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The flats of Oahu in Hawai'i, harbor some of the largest bonefish in the world... although, Hawai'i isn't your typical bonefishing destination. Read why, how to do it and what you will catch
Not many flyfishers think of Hawai'i as a flyfishing destination, let alone a bonefishing destination. But, Hawai'i offers the fly angler a vast array of saltwater flyfishing opportunity with nothing more than
a shoreline drive and a walk out on the beach-bound flats.
But not every island in the Hawai'ian chain can offer this. In particular, Oahu is well-suited for bonefish, or O'io, as the Hawaiians call the powerfully sleek fish. The gentle sloping flats which start at shoreline extend for a mile at a time and in some cases over a mile out from shore. But there is no need
to walk that far. I made a call to Hawai'i's only flyfishing shop and guide service, Nervous Water Fly Fishers.
My soon-to-be guide and 2-day partner in sampling some of the islands finest Japanese and Sushi restaurants, discussed with me the details of what to expect. Below I share with you an incredible, untapped bonefishing resource, and more importantly, what I learned about the bonefishing in Hawai'i.
Why Hawai'ian Bonefish Habitat is Different
Before I go much further, let me explain why Hawai'ian bonefishing flats are different than typical tropical flats fishing. While Oahu has many flats, they all aren't sandy-pretty with a smattering of seagrasses. Oahu flats are littered with coral beds, some live, most rock-hard and sterile. Between the coral outcroppings lay the deeper sandy channels in which the bonefish travel, much like underwater "highways". Traversing the coral platforms and deeper channels requires balance and agility. It's not a walk in the park like typical sandy flats bonefishing. Yes, and the coral can be quite sharp and dangerous... I know first hand.
Comparing Bonefish Flats - Hawai'i versus Mexico
Left: Hawai'i (notice the coral, lack of sand). Right: Mexico (notice the sand, lack of coral)
Gear to Wear
I'll warn you now: be sure to have some sturdy-soled flats boots. Simple diving booties just won't do and many of the thin-soled flats boots I have seen on the market would be a shredded pile of rubber after you traipsed over the coralbeds and sea urchins all day. If you don't have a pair, I suppose an old pair of high-topped tennis or hiking shoes will do in a pinch. The important thing is to protect your feet and ankles as much as you can, including preventing bits of coral and sand to enter into your shoe. And, don't forget the long-sleeve shirt and light-weight wading pants. They both protect you from the sun and underwater debris. Under your shirt, be sure to lather up well with minimum 15 SPF sun protection. Even during the winter months, the sun is fiercely intense.
Rods, Reels & Stripping Baskets
I was fortunate to not encounter too much wind, but I can see how the wind can be a force at times. An 8- or 9-weight rod with matching bonefish line will be more than ample. I do believe a 7-weight or less is too light. One fish I hooked bent a rather stiff 8-weight St. Croix Legend Ultra flyrod to the cork handle. I have never felt a stiff 8-weight bend in the cork until I hooked into Oahu bonefish!
Certainly, a wide-arbor reel with big-fish drag capabilities will help you slow down the fish and retrieve line faster, but any reel that holds 200+ yards of line along with the bonefish flyline should be adequate as a bare minimum. While I didn't use a stripping basket, it certainly would be a help, particularly when the wind kicks up and the tides are rapidly shifting, where both the tide and wind are drifting your floating flyline from you. in an uncontrollable manner. Also, if your line is worn or you suspect it won't float for a whole day's fishing, a stripping basket is the trick. My flyline started sinking after the second day...not good!...the flyline continually got hung up on coral heads. Suffice it to say the flyline (brand new upon the advent of the trip) was sandpapered and worn after only the second day of usage.
The coral is SO nasty that it will snip a standard mono leader with just one brush-by. While my guide had eventually tied some of his own leaders for use later in the day, he came amply prepared with several tapered flourocarbon leaders from the shop. But these weren't just any tapered leader..these were very stout leaders capable of enduring the rigors of the Hawai'ian coral. Take my word on this: I lost 2 fish for every 1 I landed... all to the periles of the razor-like coral... I'm sure glad Kevin had an ample supply of flies and leader material that he gladly shared with me.
