocks. The weight was incredible! I couldn’t lift it! The 55 pounder I had caught the month before seemed small and light by comparison.

There was no time to analyze the situation. I pulled the gaff closer to my body for better leverage and tried to grab the uluas tail. I couldn’t reach it! The fish was too long. A sudden surge came in and pulled the ulua away from me to the left. The force was so strong that it spun me around 180 degrees so that I was facing the shore with my back to the ocean. I felt the gaff slip from my grasp and rope burn through my hand. I finally let go, and the water kept coming. I was up to my neck in the rushing water. I tried desperately to hold on, but, the sea was too powerful. I made a quick gasp for air, but, all I got was a mouthful of water as I was pulled off the left side of the rock and under.

I was encased in a mass of bubbles and could feel the pressure building as the water took me deeper and deeper. I had no control over my body as the current whipped me around effortlessly. In all my years of surfing I had never experienced such fury and such a feeling of helplessness. My life began to flash before my eyes. I can remember thinking “I’m not going to make it.” Although those kinds of thoughts were passing through my mind, somehow, I guess in part to my surfing and diving experience, I managed to keep a clear head and not panic. The current finally started to ease just a bit. I kicked and flailed with all I had left, broke through the surface and took a huge gasp of air as I did. I shook my head to clear it out and saw that I was 20 to 30 feet off the point in the deep blue.

The current was still pulling me. I looked around to see if there were any boats in the area. There were none. I decided I had two choices, one, drift with the current and hope for a boat to come by, or, two, take my chances with the surge and try to get back on the island. I looked again for boats. Seeing none, I swam toward the island. “If there’s a God up there,” I thought, “please help me get in!” As I got near the point another big surge came in and neatly lifted me onto the rocks.

I scrambled up the rocks to the safety of the island like a scared a’ama crab. I sat totally exhausted. I looked back and saw the ulua floating just outside the point. I just shook my head and said, “No way.” There was no way I was going to go back in the water and get the fish. I looked down at my body and saw scrapes raked across my chest and stomach and cuts on my legs. The injuries seemes minor in light of how easily I could have lost much more. I said my thanks and a few minutes later got up to walk across the bridge back to camp.

I guzzled some ice water, sat down to collect myself and for 45 minutes watched it, the shorecasters dream, a 100 plus ulua, drifting away in the current. It wasn’t until another 45 minutes passed that the first boat came into the area. It was a zodiac containing two couples. I flagged them down and told them there was a huge ulua floating around outside. They went out in the general direction and did a few circles, but, they found nothing. At that point I knew it was just not meant to be. It was an epic heavyweight battle. I lost my trophy and nearly my life. The ulua lost it’s life. It was a fight to the finish with no winner.

As typical beginners, we wanted to catch, but, we soon found just wanting wasn’t near enough to get it done! When we started to get serious about it there wasn’t much available media wise except Edward Hosaka’s “Shore Fishing In Hawaii” and the “Hawaii Fishing News”! The now classic books from Jim Rizzuto and Michael Sakamoto had not been published yet. No knock on Hosaka’s book, I still refer to it, but, it was published in 1944 so, fishing regulations and techniques had changed quite a bit by then. HFN has always been the source for the latest information and a hell of a lot of pure stoke for local fishermen! Still, our hunger for Ulua knowledge continued to grow and become  more and more obsessive.

We were still slinging spinners exclusively when we decided a trip to the B.I. was the answer to all the “bolohead” days and nights of fishing. Dean has family up there and told us some of his cousins were experienced Ulua Fishermen, so, off we went!

Deans cousin Larry was kind and more importantly, patient enough to put up with us greenhorns and all our questions! Walking into Larrys house, except for Dean of course, we didn’t know what to expect. Little did I know it would change my life dramatically! As Larry showed us around his house we walked into a room mostly barren except for some rod wrapping stands with a partially built menpachi rod balanced on them. I’m sure Larry will laugh if he reads this, but, it was like a “zen” moment for me! I recall thinking, “Man this guy’s a real fisherman!” Years later I would flash back to this moment  and laugh while sitting in my home in Kona admiring a rod I had just built as it sat on stands in my living room.

Larry led us into his living room where there was a framed picture of  Larry and two other adult males kneeling behind a giant Ulua! Note that I said “behind” it not around or next to it! When we asked how heavy it was he told us it was too big for their coolers so they had cut it up at the beach and never weighed it! His estimate was 120, conservative I think!

