Spyda's Blog

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Ulua Blood

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“If she’s amazing, she won’t be easy. If she’s easy, she won’t be amazing. If she’s worth it, you wont give up. If you give up, you’re not worthy. … Truth is, everybody is going to hurt you; you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.”
Bob Marley

It starts simply enough, a bamboo pole with Dad, Grandpa or an Uncle. That first tug of a fish on the end of your line, the fish is hooked and so are you. Like so many of us when I got to the point where my understanding was beyond just catching a fish and became more focused, Ulua became the “Holy Grail”. We wanted the secrets, because as hard as we tried, the Ulua never came. Were we really that bad?? We read, we asked questions, we watched other people, but it just wasn’t happening.

After the first two ulua poles I built failed to catch an ulua, one lost to a monster strike and the other a catastrophic failure, I realized that I had to step up my game to succeed. When the second rod I built broke a foot from the tip I was mad, embarrassed and really felt like a failure.

The rod was a 540 Saber which was a two piece blank which came with a dowel to splice the two pieces together. I drove down to McCully Bike to look for a top half to replace my broken one. I got lucky, there was a black top half which was cracked at the bottom. I took the damaged blank up to the counter and asked the clerk if they would be willing to sell it to me at a discount since it was cracked. The store manager agreed and I had my top half!

I knew looking at it I could cut off the cracked portion and still be able to use the dowel and splice it on to my old bottom half. It would be a little shorter, but, I still felt it would be fine. I had to build it better, stronger and well, something else. I couldn’t figure it out at the time, but, there had to be something I could do differently this time that would make the difference.

The first problem was getting the old top half off. I had loaded up on the epoxy when I had spliced it together so this was going to be tough. I had little experience with this sort of stuff, there wasn’t Google or Youtube to turn to, so I had to wing it, make a decision and go for it! The bottom half was a straight tube, no taper so I guessed where the dowel ended and cut it off! Second problem, not quite as serious, the bottom half was white. So, after I epoxied the butt cap on I got black butt wrap cord and started wrapping the bottom half. Part way up I decided to add some trim for accent. I found some sheets of stuff they use to dress lures with and cut some strips, red and silver placed them on the blank, that’s when it hit me! Blood! This rod would be all black with red pin stripes to represent the blood of ulua!

With the rod finished there was one thing left to do, go get that first ulua!

Well, as most of us know, that was easier said than done. I set about reviewing my entire process, knots, leader set up, where and when I went fishing, moon phase, tides, hook sharpening and drag setting. I thought about it constantly. In doing this I got a little obsessive and pushed myself a little further than I ever did. I was only working part-time back then so it did give me more time, but, even then it didn’t seem like enough.

One day a good friend of mine from work told me he was taking some vacation time and planned to spend a good part of it fishing. He planned to be out at Moi Hole out on the west side and told me to come on out if I could. Problem was I couldn’t get any vacation time off so would be working the entire time he was going to be out there. “Bummers” I thought, well, if I want to succeed I need to make some sacrifices. Like they say, “The good things in life never come easy!”

So the week comes and I figure my friend Hiro is out there pounding it already. I have to work in the morning so I pack what I can in the trunk of the car, the poles and cooler will have to wait until after work. One pm the next day I’m leaving work, I head to Tamashiro Market to look for bait. No tako so I pick up some fresh akule and ika and head home to finish loading up.

Out at Moi Hole, Hiro and a few of the other regulars have about 6 to 8 poles out and are kicking back when I roll up. No strikes so far they report, but, the weather is nice and the company is great so sprits are high! I get to work setting up. My patched up black and red Saber is the first I cast out, I slide a whole akule down on a 36 bkn. Next out is my Harrington with a Surfmaster (2’0). This one gets an akule fillet bait casted out. Soon it’s dinner time and the hibachi is lit up and everyone busts out some kau kau for the pot luck table.

One of the regulars in attendance is Andy Miyamoto, the Mayor of Moi Hole back then. Andy is a big man, I’m told he played semi-pro baseball in Japan. Casting was just casting until the first time I watched Andy cast! It was clear, when he casted he was fishing in an area we weren’t despite the fact that we were fishing right next to each other!

Dinner was great as it always seems to be out on the rocks or the beach. Just after sunset before it got real dark my Harrington takes a strike! A few minutes later a 5 pound Awa is on the rocks and into the cooler! Yes! Action, we’re all feeling energized and work our poles late into the night. I have to work the next morning so I’m the first one down.

Six am, after a little coffee I jack-up my poles and leave them by Hiro’s car, I’ll be back àfter work.

One pm and I’m driving to Tamashiros again. This time they have fresh tako. I buy tako and ice then hit the freeway back to the west side!!

When I get there Hiro kids me saying “Eh, you better not catch again, I never even get strike yet!!“. We all laugh except Andy, who just gives me a wry smile. Andys wife has come out and is in their tent cooking up a storm, she cooks for everyone. Good people the Miyamotos!

