It was raining the past few of days so, as soon as it cleared, I decided to go on a quick fly-fishing mission for bonefish. Every time I get out there, I’m pumped! The tides were perfect for sight fishing for the elusive, giant Hawaiian Bonefish. The winds were southerly, which makes for great fishing in the afternoon, as both the sun and wind are at your back.
I was so confident about the fly I tied, I was sure I was going to catch the first fish I saw. My phone rings and it’s my wife. I’m thinking it’s an emergency so, I pick up the phone. The next thing you know, I see two giant bonefish swimming in the front of me from left to right. I abruptly wrap up the conversation and cast, giving the bonefish a good lead. I wait a few minutes and the bonefish are closer to the fly. I give a little strip on the line, only to see the bonefish swim around the fly. I quickly check the fly, and I see it is swimming sideways!
With a quick fly change, I head down the shoreline closer to the beach, and not more than 50 yards a young-women with the revealing bikini starts throwing a coconut into the water for her labradoodle to retrieve. The entire time, I’m thinking to myself, maybe she just doesn’t know I’m fishing. Maybe she is an environmentalist that doesn’t want anyone catching fish. Does she know I’m releasing the fish after I catch it? I speed up my walk until I’m past the swimming dog, the woman in a bikini, and the coconut. I’m sure there weren’t any fish in the area anyway. After I pass, I hear the splash of the coconut and a barking dog behind me.
Farther away, I start to see more fish. I sighted and casted at about a dozen fish before I hooked this fish in the video. I had a couple of pulls prior to this bite, but nothing set. I saw this solo fish swimming in a deeper pond and gave it a pretty good lead. As the fly dropped to the bottom, the fish rushed to the area. The bonefish did not immediately take the fly, so I slowly stripped it in with a couple of long pulls. I felt and saw the fish eat the fly. I quickly and gently set the hook, but the fish was swimming towards me. It wasn’t until a couple seconds later that the fish felt the line and took off. This was a Giant Hawaiian Bonefish! He took about 200 yards of backing. Then snapped the main fly line. It looked like it had hit one of the coral heads.
I looked into the bag and my dental floss was missing. I remember one of my kids walking around with it earlier today. I tied a quick perfection loop in the main line and tied another leader. Within a minute of fixing the line, I saw another two bonefish heading my way. I casted, and the result was this barracuda. Check it out our YouTube Channel.
If you are interested in booking a trip with Fly Fishing Hawaii, you can visit us at our website www.flyfishinghawaii.fishor give us a call at 808-780-1253.
The S. Tokunaga Ulua Challenge is arguably the most iconic shoreline fishing tournament in Hawaii, featuring shore casting and slide bating- the primary style of fishing for most shoreline anglers. Each year in June, fisherman, families, and business owners meet in Hilo, Hawaii to take part in a 3-day fishing tournament targeting giant trevally in the coastal waters. The tournament is one of the most popular fishing events in Hawaii and is considered to be an age-old tradition by many. The Ulua Challenge is directed by 3rdgeneration store owner, Mike Tokunaga. His store is one of the best fishing stores in Hawaii, featuring the top fishing and outdoor-sports products from all over the world.
The 2018 S. Tokunaga Ulua Challenge was a great success and featured a new partnership with Costa Del Mar Sunglasses, who offered their top-of-the-line sunglasses as first prize for the tag-and-release division. Anglers from all over the islands were excited to participate in Hawaii’s number one fishing tournament and everyone had their eyes on the best fishing sunglasses in the state.
We are seeing a new age of fishing conservation incorporated into the biggest fishing tournaments in Hawaii, with S. Tokunaga Store leading by example. The creation of tag and release divisions is a relatively new effort yet has quickly gained popularity amongst participants. With the tag and release division’s introduction in 2017, we have seen an enormous increase in participation, as well as a significant increase in the local fish population. More fish were tagged this year than ever before in the history of this tournament.
As fisherman, catch-and-release is something we would like to emulate throughout the state to promote conservation efforts for our coastal predatorial and reef fish. Costa’s initiative and brilliant partnership with the S. Tokunaga Store sets the example for shore casting events.
