Lay Of The Land
Oahu, known as “The Gathering Place” is the third largest and most populous island in the Hawaiian chain. This volcanic land mass measures 44 miles long and 30 miles across with 227 miles of beautiful shoreline. Until the 1890’s the Kingdom of Hawaii was an independent sovereign nation, recognized by many world powers including the United States. Threats to Hawaii’s sovereignty were made throughout history, but were realized in 1893 when the last monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani was deposed largely by a group of American citizens who opposed the establishment of a new Constitution. The Territory of Hawaii existed from July 7, 1898 until August 21, 1959, when it was admitted to the Union as the fiftieth U.S. state. Oahu has a tropical savannah climate, which has a rain shadow effect suppressing summer rainfall. Sunshine is predominant with temperatures varying little throughout the year, averaging a high of 80 – 90 F and lows of 65 – 75 F.
The city of Honolulu can be described many ways. As the Hawaiian State capital, a major tourist destination, international business hub, military defense centre, and all found in a melting pot of east-west and pacific culture, cuisine and traditions. In the Hawaiian language Honolulu means “sheltered bay” or “place of shelter.” Kamehameha III moved the capital in 1845 from Lahaina on Maui to Honolulu where he and subsequent rulers built their vision of a modern Island centre. Additional matters of unrest such as the large fire of 1900 and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 did not shake the capital. Today, Honolulu is home to the main airport and seaport of the Hawaiian Islands, which acts as a natural gateway bringing in millions of visitors and billions of dollars annually. Federal military is the second largest source of economic activity in this region. Once of paramount importance, plantation agriculture has declined greatly, namely in sugar and pineapple. Farming is still pursued today, but with a focus in the biotech world.
75% of Oahu’s 960,000 residents live in Honolulu making it the largest city in the Hawaiian chain, offering all the things one would expect in any North American urban environment, island style or not. Downtown Honolulu is the financial, commercial, government centre of Hawaii. The Art’s District is on the eastern edge of downtown and Chinatown, the Capitol District is the current and historic centre and of course the tourist base is Waikiki.
The good freeway and interstate highway systems in place have not helped their ranking as having the nation’s worst traffic congestion. With 600,000 registered cars and 1,500 miles of mostly 2 lane roads, avoid gridlock and drive between 9am and 3pm or after 6pm. Public transportation is “TheBus,” operating over 100 routes serving all of Honolulu and most cities and towns of Oahu. If traveling from outside the United States, check into a travel policy to help with any medical emergencies. Review policy conditions carefully to know what you’re covered for. While Hawaii may be separated from the Continental U.S. it still shares the same technologies, luxuries and accommodations as most states on the mainland. Many cell phone companies provide service to the Hawaiian Islands, check with your carrier about fees or roaming charges before leaving home.
Where to Fish
Special thanks to Captain Rick Lee of Bonefish Hawaii for providing the information on where and how to fish in Oahu.
If you are looking for a DIY bonefishing trip that appeals to the hard-core angler and non-fishing partner alike, look no further than Oahu, home of the tourist mecca, Waikiki. A six-pound fish is average here and the opportunity to hook one in the double digits is possible each time out. However, this is not to suggest that hooking a Hawaiian Bonefish is a foregone conclusion. Hawaiian bonefish are some of the largest and most educated you will encounter anywhere so bring some stout leaders and a good dose of patience.
Many of the flats on Oahu are easily accessed via improved Honolulu City and County beach parks that provide easy access, free parking, restrooms and showers to rinse gear and boots at day’s end. A few offshore flats may be reached with rental kayaks, however prevailing conditions should be monitored closely as strong trade winds and large surf are normal in the Islands.
Ala Moana Beach Park – There are a number of flats located near and around Waikiki that may suit the visiting angler “on foot.” Bonefish frequent the reef flats fronting Ala Moana Beach Park, which can be accessed via the ocean-side parking lot at Kewalo Basin.
Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel – Also in the Waikiki area are the flats fronting the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel, where access is gained via the Waikiki Yacht Harbor parking area adjacent to the Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon. Exercise extreme caution in this area, as summertime south swells, and or high tides, may cause dangerous wave action and currents. Both the flats here and those off Ala Moana Beach Park range from calf to waist deep so many anglers resort to “blind casting” a popular, and effective approach, employed by many local anglers. As both these flats are located near Ward Shops and Ala Moana Center, this area has many benefits for a non-fishing spouse or friend.
Waialae Beach Park – Just past scenic icon Diamond Head, is the posh residential area of Kahala. It’s main thoroughfare, Kahala Avenue, crosses a bridge at Waialae Beach Park. A nice flat extends to the South from the parking area showcasing some of the most expensive real estate in the world. Look for sandy channels that bonefish use as “highways” from the outer reef areas onto the inner flats. The prevailing northeasterly trade winds, and sun, generally favor fishing South Shore flats in a down-wind, east to west direction.