I work my poles hard, but save one whole tako for the big tide in the morning.

Five am music to my ears! The bell and rachet on the black Saber are goin off!! I had forced myself out of my warm cot about 3 in the morning to slide the whole 1.5lb tako I had saved for the morning rise. My mind is a blurr, but, quickly getting jacked with adrenelin! Is this it? The fish is straight out, now starting to angle to the right. it slows then swings to the left and runs again. I feel like I’m lost in a dream. Hiro is standing next to me coaching and giving me encouragement. The fish surges again then slows and swings back to the right. I’m gaining some line now, holy smokes! It this happening?! Suddenly someone yells “Color!!” I look down and there it is, the broad silver side of an ulua is shimmering underwater below us. I hear Hiro’s calm voice telling me “Easy, easy…watch the tip…let um take line if he like…” My anxiety is soaring! After what seems like forever it pops to the surface! “Kagami!!” “Hit um, hit um!!” The gaff hits home and the fish is hauled up on to the rocks, unbelievable!!

My first Ulua! My first and only (to this date) Kagami Ulua! What an amazing feeling!!

Later after breakfast, I pack to leave and say my good byes and thanks to everyone. The only thing not packed is the slide rig with the still fresh tako on it. I walk over to Andys tent and place it on his cooler. We say nothing, just nod and exchange wry smiles…

Fish Tech

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There many things that we all still do as fishermen that haven’t changed at all since the invention of the fish hook. Yet fishermen & women remain at least in my mind, some of the most inventive, creative sports people in the world! Constantly trying to reinvent the wheel or at least make it work better, there seems no end to innovation and refinement. Some have made the transition from hobby tinkerers to small businesses.

When we started getting serious about our pursuit of Ulua back in the early eighties, there wasn’t much in the way of specialized, purpose built tackle as we see today. Back then if you wanted an ulua pole you either had to be lucky enough to have a dad or uncle that was into it and had equipment to hand down or you had to find a custom rod builder and the money to have one made. There was a third option, build it yourself!

Edmund was the first of our group that went the build your own route, interestingly, he was also the first to catch an Ulua! I also went that route and Keith, although he was the only one who inherited ulua gear from an uncle was next to give rod wrapping a shot.

March 1982, 23 lbs. Laie Point

 I unfortunately didn’t have the same kind of luck with my first pole as Edmund. I had built a Sabre 540 and mounted a brand new Penn 6’o with a Newell Black Marlin kit. We were out at Mokuleia and I had slid down a large Oio head. The rig was so heavy I had barely got it out 25 yards, if that far! The rod was 50 yards away from our camp and we were partying pretty hard when it went off! The ratchet was screaming as I ran as hard as I could across the soft sand! As I ran I could see the pole leaning more and more over, the spike was going down! I was about 10 or 15 yards away when the pole flew out of the spike and zipped across the sand into the water, never to be seen again!! I would build two more rods before finally scoring my first Ulua out at Moi Hole in August of 1984.

It’s a lot easier to get decent equipment these days! So much so that there’s even a lot more used equipment available because of it. Heck, you can even buy an Ulua pole at Sears and Ace Hardware! The technology applied to the manufacturing of the blanks available these days is nothing short of amazing when compared to the old fibreglass blanks we had. High carbon graphite and graphite blends have made rods stronger and lighter. The process of rolling these blanks has been refined to such a finite level that despite small diameters and wispy looks the high tech blanks today generate an incredible amount of power while weighing considerably less than the old standard fiberglass blanks!

The evolution of the Ulua rod in just the  last 15 years is really amazing! 14 years ago I sold my house in Kona and moved back to Oahu to get married. This meant a serious cut back on my time spent fishing. So, as I have worked my way back into it in the last year or so, I have discovered the changes that have taken place since I lost touch have been quite dramatic! The move forward actually started a few years before my departure from Kona. Joe Kimura rods were already showing up in local stores in Kona and Kenneth Kimura had started up Island Rod Wrap (IRW). I know the latter part of that only because a friend and former fishing partner of mine in Kona, Carl, designed the logo for IRW in exchange for a custom rod. Carl was renting a room in my house at the time so I had chance to admire the beautiful candy apple red rod up close when it was still a cherry! As I look back at that now I see that it was a sign of things to come in the future. The one thing I didn’t expect was the number of manufacturers that are now building rods specifically for the Ulua fishermen. Ulua rods are no longer exclusive to the custom builder.

No pic of Carls IRW rod, but, here we are admiring the 55 lber that broke it's cherry!

In an earlier post I described trying some rods my friend Jeff had custom built himself. He built these rods using Daiwa’s Ballistic blanks. Now, I’m just slowly getting caught up with all the new stuff out there and have not tried all the custom blanks like the ones IRW has custom made for them, but, if the ballistics are not on the cutting edge then I  just can’t imagine what cutting edge blanks would be like!

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!!

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.

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!!