It is only a matter of time before other store owners and fishing supply companies jump onboard and adopt Costa’s challenge for a catch-and-release division for their tournaments.
Fly fisherman from all over the world dream of catching a
bonefish in Hawaii. In fact, our islands are teeming with bonefish ranging from
5 – 12 pounds and even up to 32 inches in length. Fly fishing in Hawaii
extremely technical. Even the most minute detail can make all the difference in
whether or not you can hook one of these elusive bonefish.
There are 8 major islands making up the state of Hawaii,
along with a myriad of smaller islands and altos extending 1,500 miles to the
north west. Of the 8 main Hawaiian Islands, each island differs geographically.
Some islands have more flats and accessible fishing areas than others. Flat,
sandy, shallow areas with coral and rocks are ideal for fly fishing. Certain
sides of the islands experience different conditions throughout the day,
depending on wind patterns and topography. The northern sides of the islands,
usually bombarded by heavy surf, are less likely to have ideal fishing areas
If we were to rank the top 5 Hawaiian Islands, as far as
bone-fishing is concerned, Oahu would rank number one. Factoring in the amount
of accessible fishing area, number of fish, and weather conditions, Oahu is the
ideal place for killer fly fishing. The flats around Hawaii Kai, Kaneohe Bay,
and some areas on the North shore provide perfect sight fishing opportunities
for these giant Hawaiian bonefish. Compared to other islands, these areas are
more accessible throughout the entire day, allowing for sight fishing or
fishing during the golden hour. There are five different guide companies on
Oahu, to include Fly Fishing Hawaii, which is more than any other island.
At a close second to Oahu is Molokai. This island has long stretches of flats with an abundance of bonefish. Because there are less fly fisherman here, the fish face less pressure and see less flies, making them much more likely to bite. I have only been fishing on Molokai once when I went out on the flats with Travis a guide at Fishing From the Beach Hawaii. It could have just been the day, but every fish we casted at bit the fly. These bonefish are hungry. The fly doesn’t even have to look good and they’ll eat it. I have been told that during the afternoon or high tides, trade winds whip across the island at extraordinary speeds, turning up the water, and decreasing visibility. However, judging from my experience, the fishing on Molokai is superb.
Fishing on Maui is completely different from fishing on Oahu or Molokai. Many guests travel to Maui and ask if there are any good guides. One of the best is John John at Local Fishing Knowledge. He will take you to the places where bones hang out. The chances of you seeing and sight fishing for these bones can be relatively low, but still possible with the right guide on certain areas of the south side of the island. As far as ranking is concerned, I would put Maui below Oahu and Molokai, but still somewhere in the top 5.
It is true that Hawaii is crawling with bonefish. However,
hooking them is another story. Because of the level of difficulty and
technicality involved, location is one of the biggest factors. If you’re
traveling to Hawaii looking to catch a bonefish, go with a local guide,
practice your casting, and be sure to consider how the factors at each island
may affect your odds. Next time you are traveling to Hawaii, knowing the
difference in bone-fishing on each island will help you plan your vacation and fishing
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.
Every day is different when fishing for the elusive Hawaiian Bonefish. After guiding for a few days in a row, physical and mental exhaustion sets in. Us guides need to decompress! We recover from fishing with -you guessed it- more fishing.
We take the boat to areas we normally would not go with clients, in search of schools of bonefish. This was the case on Saturday, the 19thof January 2019. We headed to Hawaii Kai and launched the boat. With a short window of tide, we set the drift with the parachute employed and fished along the flats. At first, we only saw a few fish, until we finally found the area where all of the fish were hanging out. We fished the area and fished it hard. The winds were blowing at 25 knots. Cast after cast, the fish would come up, bite, and spit the hook- or just turn around. As the tide receded and our ability to drive back to shore slowly diminished, we tried a few more times with no luck.