Wailupe Beach Park – Travelling East from Waikiki on the Kalanianaole Highway you will find Wailupe Beach Park, near the residential area of Aina Haina. A hard coral flat of approximately one mile stretches southward towards the Kahala Hotel. Wading from the beach’s parking lot in the morning hours puts the prevailing trade winds and rising sun at your back. Again look for numerous sandy channels and slow cruising bonefish.
Kawaikui Beach Park – A mile further along the Kalanianaole Highway is Kawaikui Beach Park. There is good wading in both directions on a mixed bottom of coral and sand. The flat to the east is a bit deeper with excellent opportunities for blind casting. The shallower south side flat may provide better chances for sight fishing. There is generally lots of parking with public showers and restrooms available.
Kuliouou Beach Park – Just before reaching the community of Hawaii Kai, keep a sharp eye out on the ocean side for Bay Street. A couple of blocks in, you will find Kuliouou Beach Park. From here you can access a large flat extending eastward into Maunalua Bay, and south, surrounding Paikoo Lagoon Wildlife Sanctuary. This access will provide you with lots of water to fish and is a favorite spot for local anglers. Accordingly, these big bones can be very tough to fool but are well worth the effort. Tailing fish in skinny water may be available early and late in the day, especially on lower tides.
Kaneohe Bay – A scenic drive around the eastern tip of the Island, or a more direct route through the Pali Highway Tunnels, will take you to the windward areas of Kaneohe and Kahaluu. Kaneohe Bay posses some stunning scenery as well as some of the most productive bonefish flats on the island. The majority of these flats require a boat for access however there are a few that may be reached from shore. A large sand bar, Ahu’olaka, is located near the middle of Kaneohe Bay. Access to this flat, as well as a number of other “pancake flats,” is from Hee’ia Pier by boat. A number of companies offer reasonably priced sandbar excursions on large catamarans that will get you there and back with a few hours to fish. Very few anglers utilize these services so unfortunately you may be the only fisherman on the boat with a number of frolicking girls in bikinis. If you prefer to paddle to these flats yourself, please use extreme caution when attempting to reach any of this water with a kayak. The paddle is a little over one mile each way and very rough seas and strong winds are common. DIY anglers who are not in excellent physical shape may be better served to fish elsewhere or hire a guide to access these areas.
Kualoa Beach Park – Some interesting flats at the north end of Kaneohe Bay are accessed from Kualoa Beach Park. This area is adjacent to the spectacular Kualoa Ranch where many of the scenes from the Hollywood film Jurassic Park were shot. This area may be challenging for fly casting as prevailing northeasterly trade winds blow directly onshore much of the year. Much of this water lends itself to blind casting, as it is generally a bit too deep to see fish tailing
Keehi Lagoon Park – On the south shore of Oahu a system of flats located near the Honolulu International Airport may be accessed via Keehi Lagoon Park. These flats are all reached by boat, once again please use caution with regard to wind, surf and strong currents. At times, tailing fish are available and there are three large flats to wade. There is enough water here for a full days fishing.
Although there are lots of bonefish in the waters surrounding all the Hawaiian islands, the availability of traditional flats and shallow water habitat is very limited. The island of Oahu will provide the fly angler with lots of opportunity, as well as the majority of Hawaii’s best water to fish. The general rule that the harder a destination is to reach, the better the fishing must be, does not hold true in Hawaii. Oahu has the best fly water by far.
Outfits for Hawaiian Bonefish should include a nine foot, #8 or #9 weight setup, with a saltwater taper floating line. A reel with a strong drag that holds at least 150 yards of backing is a must have. Leaders of nine feet tapered to 15lb test fluorocarbon will perform well. A stripping basket may also help to manage your fly line as you wade.
Flies commonly range from size 2 to 8, with the larger patterns generally performing the best. Preferred prey items include a variety of crabs, Mantis Shrimp, and saltwater Gobys. Colors vary from tans to dark browns, depending on the color of the particular flat you are fishing.
Wading in Hawaii is generally over hard coral and marl, interspersed with sandy channels. A good pair of flats boots will serve you well if you plan to spend much time on the water. For many travelling anglers an old pair of running shoes that can be easily packed and discarded at the end of the trip works perfectly. Exercise extreme caution while wading as most Hawaiian flats have live coral areas that can inflict painful wounds on shins and knees. Take it slow and easy, you want to be moving slower than the bonefish you are targeting.
Although Hawaii only experiences a tidal swing of approximately 2.5 feet from high to low, most flats only fish well for a short period during each tides phase. Couple this with gusty trade winds, surf, and occasional cloud cover, and you have a lot to manage. Hawaiian Bonefish generally do not have to move a great distance to access their preferred flats and thus will wait until the optimum tide phase on any given day to move in. Fishing with someone who knows the water well will give you a significant advantage and save lots of valuable time.
