By Captain Makani Christensen
Fly fishing in Hawaii is one of the most difficult types of fishing. All of the elements need to come together at the right time or you must rely solely on luck. The tide, the amount of sun, the current, the wind direction, your casting experience, the fly, and the type of sunglass lenses all play key roles in creating favorable conditions. Only when these elements come together and everything is in check, then you may have a chance to catch the fish.
However, more often than not, the fish will look at your fly and will take off in the opposite direction. Over the past 10 years, fly fishing in Honolulu has grown in popularity. Every day fly fishermen are out on the flats trying their luck. Many of these fish have grown accustomed to flies landing near them and associate sound of certain flies with danger. These fish still eat, but it was easier 10 years ago. Therefore, it is essential to get everything else right in order to increase your odds. Let us dissect these elements that make for perfect fly fishing conditions.
Inn Hawaii we experience a moderate tidal range between 2-3 feet. The tides effect the current, the growth on the reef, feeding times for little critters, feeding times for larger fish, and a variety of other changes that are not always apparent. Some of our reef are exposed during lower tides and others become more accessible. Understanding the tides and its effects on different areas is essential to saving time and getting more shots on fish.
When the reefs are exposed, you can hear and see the the ecosystem come to life below your feet. Look closely and you will see hundreds of creatures moving around, completely vulnerable to the native population of predators and elements. As the tide roles in, everything starts to change. The reef gets quitter and the larger fish swim in from the deep.
Large fluctuations in tide also effect how fast Bonefish venture back onto the reef. A couple of months ago, I witnessed a full moon event followed by another smaller high tide in the morning. The fish did not immediately come onto the reef. A couple of weeks later, the fish were flowing onto the reef as soon as the tides changed on a half moon.
Full moons and new moons will create larger tidal swings, which are important for anglers to watch. On full moon nights, bonefish continuously eat, which ultimately effects the bite and the amount of fish venturing into the shallows. These big swings in tide will also change the strength of the current in the shallows.
On the Southern shores of Oahu, during the incoming tide you can expect the current to flow from left to right while facing the ocean. Other elements such as wind direction and surf will increase the currents near shore. Then, there are the micro-currents caused by the bottom topography, such as the channel near the breakers. The water will flow in across the reef more rapidly during a high tide, but near the surf, water will flow back out through the channel causing potential rip current. These areas can be dangerous, especially during high surf.
These currents have a huge impact on where the fly lands compared to where it ends up. The fly could end up 10 feet away from where it was casted, depending on the intensity of the current. Navigating these currents and tidal fluctuations requires years of experience.
On the 12th of June 2018, I received a call from a friend of mine at 2:00am.
“Dude, the fish are biting like crazy during the minus tide,” he said.
We got to the spot at 7:30am, shortly before the peak low tide and headed out to a spot near the breakers. This area is not accessible for sight fishing during a 1 foot high tide. On the low tide, we were able to see fish. The area was crawling with bonefish. We scored! We hooked four and landed two. We adjusted our cast to battle the micro-currents that developed due to the surf and water moving across the reef. We factored in the depth of the water and current, increasing the distance between the fish and the fly to ensure the fly got to the bottom- and most importantly, the fish could see the fly.
One of the bonefish I hooked that day was coming in from the shallow breakers into the deeper water. The waves were pushing right over the reef and settling into the deeper water where we stood. Instead of making a cast well in front of it, I placed the fly almost directly on its head. By the time the fly reached the bottom, the line bowed due to current, and my fly ended up nearly 6 yards from the fish. The bonefish jumped on the fly and took off towards the reef. The slightest adjustment on my presentation, based on the current and depth, allowed for a hookset.
Unfortunately, fishing near the breakers also has its challenges. Within a minute, the lines would end up tangled in a few coral heads. By the time the lines were freed, the fish had taken off again. This time, they ended up tangling to another batch of corals and snapping a 30lb floral carbon leader line.
As the water gets deeper, the current starts to flow faster. Wind also increases the current strength.
On the 17th of May 2018, I had a fish flowing over the reef with the current, barely moving its tail. Where I casted to versus where the fly ended up was completely different than what I expected, but I ended up getting lucky in this particular case.
The bonefish was about 50 yards out on the cast. I had casted about 25 yards in the front of the fish, expecting the fish to be at a certain point on the reef within in a few seconds. I waited and as the fish got closer, stripped in slowly to tighten the line and hopefully entice the fish to bite. When the fish finally took the fly, the fly was two yards away from the direction of the main fly line. Fortunately, luck played a role in this hookup. Clear of any coral heads, I was able to land the fish and release it.
The weight of the fly is another key factor when fishing in different depths of water and stronger currents. Heavier flies tend to sink faster and will be closer to where you cast. Lighter flies will be impacted by currents and may not be exactly where you want them to be. A variety of fly weights may be ideal when first starting to fly fish.
Here is a list of factors to consider when dealing with tides:
- Accessibility of certain areas during certain tides
- Observing large tidal events
- Location of current caused by surf and bottom topography
- Observing incoming and outgoing tides and direction of current over reef
- The weight of the fly
As an angler continues on his quest to catch the elusive bonefish, he will tangle with the tides, discover new areas to fish, and become aware of where to put the fly in relation to the currents. Having an experienced guide with you to navigate these elements can make a world of difference.
For now, the quest continues……