“Where are you right now?” I’m standing in the parking lot of a beach park, there’s a homeless dude washing his ass sans shame in the shower and there’s an older couple sitting in their car with two yappy dogs watching the whole ordeal. “I’m not sure you’re at the right place, but the surroundings sound spot on. Did that homeless guy get out of an old white Dodge Ram?” Yes he did, no way, is this the spot? “Yeah man, that’s got to be the place, and the tides are perfect now, is it dead low? It sure was. I stood there at a beach park on Oahu with Captain Colin Huff on the phone as he tried to give me directions to a place I where I was already standing. The tide was dead low and would start to rise within the hour.
I had just returned from a hosted trip to Christmas Island and on my return to Colorado I decided to layover a couple days in paradise. The weather on Oahu is second to none. 80 degrees in the day and 70 degrees at night, a welcome reprieve from the San Juan Mountains as they shook loose the last of the winter. After landing in Honolulu and saying goodbye to the clients who were gracious enough to let me wake them up every day at 4am for the last week I jumped in a little rental hatchback and crashed hard. I had a spot picked out from Google Earth scouting, consulted the tide tables and hatched a plan to be ready to fish by 8:30 am when the tide was dead low and beginning to rise.
Bryce Daviess from Front Range Anglers was on Christmas Island the same week as my trip and over fish stories at Cassidy International on the way out Bryce told me to give Capt Huff a holler when he found out I was going to be on Oahu. It turned out that the flat I’d picked out to fish was the same flat the captain was suggesting. I stepped past the homeless guy who was now passed out in the grass completely oblivious to the insults being flung his way by the old couple and their dogs. This scene looked like it had played out before and the cast was all too familiar with one another. There wasn’t another soul out on the flat.
The flat was hard sand with some very sparse grass and coral mixed in. It was bracketed by deep water on one side and the breakers leading to the open ocean on the other forming an “L” shaped strip of ankle to knee deep water held up by a perfect white sand bottom. The tradewinds blow into Oahu from the East and they are relentless. This particular day they were crushing onto my left ear at 30 knots. The sky was mostly cloudy and visibility was poor at best. I started my walk in ankle deep water that eventually worked its way up to mid-thigh as the tide rose. Bonefish were everywhere and they were huge. That first day I easily had a dozen shots at fish over 8 lbs and I got my ass handed to me on every one. The wind was relentless, the visibility was shit, and the fish didn’t give a damn about my crab pattern. The bones were so big you could see their silver sides glisten in the overcast light as they fed. They were so big you could see them tailing in mid-thigh deep water. All I could manage were a few heartbreaking refusals, but the shots were so plentiful that I knew I was coming back the next day.
That same homeless dude was there the next morning, along with the old couple and the yappy dogs, they were there all three days the entire time I fished. I pulled my 990- SALT out of the hatchback and set foot on the flat with worse sun than the day before but a pleasant breeze of around 15 knots. The wind blows over there. Today I had a plan. Fish the same flat around the same spots where I saw fish the day before, lighten up the tippet, lengthen the leader and change flies on each refusal. I didn’t have to wait long for my first shot. I wasn’t even 100 yards from the car. 1 refusal, 1 fly change. The next fish wasn’t far behind the first. Refusal number 2 and the second fly of the day is tied on. On my fourth fly change I saw a big single bone cruising towards me at about 60 feet moving from the right to the left putting the sun directly into my face. I made a guess at his trajectory and laid the fly down 30 feet out from me and about 10 feet in front of the fish on the line I anticipated him to take. The fly settled onto the bottom and I waited. The fish kept coming on the line I’d hoped for and when he disappeared into the glare where I left the fly laying I hopped the fly once and then saw a tail come up. One strip and he was on and running like a scalded dog. He pulled the backing knot towards the horizon as I did the bonefish dance.