Larry told us he would take us down to a spot that had been a favorite of the family for many years. We were excited! We loaded our stuff into his Toyota Land Cruiser Wagon. None of us had ever been four-wheeling before so this alone was going to be a treat!

The spot was near the bottom of a river mouth, the last winter storms had brought large rocks over the usual trail to the spot. We climbed over rocks bigger than I ever thought possible! Fortunately the run from the paved road to the spot was a short one. This was not the typical Big Island spot, no high cliff, water not too deep and there was a huge popper right out in front of where we would be fishing! I was a little surprised, but, Larry was calm and confident.

Larry didn’t bring any bait with him, we had a little ika in our cooler, but, he had no intention of mooching any bait from us. We were about to get our first lesson in using bait the ocean provided us locally. First, he showed us how to catch gori, alaihi and aama crabs along the shoreline we were fishing. Then he taught us the best ways to put them on our hooks. Techniques that all became a permanent part of our fishing repertoire.

I don’t remember exactly what we caught on that trip, but, we returned many times to fish there. We caught papio, oio, moi, mu, kumu, nenue and all sorts of other fish there. It became one of our “magic” spots. White-washing was definately the exception out there.

Mixed bag, typical of this spot.

I had some of my most memorable light tackle battles there with oio and papio on light spinners. My best catch was an 8lb oio on 6 lb test! I actually caught two about the same size on the same trip! One of the best battles with a fish I had there was with one that got away. Doesn’t it always seem to work out that way? To make matters worse, on that particular trip I was fishing alone, so no witnesses!

I had driven out there late one afternoon figuring I could wash away some of the “Bolohead Blues” I had been experiencing on my last few ulua trips with some light tackle action. I set up two rods, my big spinner (30lb test) and my favorite whipping rod a 6 foot one piece graphite rod with a Penn 722z which had 6lb test spooled on it.

The afternoon and early evening had been pretty quiet, not much action just one missed strike on the big pole. The wind was blowing pretty good and the water was rough. I jacked up both poles and recast. A big aama on the big pole and a small live gori on the 722. The tide was heavy on the rise and the water was rushing all the way around the big popper to the left like a stream.

The big popper on the left can be seen jutting out, the other big popper is just off screen to the right.

I stripped down to my shorts and poured some water over me to wash off some of the salt before I changed into warm clothes. I got on my cot and crawled in my sleeping bag. Still shivering, I had brief moment of self doubt thinking “What am I doing out here alone?”

I was just starting to doze off when I heard the little brass bell on the 722 ting-a-ling, I held my breath and concentrated on the sound thinking it  probably was the wind or waves, but, it kept on ting-a-linging! I grabbed my headlamp and shined at my pole….it was in full arch!!

I ran out and picked up the rod, line was peeling out furiously! The fish tore out the channel between the two big poppers and was headed out to sea! I ran to the left to line up better with the channel and to go under my big spinner line which I had cast into the channel. Nothing to do but hang on! It’s not like I could horse it with 6lb test! Finally it stopped, then started to swing left, it was way out there! I didn’t have much line left on the reel. I felt it start to rub on the left side popper. I grabbed my landing net and walked over towards the popper, the normal hop over was now a 5 foot wide crossing in rushing water! Somehow I got across, but, not before losing both my slippers and the net! I hobbled along the edge barefooted pulling my line from under ha’uke’uke urchins which were abundant there. When I got near the outside tip of the popper waves were splashing and surging all around! Amazingly, when I pulled the line free from the last urchin it was clear and I could feel the fish again! It must have felt me because it took off on another run! I have no idea how much time had passed at this point, but, it sure seemed like forever! The fish was still strong and it fought me back and forth, fortunately staying clear. Finally I started to gain line and the side to side swings got shorter and shorter. Then it broke surface, wow, nice sized white papio!

Now I was really nervous! I had to try and time the waves to bring the fish up onto the popper where I was. I waited until the water was high up on the popper and a wave came in over it. I reeled and pulled it in with the wave, it came straight towards me, perfect……right through my legs and into a crack behind me, I heard the line snap just as the water enveloped it and swept it back out in to the sea!! It was gone……I think I woke babies on the other side of the island sceaming every french word in the book at the top of my lungs!! Never have I agonized over losing a fish as I did this one! I mean, it wasn’t a hundred pound ulua, but, it was a dam good fish for 6lb test! I have an estimate of it’s size in my mind, but, will not say it here, it’s all moot! No one else saw it, no one saw me fighting it, no one can even verifiy that I was fishing that night! I went home the next morning with the worst case of the “Bolohead Blues” I have ever had…..crap!

