Having all manner of opportunity to go to far-flung lands where there are really dumb bonefish, for whatever reason, FFJ Creative Director Jessie Lu and I keep returning annually to the 50th State, where the bonefish are smarter and spookier (and bigger) than a Big Hole monster brown in late August. (This may have something to do with the fact that Hawaiians consume o’io with great relish: da kine fish cakes, brah) But I digress, there is something entirely intoxicating about a land that entranced Mark Twain and Jack London, and literally consumed Capt. Cook.
Situated this time on Kauai, the oldest of the archipelago, we were greeted by a brackish lagoon directly behind the stilt-house rental on the NE side of the island. While Poipu and Hanalei are now fairly flooded with the fanny-pack and SPF 65 crowd, the Eastside from Kapaa to the lighthouse is still largely populated by locals and native Hawiians and dotted with fruit stands, burger shacks and a bazillon feral chickens.
After a few minutes of gazing into turbid waters, large silvery flashes pulsed behind baitfish schools. Having utterly no clue what they were, I began plowing through every option: streamers, poppers and tube flies. Spinners, terrestrials, nymphs. Crabs, shrimp, and even freaking worm patterns (much thanks to Zach at Idylwilde flies for hooking us up). Nothing.
Several days later a friend visiting from the South Shore explained they were tilapia that fed on micro-organisms. Which would explain the clouds of tilapia puke and utter disinterest.
A day later, hitting the first good tide of the trip, I surveyed the beach a few hundred yards from the house. What sand flat there was, also happened to be the domain of three or four bathing children. Some quick physics, and I had convinced myself that positioning fifty yards down the beach would put me well out of casting range and would give any interlopers AKA beachcombers ample time to see me.
A half-dozen casts later and I felt a dreaded halt in my backcast. For the first time in 30+ years of flyfishing, I had hooked a someone (besides myself) and not a something. Turning slowly, wincingly, I saw a distraught young woman in a bikini at the end of my tippet. Her dog looking at her quizzically. Not wanting to add to the chaos, I simply strode to her and calmly, in a sort of Nurse Ratchet voice, said: “It’s ok.” She turned that I might see where the hook had set and thankfully, it was simply embedded in her pony-tail. “Didn’t even puncture,” I tried to calmly assure. She immediately scooted down to the beach, to conclave with the local crew.
At this moment, I assumed this would go down one of two ways: A). Several large Hawaiian gentlemen would come down the beach and pummel me into human poi or B) No one would give a shit because Hawaii is a fishing culture and I was fishing.
The best course of action for myself, seemed to immediately get out in the water and begin casting again fervently like nothing had happened. I kept an eye on the beach posse but was pleasantly relieved to see they were all Haole rastas, and not likely that any would mess up their irie with violent encounters on the sand.
After an hour or so of short chases by juvenille bones, I packed up with the ebbing tide and headed down the beach. In passing the grass awnings and log shelters, one clearly non-Haole woman walked up immediately and began barking: “We no fish like dat here! You cast out the bait, put the pole in the sand and leave it!” I nodded and smiled, happy that this was as heavy as it was going to get.
The next afternoon, I made it to the main sand flats on the East side where larger and more prevalent bones were reputed to reside. And although I didn’t land any bonefish in that gorgeous stretch of $10M hurricane-magnet homes, I did manage to catch a couple of 2-3lb Hawaiian trevally on poppers, that pretty much made me forget about the silver bullets. Beautiful, aggressive and lithe, much like life on the islands.
For the final FF foray, we made our ways south and west towards the Waimea Canyon and a network of 4X4 roads through the tributaries about. With good intell from TU Hawaii’s Louie the Fish, we parked about 45 min down a winding dirt road and began fishing up a crazy Fantasy Island stream of moderately cool water (elevation approx. 4,000 ft). The flow seemed a little slow and the water pretty tannic for trout, neither seemed prohibitive and Louie had fwd’d images of legit redsides 16″ and more. We went higher, passing through stunning island cedar groves and forests of wild ginger, plum and blackberries. Was truly one of the more ethereal streams I have ever not caught trout in.
I think we needed to get up higher in the elevation, but the light would soon be fading and with pig-hunting season in full swing, seemed like the time to get out.
Although a couple of trevally might cause some to see the trip as a moderate fishing endeavor, where else can you go where Spam is deeply worshipped and rusted Toyota pickups have right-of-way over shiny Land Rovers?
And those big, cagey, unwilling bones just make me want it that much more. Christmas Island can wait; give me a plate lunch and an army of feral roosters.
Way upcountry, above Waimea Canyon, plying for rainbows — the fishy kind. Photo: Jessie Lu