Hawaiian bonefish are available throughout the year in good numbers as water temperatures range between 76 and 81 degrees. Cloud cover and wind can be much more of a consideration than time of year, as overcast skies make spotting fish quite difficult.
Renting a kayak or standup paddleboard in Honolulu could not be easier. There are a number of agencies happy to rent by the hour, day or week.
Our number one guide for Oahu:
Captain Rick Lee: www.bonefishhawaii.com
Where to Stay
Oahu is a small island, so everything is convenient. Don’t worry about a central location or being by the airport, go for the experience you want, an ocean view, sheer comfort, “peace and porpoises” near the hub of the Convention Centre or a bed and breakfast and start the hunt. The Internet, sites like VRBO and HomeAway are the ticket.
Honolulu International Airport (HNL), located on Oahu’s south shore is a 10-minute car ride from downtown and 20 minutes to Waikiki. What else can I say; HNL is the largest airport in the state of Hawaii and is serviced by every major airline. From Honolulu you can fly to all of the Hawaiian Islands.
Though small, the best way to get around Honolulu is by car. Rent a car at the airport for the best rates, averaging at $70 per day.
Other transportation options include a good public bus system, serving most of the island and affordable at $2.50 per trip or $25.00 for a 4 day pass which you can purchase at any ABC Store. (www.thebus.com)
The 34 seat open-air Waikiki Trolley is a fun way to travel, stopping at key attractions, restaurants and some hotels along with driver commentary! Tours can be purchased for one, four or seven day passes at $19 – $50 with discounts for children and seniors. (www.waikikitrolley.com)
Taxis are plentiful and convenient but pricey. Fares are fixed, so regardless of the cab company, expect to pay about $30 to get you from the airport to Waikiki or downtown.
7-Day Sample Trip
The fish in Oahu are big, you owe it to yourself to fish with Captain Rick for two days to give yourself the best shot at hooking one of those behemoth’s. On day one, meet up with Capt. Rick for your introduction to Hawaiian bonefish. Day two, leave the family on Waikiki and head to Waialai Beach Park and then head to Wailupe Beach Park. The next day fish Kuliouou Beach Park, looking for tailing fish at low tide. For the fourth day, pack up the family and head to Kaneohe Bay where everyone will have a great day and you can fish some of the best flats on the island. Day five fish Keehi Lagoon Park close to the airport and on the last full day team up with Captain Rick to end the trip on a high note. If you have time on day seven before the plane leaves, fish Ala Moana Beach Park or the flats in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel.
Spousal Rating -9
When you book Oahu, it’s to have a world class tropical vacation where there is no doubt the entire family will have fun and memories to last a lifetime. The fact that the largest bonefish you are ever going to see happens to be swimming outside your hotel balcony is purely a coincidence.
The challenge in Honolulu will be deciding what NOT to do! Great restaurants, beautiful beaches, shopping inside or out, the choices are endless. The Bishop Museum holds the states largest collection of natural history specimens, and the world’s largest collection of Hawaiian and Pacific cultural artifacts. Visit Pearl Harbour and the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, Honolulu Zoo, Waikiki Aquarium a working marine biology lab or one of the many gardens such as Foster Botanical or Lili’uokalani Botanical Garden. Catch a performance by the Honolulu Symphony established in 1900 or support one of the many other theater venues. Not enough to choose from? Walk through the world’s largest open-air shopping centre at Ala Moana Centre, tour Diamond Head a volcanic “tuff cone” made of unconsolidated ash, see natural wonder Manoa Falls or snorkel at the famous Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, known for its beautiful horseshoe shaped sandy beach and clear turquoise waters. And saving maybe the best for last, the beaches! Surf, swim or relax…ahhhhhh!
Bits and Pieces
A friend of mine works at one of the local fly shops and has some great stories about the fish that swim in the waters of Oahu between Diamond Head and Koko Head. Now he only exaggerates about half as much as other fisherman, which in my eyes qualifies him for sainthood. When you ask him about bonefish in Hawaii, he stammers and then begins to whisper; “There are monster bonefish on the southeast side of Oahu, big, solitary alphas that don’t spook easily but are smarter than a sixth grader on Google. I found myself there in the fall under perfect conditions. The notorious winds were absent and the waters were calm as I watched what surely was the mother of all bonefish coming at me, nose down and three rod lengths away. Standing waist deep in water, that fish was feeding on the bottom with its tail out of the water. The distance from my hips to the ground is 36” and the current world record bonefish is 34” long. I cast and he looked. I cast and he looked. He never ate. How big was that fish? Why wouldn’t he eat my fly? Now I know why people need pacemakers. I’m going back this winter.”