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Fishing Hawaii

My name is Mark Pilger and, with my good friend and fishing partner Patrick Shinsato, I kite fish from cliff tops and rocky shores in Hawaii.

I have fished for years with Pat and I always took along a pocket parafoil kite with a simple hand reel.

It never worked very well. The hand reel was a hassle, and the parafoil kite, although easy to launch and store, did not perform well in varying wind speeds. On one final trip my original parafoil stretched and frayed to the point that it would not fly right, and two others spun out and were lost in the ocean.

That's when I began the search for a suitable kite, one actually designed with fishing in mind. Somewhere in there, I actually caught a fish, a 15 lb Omilu, and Pat's skepticism began to change to guarded curiosity with a wait and see attitude.

Hawaiian Fishing - The Trade Winds

We fish here in Hawaii where the trade winds are generally pretty strong. Two major improvements followed. I got a real fishing kite or two and I got a kite reel. The two kites were a square AFTCO kite and a Paul's Flexiwing kite. The kite reel was a Penn Fathom Master downrigger mounted on a piece of angle iron similar to a rod spike for mounting in the sand or lava.

After that I built a tripod out of steel water pipe and secured it to the lava with an expanding lag bolt and a tie-down strap.

Pat became a convert and one-upped me with a heavy duty tripod and an electric reel for retrieving the kite.

Each type of kite has its own merits.

Paul's Fishing Kites Flexiwing Kite

The Flexiwing is more stable in changing wind conditions and lifts higher but they can be difficult to tack at a severe angle.

AFTCO Fishing Kite

The AFTCO kite is extremely stable when tuned and matched to the wind speed and it pulls like a horse, but it is difficult to launch and can become unstable if the wind speed changes. As the wind picks up the AFTCO flies lower and lower as the sticks bend until it squats down on the water, or it may begin to spin if the two crossed sticks are not equally flexible. Getting it in if the wind comes up can be a problem.

Hawaiian Fishing Tackle

I should point out that we seem to fish in a different way here in Hawaii than you do in New Zealand in that we use a fishing line separate from the kite line. We put a release mechanism 50 to 100 feet below the kite. The release incorporates a small pulley sheave and so operates as both a pulley and a release.

Setting the Fishing Rig

Hawaiian Fishing Rig

Above : We get the kite flying and hook our fishing line into the release. Keeping the hook on shore, we let out a bunch of line on the kite, and twice as much line off the fishing reel, since the fishing line must go from shore out to the release and back to shore.

We then bait up, toss the hook in the water, and let out more kite line. This drags the baited hook off shore to deeper water and even lifts it clear of the water if you let out too much kite line too quickly. You can control this by carefully letting out fishing line as you let out kite line so that your bait stays in the water but near the surface as it goes off shore.

The Fishing Rig When Deployed
Fishing Hawaii

The effect is like a 500 yard outrigger. A certain amount of weight and drag on the reel is necessary to keep the fishing line tight while letting the bait drift naturally. Also, due to the volcanic origins and tropical climate of the Hawaiian Islands the bottom is usually coral or lava.

We must keep our hooks off of the bottom. To accomplish both objectives I use a boat fender as a floater. It is heavy enough to keep good tension on the line but still light enough to be lifted clear of the water if I choose.

It has a fair amount of buoyancy but not too much hydrodynamic resistance. You might think that resistance is good, but too much is not good, or else fishing reels wouldn't have provision for letting out line.

Fishing Rods And Reels, Line and Tackle

In my case I have a 6 foot trolling rod and a Penn Senator 6/0 reel with 800 yards of 80 lb test Spectra. I put 50 to 100 yards of 80 lb test mono on the end for the weight and windage and because I think it is safer for anyone who might encounter the vertical line going up from the floater to the kite.

Hanging below the floater I have a 200 lb test leader 20 to 40 feet long ending in a 14/0 or 16/0 circle hook. I usually have a foot or two of wire at the hook, but sometimes not.

I caught a 35kg yellowfin with no wire leader but the 65kg one hit on a hook with a wire leader. I have been cut off several times when not using a leader, either by sharks, barracuda, or wahoo.

I have tried much longer leaders but they only get stuck on the bottom and they are much more difficult to handle. When everything is sized correctly for our favorite spots, I can crank everything in until it is just offshore, then crank in on the bait alone.

If the leader is short enough I can lift the bait to the surface and see whether it is still alive, then decide whether to send it back out or haul everything in to re-bait. At one spot there is a rocky outcropping at water level that I can plop the floater onto. By slacking the fishing line way off, I can send the kite back out a ways while my leader slowly sags against the steep underwater topography.

If I am quick I can scamper down, grab the leader, toss the floater back in, and haul in the leader while the floater heads back out to sea. I am then left with the hook ready to bait and a steady seaward pull ready to take it back offshore.

Big Fish and Broken Lines

I have had a large fish, probably a yellowfin tuna, break the 200 lb test leader connecting the hook and the floater as he headed to the bottom at high speed.

Admittedly it was at a crimp that may have been weak, but we are clearly talking about forces far in excess of the 7kg buoyancy of the fender. With this rig we generally target fewer and larger fish than I read about in the reports from New Zealand.

