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Shore Fishing in Hawaii

Fishing – Hawaiian Style

When people think of fishing in Hawaii, thoughts immediately go to giant Marlin or Mahimahi and while there is excellent deep sea fishing to be found on all the islands, not everyone can afford to spend the $150-300/day that chartering a boat will cost (per person).  Adding insult to injury, in Hawaii, unlike many other places, the “catch” belongs to the boat, not the angler!  So, if you had your sights set on Mahimahi steaks for dinner, the nearest restaurant or fish market would better serve you.  So, check with your charter captain first to see what arrangements can be made on any fish you may catch.

Shore Fishing in Hawaii

This post, however, is on shore fishing in Hawaii.  Many locals are avid shore fishermen and women and pursue their two most favorite fish, the Papio or Ulua (Jack or Giant Trevally) and the O’io (bonefish).  Of course, there are also times and/or seasons for pursuing other island favorites such as the Aholehole, Kumu, Moano, Oama or Weke, Halalu or Akule, Moi, and whatever else may be running.  There are even those who venture out at night, “torching” for “Tako” (aka octopus), both as for bait or to eat.  (“Torching” in Hawaii can be compared to “gigging” on the mainland, where flounder are pursued in the shallows in a similar fashion except not from the comfort of a boat.)

Hawaii is the only coastal state left that does not require a salt-water recreational fishing license, at least not yet.  That does not mean fishing in Hawaii does not involve a full set of rules and regulations covering what, when, where, and even how you can catch your fish.  For example, some of the locals may not be aware of the 10″ minimum size requirement for Papio, or the 5″ minimum size for Aholehole, or the 11″ minimum size and closed seasons for Moi, as is evident by some of the youtube videos being posted.

More than just about anywhere else, fishing in Hawaii is a social gathering.  As much or more attention is given to the “kaukau”, or food that will be brought than to the actual fishing.  Lets just say, it would be fair to say that going fishing in Hawaii often  involves packing the hibachi or full blown gas bbq grill along with the fishing gear.  It can be as fully involved as tail-gating at your favorite football game.

Ulua or GT

Ulua, or Giant Trevally, is probably the #1 sought after fish and devotees join clubs and tournaments in pursuit of 100+ pound fish, a true trophy of a lifetime.  On the eastern seaboard from the mid-Atlantic states into the Gulf region, “jacks” are considered trash fish!  Nobody eats them, very few pursue them, and there are certainly no clubs or tournaments focused on them.   For them to relate, they need to think in terms of red drum and striped bass and the passion that incites to appreciate the status of Uluas in Hawaii.

Their tackle is as specialized as it gets.  King Mackerel fishing from an east coast pier is as close to GT fishing in Hawaii as it gets.  It often involves the same anchor-line pole with a slide-bait technique, however, in Hawaii they don’t use a separate anchor line.  They simply throw out and anchor their lines, then slide down the baited hooks, all on the same pole.

Where the real differences come in is, I have not heard of any King fisherman being pulled to his death off of the end of a pier by large waves, whereas this is unfortunately, a fairly regular occurrence with ulua fishing.

Safety is just one of the reasons for ulua fishing clubs and/or groups existing.  Another reason for such club outings is it is a team effort landing one of these giant fish in the kind of terrain ulua fishing often involves.  Fishing from a sandy beach is the exception, rather than the norm for Ulua fishing.  Rocky shorelines, usually involving cliffs of 20′ or more, are more commonly the battleground for these pursuits.

And, if that’s not enough, these 100+ lb. fish are typically caught at night.

The YouTube ID of 9OXPP_cHKbo#! is invalid.   This video shows the team work involved with landing an Ulua from a typical rocky shore.

Surf Fishing + Tail Gating = Fishing Hawaiian Style

Of course, the biggest reason shore fishing in Hawaii is, as I mentioned before, a social gathering and eating event.  Just as important as what bait will be used is what food will be taken and prepared.  Most Ulua outings involve an overnight stay, so food is required.  But, even if its not going to be an overnight stay, there will be food!  Shore fishing in Hawaii, combines the best of surf fishing and tail-gating and if actual fish are caught, all the better!

However, for every enthusiast that pursues a 100-pound ulua, there are dozens of fishermen and women who are just as happy pursuing the under 10-lb Papio (Jack Crevalle).  They are commonly found in virtually all the Hawaiian waters and eagerly attack both bait and artificial lures presented to them.  Their popularity is such that unlike any other state, there are size and catch limits for these fish.

While commonly eaten in Hawaii, catch & release fishing is becoming more common.  This practice has been helped  along not only by the locals awareness for conservation of this resource, but also due to the Ciguatera toxin that infects many of the ulua found in Hawaii.   Eating an infected fish can cause mild to severe symptoms include gastrointestinal and neurological effects.  That does not take away anything from the sport of catching these great fighters.

O’io or Bonefish Fishing in Hawaii

Fly-fishing for O’io (Bonefish), in Hawaii has only become a “sport” in the last 30-years or so.  The majority of O’io are caught while bottom-fishing using either shrimp or ika (squid) as bait.  And, again unlike Florida fishermen who treat Bonefish as a strictly catch and release fish, in Hawaii, the O’io is excellent for use in making fish cake, popular with the locals.  Catch & Release fishing for O’io is also becoming more and more commonplace, especially with the fly fishermen, but there are many who still pursue them as a food source.

So, the next time you plan a trip to Hawaii, maybe you should check into the local fishing scene and see what’s “running” and see if you can’t get in a little shore fishing time and not have to budget as much as that off-shore fishing excursion would cost.  I will say that there is a near-shore fishing charter that goes just outside of Waikiki and pursues many of these same fish, aimed at the younger family members and is more affordable than a big game charter would be.  Fishing in Hawaii is not limited to chasing 800 lb. Marlin!

Commonly Caught Fish and Their Restrictions

This is by no means an all-inclusive listing, but simply the more commonly shore, hook-and-line caught fish you are likely to catch.  For a more information on regulated areas and species, you can go to the state website: and for the current list of limit and size restrictions, you can go to:

  • Aholehole: No possession limit, min size of 5″ **FL
  • Moi:  Closed season June – August.  Limit of 15 per person/day, min size 11 in *FL
  • O’io/Bonefish:  No possession limit, but minimum size of 14″ **FL
  • Papio/Ulua/Jack Crevalle:  Limit of 20 per person of all species/day, min size of 10″ **FL
  • Weke/Oama: Limit of 50 oama (weke under 7″ **FL) per person/day, no limit above the min size of 7″ **FL
  • Kumu:  No possession limit, minimum size 10″ **FL
  • Moano: No possession limit, minimum size 7″ **FL

**FL – Measure fork length, the straight-line distance from tip of snout to middle of trailing edge of tail.

As always, you are reminded that this information, while believed to be accurate at this time, is not guaranteed and you are encouraged to visit both websites listed above for the latest information.  Fishing rules and regulations are constantly being changed, so what is in effect today may not be tomorrow.  So, if you like the idea of fishing in Hawaii, be sure to check both websites out.

In invite you to visit my other blog,, if you’re interested in seeing more about fishing Hawaiian style.  In addition to videos of fishing in Hawaii, the site includes over 480 of the best east-coast, gulf-coast, and west coast surf-wade-pier-kayak fishing videos from around the internet.  You will also find information on fishing rules, regulations, and licensing on all the coastal states (except Alaska), as well as a link to tide charts for coastal states.  Happy fishing and tight lines!

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