Fishing for Bonefish in the Hawaiian Islands
When I visited Hawaii a few years back it wasn't as a planned fishing trip...at least not there. I had decided to stop over for a bit on my way to Christmas Island, which is where I would be spending a month chasing bonefish and Giant Trevally. Once I landed at the Lihue airport I quickly realized there was just too much water here to pass up, plus fishing was already on my mind (and I had all my gear). My girlfriend and I came from Alaska where we had just spent nine months raising and spawning salmon, so was looking forward to forgetting about fish for a while. Luckily, we were able to compromise and Hawaii allowed for some quick fly fishing outings that didn't interfere or alter our already made plans.
Most of our time was spent on the island of Kauai, but we did spend a few nights in Honolulu as well. Usually, once we made it to our location – either a beach or stream – we would spend time snorkeling or exploring. I would try to bring a rod everywhere, just in case there was some down time to throw a few flies. While the bonefishing had to wait for for the second leg of the trip, we did spot some near Waikiki that gave us a great glimpse into their world (they were in a marine park and off limits to anglers).
Here, bonefish are the most sought after species for fly anglers, and Hawaii has some of the largest you can find. They are more known for the quality rather than the quantity, each one spotted having the potential to be the fish of a lifetime. Nicknamed “the ghosts of the flats” for a reason, they can be extremely difficult to see through the water. They can also be very spooky, making it a challenge to spot and then get close enough for a cast. Our trip to Waikiki proved how camouflaged they can be, but once you see the first one it helps adjust your eyes and know what you are looking for. Typically, they are fished from a boat with a guide who has a trained eye to spot the slightest movement or shadow. Once spotted, a fly fisherman usually only has one or two chances to make a good cast and entice an eat – which due to the difficulty is a very rewarding experience. If successful, be ready for some excitement as these fish are strong and extremely fast. Bonefish will dig in the tidal flats for shrimp and crab, so flies should imitate these food sources.
While bonefish may be the most sought after species, there are many other saltwater fish that can be caught by simply wading out and casting a baitfish fly. Try to find somewhere that is somewhat protected as getting beat up by the waves can get old after a while. The best part about fishing the reefs is that you never know what you might catch. There are a variety of reef fish and some larger predators like barracuda and Giant Trevally that patrol these food rich environments. Giant Trevally and barracuda are apex predators and will chase baitfish into the shallows, usually timing their feeding with the tides. I've seen Giant Trevally so big in such shallow water their back is sticking out of the water. Other, smaller trevally species are present which are more common, but no less impressive. Trevally can have great colors and are all fun to catch.
If you're more comfortable staying in freshwater, you're in luck. On Oahu and Kauai there are multiple bass species, including the peacock bass. Hawaii and southern Florida are the only places in the United States that this specific bass species is found in the U.S (they can also be found in South America). Pound for pound they have a reputation of being one of the hardest fighting fish in the world. They can be found in rivers and lakes and because they are predators, small baitfish flies are recommended. The smallmouth and largemouth bass fishing can be good also.
Hawaii may seem like it only offers warmwater fishing, but surprisingly you can catch trout here as well. You may not catch the largest specimens but you will be doing it in one of the most exotic locations. I recommend checking out Waimea Canyon on Kauai. Called “The Grand Canyon of Hawaii” the views alone make this a worthwhile destination. You will need to drive down into the canyon to find the fish, but make sure to take in the sights from the rim beforehand. The roads can be rough, and if it has rained recently they can be extremely muddy. We made the mistake of trying to take our rental Corolla and didn't make it too far down before needing to turn around. Here in the headwaters you will find small rainbow trout that will eagerly take a dry fly or a nymph. The trout are not native to the island, but in the canyon they are now a self sustaining population. Some of the other islands in Hawaii also have trout populations, but make sure to pay attention to the regulations and seasons if listed.
Fly fishing in Hawaii can be done year round, but each species will behave a little differently depending on the season and water temperatures. As a rule of thumb, winter will be the slowest time, but that doesn't mean there aren't still fish around. My visit was in January and I was able to still catch some fish around the reefs. Weather wise, no matter the time of year make sure you bring some sunscreen. Winter and spring will have more rain showers, and they can be intense but usually not long lasting and very localized.
Laying on a beautiful sand beach, enjoying the sunshine and a drink is reason enough to visit. But if you're looking for something a little different, consider taking some time to do some fly fishing.