After drifting 3 more miles down the coast, we finally found the fish again. We anchored and watched the fish come up to the boat, carefully placing each fly well in front the fish, so as not to scare them. Some fish would give chase, or the fly would not get to the bottom fast enough. The idea is to ensure the fish see the fly, while still making the fly look as natural as possible. Of course, not every cast was perfect, but the ones that were on point allowed me to determine which fly pattern to tie next.
When we fish new areas, we often test my new creations in order to later eliminate some of the guess work of which fly to tie the next time we are out with clients. We use scientific experimentation to determine the fish’s reactions to the different patterns, then use this information to perfect the next pattern and weight used.
What went wrong? Were the flies heavy enough? Is it the color of the fly? Of course, the flies work! But we often go back to the fly-tying desk anyways and try something different for the area and tide we just fished.
It is Monday now. The sun is out, and the winds are light. The everlasting challenge and determination to catch these elusive bonefish continues, as I contemplate my return to the flats.
In early October, I headed out to the flats in Maunalua Bay, armed with my fly rod and artistically designed flies. I waded out to the flats on the draining tide, right before sunset- that 30-minute window of time where everything turns gold. The golden hour. I was hoping to catch one of the most technical fish to catch on a fly rod in Hawaii: the bonefish. As the tide drained and the once covered sand started to expose itself, the tails and dorsal fins of these elusive predators could be seen swirling through the water.
As I inched closer, still trying to maintain my distance, each fish that slowly crept up and beckoned me to cast in its direction moved a little further, into the deeper water. At that moment, I stopped and waited, allowing the fish to come to me. Slowly, one by one, fish from all different sectors started to slowly make their way to within 10-15 feet of where I stood. Carefully, so as not to shake the water and give away my presence, I slowly stripped them in. One fish meandered off to the right of the fly, not interested. Thinking that my fly wasn’t working, I immediately changed it to a different patterned fly that I had tied the night before.
With a new fly in hand and tied up, the next fish started to swim in slowly, gracefully, now 3 or 4 in the same pack. I casted at them and spooked every fish in that pack. Still maintaining my ground, I stood waiting, not moving, waiting for the next opportunity to cast at one of these bones. It did not take long before the next bonefish came from the Northeast direction of the wind, which made casting at the fish even more difficult. In Hawaii, the trade winds blow from the Northeast at a solid 20 knots. Casting into the wind is important, but even more difficult while fishing during the golden hour on the South side of Oahu.
All of a sudden, a fish is coming at me from approximately 30 feet away. I see it making its way to the sandbar area. The water was getting shallower and its tail was beginning to breach the surface of the water. I cast, hoping not to spook it, and left the fly in place. As soon as it gets a little closer, I slowly strip it in to give it a little bit of life. Sure enough, the bonefish rushes tail up in the water. I hook it, and it screams off in the opposite direction. Within two seconds, the hook breaks loose. This area is swarming with opportunity. The bonefish are there. Hooking them, however, is a different story. With patience, I think to myself, I have to land one of these fish.
I maintain the same area, maybe moving a little left or right, but it doesn’t matter as long as the fish can get in. I change my fly one more time for good measure, as the hook had bent a little during the last hook up. I throw on one of my red flies just in time for the next opportunity. I have about 6 fish swimming together, headed towards a small channel between patches of reef and sand. I cast in the area, leading the fish. All of a sudden, one fish breaks off from the school and rushes the fly. I strip faster, not slowing down. It chases and takes the fly with extreme vengeance. It immediately darts in the opposite direction. With my hand on the fly line, it snaps and I lose another fish, all within the first 30 minutes of fishing for these elusive bones.
By this time, the sunset and come and gone. The golden hour had faded and the sight of fish had diminished to zero. With a few more attempts, two hook ups, and two misses, I consider this a pretty successful day. Although I didn’t land any fish, this is a typical day of fishing here in Hawaii, especially during the golden hour at Maunalua Bay. The excitement of tailing fish backdropped by the stunning scenery of the Ko’olau mountains makes every minute worth it. Watching the last rays of sun brush over the land, illuminating the water, with a fly rod in hand, is the perfect ending to an October day. The hunt for these grey ghosts will continue.
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.