I originally wrote this story about an experience I had back in 1992. In January of 1993 it was published in the mail bouy section of Hawaii Fishing News.

When Fishing Friends Leave..

I wanted to tell them that I understood how they felt and that I knew how fishing friends were different…not like others. Fishing friends have a special bond. I really wanted to tell them, but, they were total strangers and I didn’t feel I had the right. The emotions I saw in their faces convinced me to remain silent.

This fishing trip had started out typically. Keith and I arrived at the spot about an hour late, having run here and there picking up things we had forgotten in our preparations the night before. We were excited about getting our lines out because the tide was on the rise and we felt conditions were right for some good action.

As we started to set up we noticed that other campers had strangely left some gear behind. Perfectly good tent pegs were still wedged in the rocks. A pile of new hooks lay on the ground and across the way on the next point a long length of nylon rope dangled in the water. When Keith found a bag of fresh opihi we knew someone had left in an awful hurry.

The waves although inconsistent, were big, so we assumed that some big sets had convinced them to make a fast exit. I reminded Keith to keep a close eye on the ocean and started to time the sets with my wristwatch as we continued to set up.

Our prediction of good action proved true very quickly as Keith picked up a 10 lb. omilu shortly after making his first slide. We were still celebrating the catch when we saw a pickup truck coming over the rise toward our camp. We agreed it was probably the last campers coming back to claim their belongings. They parked and walked toward us and the guy in the lead greeted us and immediately motioned over to the next point where we had noticed the rope and said, “Our friend died over there yesterday.”

All thoughts of celebration and more fishing action vanished. He told us how their friend had been swept off his feet and into the ocean by an unusually large set. One of the other guys jumped into help, but, the waves would not cooperate and he eventually had to let go or drown himself. This was their annual trip, he said, something they had been doing together for many years. Today they had come back, not to claim their gear as we had thought, but, to build a memorial out near the spot where they had last seen their buddy alive.

I sat and watched as they carried a few items out to the point and started. My head and heart raced with thoughts and emotions, I thought about Keith and the rest of the gang and how much we were just like those guys, just a bunch of regular guys who get together now and then to share in something they love….fishing.

Fishing friends, I guess that bond develops because of all the long hours spent together far removed from other human beings and civilization. There’s a lot of time to talk and reflect on all topics. Fishing tactics and the theories are argued and discussed over and over again and there’s always the fishing stories, which are fun and special no matter how many times they’ve been told and heard.

Fishing friends come from all walks of life, but, down at the fishing hole or out on a boat it makes no difference. You’re all the same. You never forget fishing friends. Maybe you’ll forget a name or a face, but, you never forget the experience of fishing together. I sat there on the rocks thinking about all the people I’ve fished with over the years. In the sixties, fishing the canal and Kaneohe bay with Doug and Adrian. The seventies at Kewalos with Eric and Grant. The Eighties at Moi Hole with Andy, Naka, Hiro and countless others. Kaupo with Elliot. Mokuleia, Waialua, Laie….so many fishing spots and so many hours spent with da bruddahs.

Thinking about my fishing friends that day, I found it difficult to imagine losing any one of them the way these guys just had. I lost a buddy a couple of years ago. Although the circumstances surrounding his death were not as dramatic as this, losing a fishing friend so suddenly and unexpectedly was tough to deal with. To this day we always bring a can of Chester’s favorite brew with us and have a drink with him before we start fishing. We pass the can around and pour the rest in the ocean for Ches. His ashes were scattered at sea, so we know he’s always there at our fishing trips.

It occurred to me that Ches and this other guy were probably good fiends by now and they were probably both out here watching over us and sharing fishing stories. This warm thought brought me back to reality. Keith was back to bait fishing and the guys had left. I walked over to the point to pay my respects. They had built a simple memorial, but, so full of feeling. Embedded in cement were a lighter, a can of chewing tobacco, a rock spike and a glass of gin. Alongside they had left a can of Diet Coke, some Oreo cookies, ti leaves and Bird of Paradise. Inscribed on the memorial were the words “Best Friends” and “Bye.”

The bottle of gin lay nearby. I opened it and had a drink with my fishing friend.