While Hawaii has both fresh and saltwater fly fishing opportunities, it is not widely considered to be a world class fishing destination.
Oahu has limited inshore habitat, a large human population, and intense fishing pressure. More than a century of essentially unregulated harvest has impacted the reef eco-systems and severly depleated most saltwater fish populations, particularly the larger species. In Hawaii people go fishing to catch food, and the concept of catch-and-release is practiced by a slim minority of recreational anglers.
With the right tackle and realistic expectations, it’s really not too difficult to be pleasantly suprised.
Most fly fishers consider the conditions here to be pretty tough, as 15 to 25 knot tradewinds are typical. Sight-casting can be marginalized by cloud cover or the angle of sunlight as it changes with the seasons.
If you intend to fish the inshore salt, an 8 to 10 weight rod and a saltwater safe reel with 200 yards of backing is ideal. A full floating line will work in almost every shallow water situation, but it is also good to have an intermediate and sinking line handy, depending on where you fish. 9-12 foot tapered leaders and tippets in 10-16 lbs. class are sufficient.
Proven flies include xmas island specials, small clousers, reef specials, charlies, and hula shrimps. Most other standard bonefish patterns will also work. It is easier to fish smaller flies due the weather, and because they allow you to catch a wider range of fish. Other gear you will need includes, flats boots, polarized sunglasses, sunscreen and appropriate sun clothing. There is no saltwater license in Hawaii.
Freshwater gamefish on Oahu and Kauai include Peacock Bass, Largemouth, and Smallmouth Bass. There are also bluegill, catfish, and various species of cichlid available. There is also limited trout fishing on Kauai. Freshwater fish populations are healthier than in the salt, since the reservoir on Oahu is catch and release only for the bass and peacocks. You will need a license to fish the freshwater.
Freshwater tackle include standard trout/bass gear in the 4 to 7 weight range. Reels do not need much backing. Small streamers and poppers work well for bass, peacocks, and bluegill. The lake is almost entirely tree-lined with very limited bank access and is better fished by a boat.
Louie De shows off a Hawaii bonefish caught from shore.
Even though I lived and fished Hawaii for a decade in the 60’s and 70’s, I didnt start fly fishing for bonefish until 4 years ago, when as an advisor from American Samoa for the Fisheries Counsel, I would get periodic free junkets to Honolulu to attend meetings. At first I couldn’t catch a bonefish to save my life, but saw plenty. I saw enough in fact to start abandoning my ideas of sightfishing, and just wading and wading, covering lots of productive looking water by making a zillion long blind casts, and using a sexy, nymphing-like retrieve to keep the fly just above the bottom. And bang , I got my first strike, watched 200 yards of backing sizzle off the reel, and eventually landed a nice 26 incher, about 7 pounds!!
This approach I perfected over the next two years, discovering many hot spots in the process where I almost always got a strike, sooner or later. I would thrash these spots an hour or longer. Now, not wanting to give away any top secret guide spots, let me just say this. Oahu has many great flats areas. The area all the way from Diamond head to Koko head is basically one huge flat miles long. But an angler can walk all over it and not see many bonefish, unless you know by experience where to look, and have “bonefish eyes”.
It takes a lot of looking to be able to spot bones in varying light conditions, and the flats here are more thigh deep rather than shin deep. In my experience, I look for bones cruising more over the dark bottom areas, where there is a lot of spongy weed, reddish brown in color. I also look for high spots, reddish humps where the bottom comes up to shin deep or so with deeper water, maybe waist deep, all around, and stay there awhile casting and looking. You will also discover the wind here almost never quits, so, dont fight it, use it, to make super long downwind casts. For some reason, I get most strikes right out at the end of the cast.
A shooting basket is a must. These days I spend more time stalking slowly around, light permiting, looking for sight fishing shots, line coiled in the basket ready to fire. I also gave up on tapered leaders, too many break-offs, and now use 15 to 18 feet of straight 15 to 18 pound flourocarbon. I use cheap 10 weight fly rods, NZ makes like CD or Kilwell, or some I got off the internet for $ 27 each, and a weight forward, preferably white, floating line, and a good large arbor reel with at least 250 yards backing.
Flys dont matter all that much, but since the water is generally not that deep, use only lightly weighted sink chain eye stuff, size 6 to 4. Borski sliders, tan Crazy charlies, and Bonefish Biters for sitefishing , will get you going.
How good is the fishing here? I think its great, but I dont like the easy, fish-in-a-barrel, “world Class Fishery” stuff. I like a challenge. My best day is about 7 or 8 hooked, but 5 landed. My biggest is a 31 incher, maybe 13 pounds. I release all and tag some. I have pals who have really scored much higher, on the right day. One guy I know landed 43 in a day. Another guy I know landed a 37 incher, about 18 pounds plus, well over the Fly world record!! Some days you only see a few, and some days you might see schools of 50 or more. 2 hours either side of low tide is best.
Oahu has the best bonefish grounds, but lots of fishing pressure and the locals eat everything. Molokai has only 7 thousand people, huge hardly fly fished flats on the east end, around the 10 to 18 mile mark, and Kauai at one time produced an all tackle 18 pound world record. Commercial fishers on Molokai reckon they net 25 pound bones frequently!! The other islands need more exploring with the fly, and some dont have good flats conditions.
I was a fly guide in Turangi, NZ, for 15 years, so I naturally guide here too, part-time (ph 808 741 5622). I use a kayak to get to some good flats. Sometimes I guide for Ollie at Shoreline Adventures
(www.bonefish808.com). I also carve very cool fish pendants and Hawaiian hooks from bone and pearl shell, so have a squiz at my website at www.louiethefish.com! Hope to see you here one day!! Mahalo, Louie the Fish!
Thanks to Louie De (firstname.lastname@example.org) for permission to reproduce this article on TotalFlyFishing.com. Louie is a part time guide and a full time fish carver in Honolulu. He has written articles on fly fishing for Hawaii Fishing News, was a fly fishing guide in New Zealand for 15 years. He is also a 7 time IGFA world fly rod record holder and am a member of Hawaii TU. If you are interested in fly fishing for bonefish in Hawaii, contact Louie at (808 741 5622), or check out his website at www.louiethefish.com
Hawaii Fishing Articles & Resources
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Fly Fishing Hawaii: Big Island
Shoreline fly fishing on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Hawaii Bass Fishing
Hawaii Shorefishing Report
…flyfishing has a place in Hawaii’s waters…
3434 Waialae Ave, Honolulu Hawaii 41231 808-734-7359
Hawaii has both fresh and saltwater opportunities. Saltwater opportunities include Trevally, Bonefish, Barracuda, Ladyfish