We use only one hook per rod, with a live bait when it can be obtained. The fish targeted are usually ulua (giant trevally), omilu (blue trevally), and uku (gray snapper). More rarely we catch mahimahi (dorado or dolphin fish), ono (wahoo), or ahi (yellowfin tuna).

We have yet to catch any billfish, but they have been caught in the areas we fish by others using an inflated garbage bag to hold the line offshore. Personally, I tend to focus more on the offshore species, since they are most highly prized as food and because of the sport aspect of it.

This means I catch few fish, but I have landed some impressive ones on kites including a 7kg gray snapper, a 24kg giant trevally, a 35kg yellowfin tuna (photo below) and a 65kg yellowfin tuna.

Yellowfin Tuna

I have also caught a few other nice sized size giant trevally and blue trevally and three sharks in the 25 - 50kg range. I have gotten two other strikes from what I believe were yellowfin tuna due to their powerful runs and tendency to dive deep, but they broke off. I have been cut off several times by toothy fish such as wahoo or barracuda.

Tiger Sharks

The first yellowfin tuna I caught was followed to shore by a very large tiger shark that fortunately didn't close in for the kill and the second was exhausted and ended up with the leader tangled on the bottom in about 40 feet of water right at the base of the cliff we were fishing off from.

It sounds stupid now, but at the time I was desperate to get the fish, so after carefully checking for sharks I went in with my spear gun and shot it. I then cut the leader and we hauled it up.

It was the sight of a lifetime to see that silver torpedo below me in the water, particularly since it was as big as I was.

Catching Small Fish - the Best Bait

We do sometimes use the kite catching smaller fish. This is accomplished by lowering down a string of flies or glow-worms from the kite at night and bouncing it vertically off of the bottom.

The fish we catch are Menpachi (a red squirrelfish with large eyes) and Ta'ape (Blue-striped snapper, native to Tahiti). We are always hoping for Akule (Big-eyed Scad) or Opelu (Mackerel Scad) but so far we have not caught them with the kite.

We use all these fish as bait for the larger fish. We also catch wrass and rockfish in tide pools. Surprisingly, tuna and other offshore fish have been caught on these reef fish.

The Akule and Opelu are the best bait, hands down.

Jigging With Kites

One last way I have used the kite is to carry a lure offshore. I lower it to the bottom and then crank it back up as fast as I can. It is like deep jigging from a boat. I actually had a strike once but I lost it.

I thought that the lure had reached the release and I stopped reeling. Just then a fish jumped under my kite and the resistance was gone.

It is almost impossible to see the bait or lure hanging below the kite 200 to 400 meters offshore, or to tell when it has reached the surface. That is another good reason to have a good-sized floater.

The Fishing Float

As I said, we use the floater to hold the bait in the water against the lift of the kite as well as keep it from going to the bottom.

It can be a four liter plastic container partly filled with water or anything else that is heavy enough and floats. The main line runs from your fishing rod to this floater.

Fishing Tales

It's been a while since most of my triumphs, but let me describe a couple of actual scenarios.

The first fish I ever caught struck near the end of the day on which we were leaving. At that time I used a hand reel and a parafoil kite. I had cranked in on my bait and consequently my rod was bent down.

It was approaching dusk and we were struggling with getting our vehicle started. Like a true fisherman I had left my pole out until the last minute, but I had not been paying attention to it. During a break I looked up and saw that the rod was standing straight up.

I investigated and discovered that it had released from the kite line and there was a dead blue trevally of about 6kg on the end.

The next fish was a 25kg giant trevally. By now I was using the "up-rigger" for a kite reel and a Flexiwing kite. I had cranked the fishing line in enough so that the line was quite tight and the kite was held fairly low as it struggled to lift the floater.

I had again turned my back on the gear and was busy trying to keep our saltwater pump running for the live bait tank. After 20 or 30 minutes I looked up to check on my floater, but could not find it. Puzzled, I climbed to the top of the cliff where my rod was, only to find two neighboring fisherman Ed and Randy busily cranking in on my reel.

Ed had been describing to Randy the principle of operation of the system as he saw it when Randy asked "so where is the floater"? Seeing the kite unusually high overhead, they looked at my pole and saw it bent over with line coming off.

They called for me for several minutes before taking things into their own hands. From then on it took several more minutes of steady cranking before the floater came to the surface. I wish that I had seen the strike since even now I am still curious about how low the kite gets before the release snaps and things like that.

In both this case and the case above, there was not much line out and the fish was able to cause a release. We landed the fish and I stowed it in the bottom of the cooler where Pat found it when he returned from a trip for ice and drinks.

The next major catch again occurred while Pat was out getting ice and picking up a third member of our party, Frank. Pat had caught a 15kg yellowfin the previous day. It was the first fin' we had caught and perhaps I was a little jealous.

Well, I got a good sized strike while I was actually holding the rod in my hands. The gear was deployed over a shallow reef area, since the wind had swung and had a strong along the beach component. It was really a thrill to feel that surge of power from what must have been a large fish. Unfortunately the line suddenly went slack. I had used a large but light gauge limerick hook that had straightened under the load.

