Andrew Bennett has chased trophy fish around the globe with his fly rod in hand, so when he picked the easy access of an undisclosed Hawaiian location for his next bonefishing trip, we knew it would either be really, really good or really, really exotic. It turned out the trip and the location were a little bit of both. In his latest global fishing report, the Sport Shop guide reports from a prime Pacific fishery with a distinct cultural feel, where he saw the biggest bonefish of his life.
Words by Andrew Bennett, Images by Jeremiah Watt
I shook my head as I released a beautiful bonefish on a flat spreading out directly in front of our rented oceanside house. As a former operator of a fishing lodge on South Andros Island, I’d caught more than a few bonefish in my angling career, but none after a Hawaiian Island day that involved remote and lush scenic drives in a rented Jeep, paddleboarding on the Pacific, and a fish tale session over a few rounds of Dark and Stormys. Our exact location was classified, but I have no restriction on saying that the bonefishing was world-class.
Mention bonefishing to folks in the know on the worldwide angling scene, and most thoughts go to the big-time destinations—the Bahamas, Christmas Island, the Florida Keys—or maybe even Cuba in a post-embargo era. There’s a gem of a fishery, though, right smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and one direct flight and a short island hop from Seattle, in Hawaii.
For those new to this coastal angling pastime, bonefish are sleek, silvery game fish that live in the ocean and feed near shore, in water that’s influenced by tidal flow (“the flats”). Since the flats where they spend much of their time are shallow—usually 1 to 3 feet deep—we can target these fish using fly rods, floating lines, and sinking flies tied to imitate the shrimp, crabs, and baitfish that make up most of the bonefish’s diet. Bonefish are a blast on a fly rod because we usually “sight fish” to them—spotting individual fish before we cast—and because they’re incredibly fast and powerful when hooked. O’io, by the way, is the Hawaiian word for bonefish.
For seven years, I ran a bonefishing lodge in the Bahamas, and that experience got me hooked on bonefish, badly. I love that chasing bonefish feels a lot more like hunting than fishing, and I love that bonefishing has taken me to some amazing places with some amazing people. This past fall, I was lucky enough to join an Eddie Bauer exploratory trip to Hawaii, where I saw some of the most incredible things I’ve seen on a saltwater flat. I was blown away by the bonefishing in Hawaii and here’s why.
There are some huge bonefish in Hawaii. Smaller bonefish tend to stick together, often in schools of dozens to maybe hundreds of fish or more. Bigger bonefish tend to travel alone, as singles, doubles, or small groups of up to a handful of fish. More experienced anglers tend to prefer chasing big singles and doubles because they present a much bigger challenge…and everybody likes catching big fish, right?
I saw the biggest bonefish of my life in Hawaii. In my years on the flats of the Bahamas, I got used to seeing trophy-sized bonefish in the 10-pound-plus class. I’ve also been lucky enough to be in the presence of a bunch of 20-pound-plus king salmon in Alaska. In Hawaii, I’m telling you, I saw king-salmon-sized bonefish.
On day two of our trip, videographer Todd Moen and fishing guide Adrienne Comeau and I pulled up on an oceanside flat. Our local guide Captain Clay gave us fair warning: “I’ve seen some big bonefish over here.”
From the skiff we saw movement up near the shore, but we couldn’t get shallow enough in the boat, so it was time to hop out.
The water was exceptionally calm, so we moved slowly, tiptoeing towards the “nervous water.” The fish were moving, but really hard to see in the borderline light. Just as I thought I was getting into the zone, I saw a massive push of water just off my right shoulder and caught a glance of what seemed to be a German-Shepherd-sized bonefish blasting off towards the deep water. Yeah, I took some shots at his tail, and yeah, I chased some of his grand relatives around that flat for the next hour. Bonefish that big are old and smart: since I missed my first shot, I knew the odds were slim to none.
They’re gigantic and they’re really difficult to catch. I didn’t land a big boy on this trip, but I will be back to chase the giant bonefish of Hawaii.
Another amazing thing about bonefishing in Hawaii—it’s in Hawaii!
Hawaii is a land of incredible scenery, beautiful beaches, stunning remote rivers and waterfalls. There’s world-class eco-tourism, kayaking, snorkeling and hiking. If you’re the fancy hotel and spa type, you’re covered. The Hawaiian culture is deep and so is the history of the islands.
The bonefishing in Hawaii may not be well-known, but the offshore fishing is famous for good reason. Tuna, mahi-mahi, blue marlin, striped marlin, wahoo, sailfish…the big boats hit the big water every day.
I’m always on the lookout for places where I can combine a fishing trip with a family trip, and I can’t imagine a better spot than Hawaii. Anglers can choose between flats fishing and offshore fishing and still get credit for taking the family to Hawaii. Everybody wins.
Hawaii is a stunning place, and it’s pretty easy to get to—a piece of cake via a nonstop flight if you live on the West Coast. Lots of people go to Hawaii, and anglers know that lots of people can screw up a fishery…and for that reason, you’re going to have to work a little bit to find the great spots to chase bonefish in Hawaii. They’re not all difficult to get to. On our drive to the airport to fly home, we saw bonefish tailing 20 yards in front of a row of houses, but they’re not all over the Internet either.
So where exactly in Hawaii were we? Sorry, that little nugget is going to cost you a couple of Dark and Stormys.
Check out the sport Shop gear Andrew Bennett utilized in Hawaii, including our new UPF-rated tropics shirts, at eddiebauer.com.
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