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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!!

 

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.

Across the island chain there are many well known Ulua spots. Places where many great Ulua fishermen and casting clubs built their reputations. Some you might say are legendary.

The names of these spots are as varied as the terrain they sit on. Some are very specific to some feature of the location, others are only known by the name of the general area. You can’t really count them all because the truth is you can catch Ulua at any beach or stretch of shoreline in Hawaii! It just seems that some places produce more Ulua than others. The theory is that the most prolific spots sit in very close proximity to an “Ulua House”. Consider this a first installment, of a subject that could take a long time to cover completely, if that’s possible at all!!

Bamboo Ridge, Oahu  – The spot. Few are better known no doubt. People who don’t fish have heard of Bamboo Ridge. It wasn’t a coincidence when the creators of  the Hawaii Writers Quarterly, chose “Bamboo Ridge” as the name of their publication. They took inspiration from the fishing spot when they chose the name! Modern anglers have been fishing at Bamboo Ridge since somewhere in the early twenties. In those early days, most of the Ulua fishing poles were made of bamboo so when the casting clubs were out there in full force it literally looked like a grove of bamboo trees! It’s place in not just Ulua fishing history, but, local culture has long been cemented.

Bamboo Ridge, Oahu

Moi Hole, Oahu – I’ve not been out there for many years, but, definately a place that is still special to me as I scored my first Ulua there. On the west side of Oahu a small cove with an underwater cave, classic moi grounds. The adjacent out-cropping has been a favorite of Ulua fishermen for decades and has produced many monsters. I had the good fortune and great honor of meeting and fishing with Andy Miyamoto out there. I consider him one of the best Ulua fishermen I have ever met. Ever the gentleman, Andy was well respected by all and considered “the boss” by regulars at Moi Hole. Andy could cast it a country mile, a big man, he could cast a 9/o with a 16 oz lead about as far as most of us can toss a 4/o! Legend? In my humble opinion, absolutely!!

Moi Hole, Oahu April 1984 the morning I caught my first Ulua.

Laie Point, Oahu – There are several islets just outside this spot that lends it’s self to the belief that there is an Ulua house nearby. The tally of big Ulua captured there seems to support this theory also. Our gangs first Ulua was brought up here, so, it will always be a special place to us.

Laie Point, Oahu

Dan No Uchi, BI – Probably lesser known to those who don’t live on the Big Island, but, worthy of mention. Also known as Dan Uchi or Donuchi, the name roughly translated from Japanese means “steps to the inside”. The Japanese name leads me to believe it was a spot popular with early Japanese immigrants to Hawaii and may have been named in a tribute or reference to a place in Japan known as “Dan No Ura” where a major sea battle took place back in 1185. Located south of Kealakekua Bay, Dan No Uchi sits in the middle of a long stretch of coastline on the West coast of the Big Island that has produced an unbelievable number of huge Ulua.

Smoking Rock, BI – In an area generally referred to as Manuka, there is a gravel road that bolts straight down to the coastline from the Mamalahoa highway that locals dubbed “Road To The Sea”. A bridge made of re-bar gets you out onto “Smoking Rock”. Ultra deep, right off the edge it drops away quickly into blue. Not for the weak or lazy, a serious Ulua spot.

Road To The Sea, Big Island

Keahole Point, BI – Another spot reputed to be near an Ulua house. A friend who scuba dived in the area told me there is a huge sea mound just outside the point where he would always see huge Uluas roaming. There are many stories of hooked Uluas supposedly diving into a cave foiling fishermens efforts to land them. I unfortunately was one of those guys. Twice!! A friend of mine and very talented angler Dean Hayashi defeated a 127 pounder there!

Kaawaloa, BI – On the north side of Kealakekua bay just outside the sanctuary boundry, access is through private land.  This is another of the insanely deep spots in South Kona. Fishermen use a wooden plank to bridge the gap to the last little popper that you cast and set your rods on. It’s so deep there that even when there is a swell the waves don’t break on it. The water just rises and receeds with each swell. This was the site of an Ulua blitz that was documented in the Hawaii Fishing News back in the 1980’s. Another friend of mine and Hundred Plus Club member Mel Hamada and his crew caught something like 12(?) Ulua on that trip!!

Kaawaloa, Big Island

Lone Kiawe, Maui – On the “backside” of Haleakala, this spot really defines the “different” style that is common on Maui. Unbelieveable catches have been made here with smaller reels (3/o & 4/o) and 50 to 60lb line including one where angler Earl Matsui “tripled” his line by catching a 150lb Ulua using a 3/o with 50lb test!

Plenty Kiawe, Maui – Just down the road from Lone Kiawe I’m sure you can guess how these spots got their names. A wide beach spot, Plenty Kiawe has also had it’s share of 100 pounders!

I can’t even begin to consider this very short list  the slightest scratch on the surface of the list of popular Ulua spots, the real list is too long and may not be known by any one person! My apologies to Kauai, Molokai and Lanai, who I know have their own list of “Big Boy” spots. I have fished on Kauai and Molokai, but, not with Ulua equipment. Lanai, it’s on my bucket list!!

The differences between the Oahu and Big Island styles have been well documented over the years. It’s actually not just a difference between these two islands, there are differences between all the islands. Some, more obvious than others. A lot of that is due to the actual topography of the eight major Hawaiian islands. As most locals know, all the islands are different, from Kauai, the oldest, to Hawaii, the youngest. It’s not to say that fishing styles are radically different, or that one style can’t be used on another island. Each has it’s own proven or preferred style. In Kona, my friends and I experimented with different set ups, eventually settling in with one that proved itself on many a “submarine” or “tax man” strike. Bringing a large shark to gaff can really test your knots to the max. Prior to moving to Kona I thought bimini twists, double lines and the like were just overkill. But after losing a few fish when they dove off some of the abrupt, insanely deep drop offs common in south Kona, the need for a much longer, much more stout leader became obvious. The trade off of having strong leader set-up, is when you bankrupt. There are few spots where you cast from small rock platforms into deep, deep submarine channels. At these places your reel free spools twice as long after the lead hits the water than during your cast! It doesn’t matter how far you cast, your line angle once you set your lead will still be nearly straight down. If your hook or stop ring gets caught, good luck breaking your line. It’s amazing how much 200+ yards of 80 lb test can stretch! That’s only part of the problem, remember you’re on a rock, you can only walk back a few feet! Not fun, trust me!

You see some wild things fishing deep water, picture a 15 foot Tiger Shark flashing its stripes within spitting distance of your feet with your hook in it’s mouth! Or, having a whale swim by so close you hear it exhaling before you see it in the darkness, looking ahi in the eye as they jump out of the water chasing baitfish right in front of you! You never know what you’re going to see. Often during quiet moments you sit and soak it all in. You’re mesmerized , then KA LANG!!……Silence….it takes a split second for it to register…you turn just as the rod slams down and shudders…eerily, the bell swings back and forth but doesn’t ring…then, all hell breaks loose!! Elvis has entered the room….

Deep, real deep.....