I suspect that it was a large giant trevally.

Anyway, in this case the release did not let go because I had pulled the kite halfway back in and the pull was not straight down but was more like a guitar string being plucked. Undaunted, I re-rigged my line while I waited for the wind to swing back offshore.

I baited up with a live waha nui (a small bronze colored snapper with a large mouth) and sent the Flexiwing out again, dragging the floater and the hapless live bait behind it.

Pat's joviality over his yellowfin came back to me, this time tinged with an imagined hint of condescension, as I sent the gear far offshore to the deepwater realm of the pelagics. The waha nui maintained his lonely vigil for at least an hour before his tour of duty was terminated with extreme prejudice. I didn't see the floater go under but I was passing near the rod when it went off with a continuous scream from the reel. I grabbed the rig and tightened the drag.

The fish took some more line continuously, then intermittently, and then I began to gain line back. Two other fishermen, Ross and Kahana, stood by ready to help. One cranked in on the kite until the release was only about 30 meters offshore. We all thought it was a yellowfin tuna because of the blistering run and lack of jumping.

Surprisingly, as the fight progressed the fish came in easier and easier until I was just cranking continuously. After what seemed like an eternity but was probably more like fifteen minutes we saw the floater on the surface. Soon after we saw the fish on or near the surface with other fish close behind, leading us to suspect it may be a mahi mahi after all.

The floater reached a point just under the release and I jerked the rod to free the line. I still had had well over 500 meters of line out and my arm felt like it was going to fall off from cranking, but I redoubled my efforts when we realized that the "other fish" was really one big tiger shark.

Fortunately Ross and Kahana sprang into action and managed to snatch the big yellowfin from the shark. It was a beautiful fish and an awesome experience. We bled the fish on the rocks, carried it up to the vehicles, and put it in a fish bag with some ice.

I called Pat on his cellular but got no answer. I left the message "Get more ice." Pat and Frank soon arrived. Pat knew something was up from my message. His jaw dropped as we unzipped the bag and exposed foot after foot of gold and silver torpedo.

Other Catches

There have been some other smaller fish, but the last two are most noteworthy. The last day I fished, I had gotten my line tangled with the fisherman on the next point over.

A short while later, I heard him whistling. I scanned the sea to see whether we were tangled again, but could not even see my floater. I finally located it far off to the left. After what was pound for pound a very fierce battle we landed a bull mahimahi of about 13kg.

The mahi seemed to maintain his strength all the way to the gaff and then some. The fisherman from the next point had seen it jumping and was trying to alert us.

At this point Pat broke out the flags that charter boats carry to indicate what gamefish have been caught. We proudly hoisted the mahi flag.

I re-baited with one of our last akule and sent him out to patrol the deep ocean ledges about 500 meters offshore. Actually he was down only 40 feet at most but there was blue water underneath him. We all settled in for another long wait.

One can spend countless hours gazing out at the ocean while waiting for the fish to bite. I was sleeping and Pat was standing watching our floaters scattered across the sparkling ocean a couple of hours later when he noticed fish jumping near my floater.

Suddenly there was an explosion of activity as the fish scattered and my floater went under. Within seconds the reel was screaming (I leave my drag really loose). I groggily got up and began stumbling to my rig across the lava before I realized that I was barefoot.

I quickly donned my boots and ran to the rod. I could tell right away that this fish was the biggest yet. He kept taking line for perhaps half a minute, although increasingly slowly. After that came several minutes of give and take during which time he must have been going in a big circle as he fought the floater, because sometimes I would gain line only to lose it again.

This went on for perhaps 10 to 15 minutes, at the end of which I was gaining line consistently. Many minutes more followed as I dragged the reluctant yellowfin towards shore. As with the 35kg fin', this one was coming along really easily at the end.

It turns out that he was almost dead at that point and he may not have been able to turn away from the rocks at the end. At any rate the line went straight down along the drop-off. We couldn't pull it up and we had not yet seen what was on the line. At that point I grabbed my dive gear and jumped in.

You can imagine my shock and awe as I got my first look at the mighty fish below me. The fish was not moving but I was determined to use my spear gun. The spear did not stick on the first shot so I had to try again while Pat and another friend paced back and forth at the edge of the water.

The second shot held. I cut the leader and began dragging the fish up, passing the line to Pat. I can't really explain what we did next. We dragged the fish up to the vehicles and videotaped it.

We weighed it crudely using two hand held scales. The head scale said about 95 lbs and the tail scale said about 50 lbs, for a grand total of 145 lbs. We then proceeded to cut it up.

We didn't realize that the state of Hawaii recognized separate records for fish caught from shore. We knew that the record for yellowfin tuna was over 300 lbs but we didn't realize that we would have claimed the state record for a yellowfin tuna caught from shore.

I cut open the stomach to see what he had been eating. There was the skeleton of a ballyhoo, some squid beaks, and several small orange crabs as well as other unidentifiable matter.

I can't imagine where the crabs came from. Anyhow, that brings us up to date. It's been a year since all this happened but next week we are going back to try our luck again.

Good fishing! Mark and friends


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