Flies for Hawai'ian Bonefish
Flies & Action
Typical bonefish flies such as Crazy Charlies, Gotcha's and Reef Specials will all work just fine. According to guide Kevin, using tan colors is quite sufficient. Be sure the flies are weighted with lead dumbbell eyes as you will be fishing 2-4 foot coral channels and even sometimes channels up to 6 feet deep. You'll want your fly to get down within 4-5 seconds or so, before you start your stripping action. Chain-bead bonefish flies just don't cut the mustard and are too light. Size 2, 4 and 6 flies are just right... any smaller and the flies don't sink as rapidly is as needed.
While the stripping action of the fly didn't seem to pay particular mind to the bonefish, changing up the stripping action from time-to-time did seem to cause strikes upon the change, but it just may be my opinion and not fact. Guide Kevin changed his from time to time, so it probably pays to listen to the locals!
A Plethara Fish To Expect
There are plenty of surprises while searching for bones. One pesky and rather annoying catch was a nu-nu, or more worldly referred to as cornetfish. They lined up within a meter of my feet waiting for me to strip in my "shrimpy" looking fly, only to ambush it right at my feet. Without fail, I must have caught 20 of them during the course of the day. Again, thanks to my guide Kevin for ridding my hook of the pencil-thin creatures so I could cast quickly to more cruising bones. His ridding 'technique' was more aggressive than mine, but worked much better!
Stay Away Mr. NuNu!
I was fortunate enough to have caught a few trevally as well. In particular, I caught several Bluefin Trevally and White Trevally, also known as the Great Trevally. They put up a stringent fight, rapidly headshaking while trying to pull away, but an 8-weight rod is soon too much and will wear them down quickly. They sure are fun to catch and are not a dissappointment to a slow bonefish day. Guide Kevin told me that catching trevallies is ultimately a good sign as they eat what bonefish eat and travel in similar
styles around the flats. So where there are trevallies, there are bones...and sure enough he was right.
Bones and more bones...
Finding Your Way to Hawai'ian Bonefish Flats
I'm typically one to study-up and research where I want to fish... but I am a mountain trout fisher, where topo's, tailwaters and run-off's mean something. But to a bonefisher, moon phases, trade winds and tide charts are the tools used to find fish. I knew nothing about these, so I took to the internet to find a local guide. I came across the only game in town: Nervous
Water Fly Fishers. Nervous Water is a small & modest flyshop, run by two extremely knowledgeable gents
in the heart of Honolulu. I asked for a guide for two days and fortunately flyshop partner Kevin Faucheaux was available the days I needed a guide.
While I could try to tell you where to go, I honestly can't. I can't remember the names of the bays and beaches we drove to. In fact, I probably couldn't even get back to those same spots if I had my own transportation (Kevin was nice enough to pick me up at my hotel each morning). And even if I could get back, the better destinations require a kayak at a minimum. I have no doubt, however, that if you call or email the shop and ask them whereabouts for good bonefishing around the island, they'd be more than happy to share current information.
But as good flyfishing etiquette, stop by their shop, get a few supplies, swoop up a few of their killer bonefish patterns and chat with them face-to-face. Gee whiz, you don't have to anty up for an expense fishing liscense (since no salt water liscence is required in Hawai'i), so help the shop out! I'm sure they'd be more willing to chat to a real-live face rather than an anonymous phone call or email. I know I would.
So, the next time you and/or your family choose Hawai'i as your next vacation destination, don't forget to pack your fly gear...you'll miss out on a great opportunity if you don't!
Guide Kevin Faucheaux of Nervous Water Fly Fishers
A brief note on why the guide fished...
I am a BIG believer in seeing, watching, learning, then doing. Monkey-See, Monkey Do. I INSISTED that Kevin flyfish with me. This is NOT the usual protocol of any guide service, so don't expect it unless you ask for it; and even then, some guide services have strick rules to never fish with clients, so don't expect it even if you ask for it. Personally, I think this is a poor 'rule'...if I am paying significant money for a guide, I should be able to tell him/her to fish if I so choose!
I stuck close to Kevin's side for the first day, learning how to spot bones and studying his casting and stripping techniques. Not only did I learn much quicker, I also picked up his techniques on using a stripping basket and even tying bonefish-proof knots. I would not recommend this approach, however, for a beginner flyfisher or for your first time at bones. You'll need your guide to tell you how to walk on the flats, spot every fish for you and even correct what you think is a good casting stroke. Plus, it's just darned nice to have someone tie on every leader, every knot, every fly and even take off fish when you ready the camera to capture the moment of success!
Be sure to watch the companion video to this article.