Many individuals come to Hawaii to try their luck catching the elusive bonefish. Posts on Instagram or YouTube show people catching giant Hawaiian bonefish and make it look pretty easy. However, don’t be fooled! It is a lot harder than it looks! There have been countless times where we come back empty handed. Sometimes, the fish don’t bite, the flies bonk the fish, we blow the shot, the fish see the line, the tide is too high or the water too dirty. The list goes on. Realistically, catching a bonefish in Hawaii on a fly rod is one of the most difficult and technical types of fishing. Everything has to be on point! Your cast has to be “spot-on,” and your presentation far enough away from the bonefish as not to scare it. You can read 1000 blogs and watch 10,000 YouTube videos, but local knowledge and experience is not easily grasped.
Hiring a guide will increase your chances of catching a fish. As a guide, we look at three basic components to decide where to fish: 1) the tide; 2) the wind; and 3) the cloud cover. From there we assess where exactly to fish. There are areas on Oahu during certain tides that just won’t work. Either the tide is too high, or the fish will not push in until the tide reaches a certain level. Every reef is different. If you have big plans to fish a spot and the tide is negative, then you may find yourself high and dry, waiting hours for the tide to role in. Knowing the tide and how it affects the depth and clarity on the reef is crucial.
The wind speed and direction will determine the best time to start fishing and the ideal length of time. Having the sun and wind at your back will increase the chances of seeing fish. If the wind is blowing from the Northeast on the South Shore of Oahu, fishing in the morning will be ideal. At noon, the angle of the sun changes and the glare hampers visibility. The only way to sight fish in the afternoon is to turn up wind and cast into the Northeast Trade Winds. If you cannot cast into the wind, fishing time is reduced to a half day.
The amount of cloud cover will also determine the best location to fish. The first thing we look for are the types of clouds forming. Are the clouds dark and heavy, or light and fluffy? How fast are the clouds moving? These questions allow us to expertly choose the site we will fish. More clouds blocking the sun result in fewer shots at fish. We have years of experience fishing on both cloudy and sunny days. Through experience, we are able to adjust to the constantly changing environment. On super cloudy days, you may be throwing the fly at the fish, which is less then 5 feet away. On other days, you will be able to see the fish 100 yards away. Experience matters when choosing the right conditions.
The top three factors- tide, wind, cloud cover- are only the first part of the elaborate equation when maximizing the probability of catching these elusive bonefish. So how do you know where to go? There are two ways to get this information: heavy research or hiring a guide.
All of these decisions have to be made prior to getting out on the water. Once you have made it this far, the technical fishing begins. The main component we look at as guides is the angler’s ability to cast. Casting is the first step to actually having a shot at the bonefish. Many anglers come to Hawaii with a false sense of security regarding their casting ability. In many cases, their main experience in casting has been in a river or stream with a simple role cast of 20ft and no wind. This approach only works on a stream.
Now, step into the Pacific Ocean where you have 360 degrees of open water. Ideally, you could cast in any direction without a problem. However, in Hawaii, we have an invisible force that limits your casting ability to about 45 degrees with the wind at your back. Increase the range to approximately 90 degrees with a good back cast. If you can double haul, then you are back to a 360-degree range, depending on the maximum strength of the wind. Usually 25 to 30 knots are the maximum with a double haul cast into the wind. Better casters will have more of an opportunity to land fish. A word of advice- practice your double haul before you get to Hawaii!
We have to judge every anglers casting ability. The first question I ask all anglers is whether they can cast. If you cannot cast, your probability of catching a bonefish decreases significantly. Now we have had a few individuals land a fish with a short 5-foot cast, the main fly line barely leaving the rod tip. As the saying goes, “sometimes it’s better to be lucky.” Lucky aside, we cannot stress enough that casting is important! My main goal as a guide is for you to enjoy yourself. If you expect to catch a fish without being able to cast, then I have not properly set correct expectations. We will adjust our “shot calls” based on your ability. We will put the fly in the most likely path of the bonefish, based on the wind and distance of your cast. This is where having a fishing guide is key.
Once we established the anglers casting ability and set realistic expectations, we are ready to fish. Now, the hard part. What fly to use? How are the fish reacting or swimming? How are the fish feeding? What is the depth of the water? What weight of the fly is best? Fly fishermen in Hawaii have spent countless hours trying to find the right fly patterns, learning to present the fly to the bonefish, using the right weight, and perfecting their casting to hook the bonefish.
Setting realistic expectations for anglers visiting Hawaii is important Practice casting and hire a guide if you are fishing in Hawaii for the first time. This will increase your odds drastically. The odds of catching a bonefish on your own during your first-time fishing in Hawaii is low. By yourself, it is even lower. In fact, you might have a better chance of winning the lottery. Just kidding, it’s not that tough. With the proper guide and realistic expectations, you can set yourself up for success.