Sprinting after him as he took off to the sound of a sizzling drag, then back-peddling with the rod held high overhead while frantically cranking to get the line back onto the reel. My heart pounded through 4 rounds of this choreography until I finally had him close enough to grab hold of his tail that was larger than both of my hands. The fish was unbelievable, 29 inches from the nose to the fork of the tail with a girth so large that I couldn’t get both hands around him with my fingertips touching. His eyes were bigger than mine and I am not kidding when I say I could put my hand in his mouth. I struggled through a couple awkward snap shots while he was in the water before I watched him slip slowly out of my hands and back into the house of mirrors he came from. I may never get a shot at another bone of this quality the rest of my fly fishing life. I was in awe. I was there alone with my thoughts, my rod and my recently eaten home tied shrimp. I felt such an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the opportunity and accomplishment of catching such a worthy opponent. It was one of those moments when all the hard work and hope and day dreams come to fruition in the form of a fish that sends your spirit soaring. I felt like I was the best angler in the world at that moment and I had done it all, all by myself.
I fished the remainder of the incoming tide and I got two more eats. One fish ate 20 minutes after the one I landed. He made a long run deep into the backing as I was in a panic of wrapped line and tripping flats boots before he doubled back and I felt the rod die in my hands. The third fish that ate I flat out farmed him. No excuses, I just pulled the fly right out of his mouth 20 feet off the tip of the rod. That fish was the only one that charged over and ate the fly like a proper gentleman and I set the hook like a proper dumbass.
I came back to the spot the last morning of my trip to an average 15 knot wind and a completely gray-bird overcast day. I couldn’t see into the water 10 feet in front of me. It drizzled rain and I got shots at tailers in the dismal light, none of which I was able to connect with. As I walked back to the rental car I talked to a local guy who was doing a great impression of a blue heron while carrying a cast net. He told me he was after Oi’o, the native Hawaiian word for bonefish. It turned out that Hawaii is practically the only place left where locals still seek these fish out for food. At first this rubbed me the wrong way, why would someone set out to kill one of these awesome fish that by all reports are pretty damn unpalatable. Using cast nets to catch these shallow water fish is a centuries old practice on the island and Oi’o are a local delicacy. They filet the fish and then use a spoon to scrape the meet away from the bones then place the meat into a bowl with lomi tomato (a traditional Hawaiian dish with diced tomato and sweet maui onion), Chinese parsley, a little rice vinegar and Hawaiian sea salt. After mixing they make them into little balls and serve them with Bud light. I didn’t have any myself but getting to hear about the process and see first-hand a local custom from an uncle with a thick Hawaiian accent was a foreign experience I got to share with a lifelong US citizen on US soil.
The DIY fishing on Oahu couldn’t be easier for the angler who is willing to wade through Japanese tourist couples in matching outfits and Brazilian thongs on tanned and toned local surfing chicks. Rental cars are a little expensive due to Hawaiian automobile taxes and a higher than Colorado fuel cost. The traffic is unreal, and most of the tourists that visit Honolulu have clearly never been behind a steering wheel before. Once you’re out of the city and away from the tourist mecca of Waikiki it’s pretty easy to navigate. The island of Oahu is dotted with beach parks offering free parking and public showers to rinse off gear. I stayed just on the outside edge of Waikiki at a nice hotel for $100 a night. There was a tapas bar across the street, serving up local seafood and cold long necks, the beach was two blocks away and the people watching was second to none. The bikini bottom scene on Waikiki is something to be held and not to be missed.
If you decide to make the trip to Oahu or find yourself with a day or two on the front or back of a trip to some other far flung Pacific paradise, take a day to go and do some exploring. There is a lot of water that is accessible via a rental car or you can maximize your time by booking one of a number of captains that call the island home. These guys utilize flats boats to get to flats you can’t reach from the shore and tend to be inhabited by bones that aren’t quite through graduate school like the bones residing on the flats reached by foot. I liked fishing a 9 weight to combat the trade winds, but a fast action 8 weight would get the job done. There’s also a full service fly shop in downtown Honolulu called Nervous Waters. It’s as down home as a fly shop gets, a hole in the wall in the back of Chinese restaurant. They offer walk and wade flats trips as well as trips to catch peacock bass in Lake Wilson. They have an incredible selection of local flies all tied by the guys that work there and they carry Sage fly rods and reels. I’d go back to Oahu just for the bonefishing. If you’re the type of angler that likes a challenge and appreciates the reward of fooling a big smart strong fish this is right in your wheelhouse. Three days, three eats, one bonefish of a lifetime landed. I’ll take those numbers all day and twice on Sunday.