Fishing in Hawaii is more than a hobby. It’s a deeply rooted part of local culture, a critical source of sustenance from the moment these Islands were first occupied. There are those, especially in the Native Hawaiian community, who still today depend on the ocean for much of their family’s daily food, perpetuating the lifestyle of their ancestors.
It’s also an honored way for both locals and visitors to relax, pass the time with friends and enjoy the thrill of the catch, just as it is everywhere. Still, it’s important to understand that in Hawaii, it’s not just a sport or pastime. It’s a way of life, so a healthy amount of respect must be part of your approach to our waters and your fellow anglers.
That respect should also extend to the rules and regulations Hawaii has put in place. That all begins with the first question new arrivals always have – What kind of license do I need to fish in Hawaii?
FISH LICENSES IN HAWAII
The good news is you don’t need a license for recreational saltwater fishing in Hawaii. The slightly bad news? If you want to try your luck in the freshwater options on Oahu or Kauai, you will need one for that. Don’t worry. It’s easy to get and you can do it quickly on Island or even online. Here’s how.
The link below will take you to not just a list of local locations that issue licenses, but also an order form to get your license going right now. After all, why wait?: Hawaii Freshwater Fishing Licenses.
Now that we’ve got that taken care of, what about these regulations? What do you need to know?
HAWAII’S REGULATED FISHING AREAS & SEASONS
Even if you don’t fall in the license-required category, you’re not ready to cast your line in just yet; it isn’t that simple in a delicate ecosystem like Hawaii’s. To preserve the fish population, many areas are strictly regulated by seasons, number of catch allowed and the sizes of nets you can use. Here’s an example.
Did you know the Waikiki-Diamond Head shoreline is open to fishing only in even years? So if it’s an odd year, you’ll have to stick to swimming and surfing in these waters.
Or in the case of the ‘Ama’ama, or striped mullet, it has a statewide season that runs from April to November. Any other month and you gotta throw ’em back.
Hawaii has also established Sanctuaries that carry heavy fines for anyone violating them. Fortunately you can learn exactly where those are, plus all the regulations you’ll need to follow in certain areas on each Island through the links below. Lucky for you, it’s all laid out clearly. Just go to the Island you’ll be fishing on and make note:
Oahu, Big Island of Hawaii, Kaua’i, Maui, Other Regulated Fishing Areas (Oahu & Maui).
Though Hawaii is famous for a more relaxed approach to life, our State takes the fishing laws very seriously, so pay close attention to where you can cast your line – and when. Nothing ruins a great day of angling faster than a hefty fine and a long lecture from our local authority. Keep the fish plentiful for all of us.
MINIMUM SIZES & WEIGHTS
As every experienced fisherman knows, the laws don’t just cover where you can fish, they also set size minimums on your catch, too. You’ll need to know the measurements required to keep them. Hawaii has this online as well, covering both salt and freshwater catches:
Marine Fish & Vertebrates, Marine Invertebrates, Freshwater Fish & Invertebrates.
Now that you’ve got the legal part down, we can finally move on and look at getting you set up for a day out on the ocean!
Learning to tie at least a few knots should be done before you ever go out. Why? So you don’t have to bother the other guy who’s busy with his own pole. Tying your own knots isn’t just an essential fishing skill, it’s a courtesy to those around you.
Unfortunately, we can’t cover all the knots used in fishing. There are just too many. What we can give you are a couple that shore fishermen swear by and will get you by if you’re going to be casting in from land.
It all begins with getting your hook tied on right. Getting that done simply and quickly is the key, very important when the fish are biting and you need to get your line back in. Now.
The Palomar knot does the job and it’s easy to learn. This video will have you tying it in no time. What about getting your sinker tied on? Use the dropper loop knot, another that’s very easy to do. It’ll hold securely, even in these often active Pacific waters – learn it right here. Get the hang of these two and, if you’re casting in from the beach, the pier or the rocks, you’ll be just fine. Best of all, the guy next to you will be too.
Deep sea fishing, however, takes you to a whole new world of knots, beyond what we can cover. What we can do is point you to this great website with not only step-by-step instructions, but also animations on just about any knot you’ll ever require. Bookmark it and you’ll thank yourself later: All the Fishing Knots You’ll Need.
TYPES OF FISHING LURES
Choice is good. The problem is that the number of different lures has grown exponentially, making the selection of what to use extremely confusing for the uninitiated. Even after finding the right kind of lure, you’re left with one of the most important decisions of all; what color of that lure to use at what time of day and in what conditions.
The color comes into play in 2 ways. One, you want to choose a light or dark shade to contrast with the water’s dark or light tone, so it stands out to the fish. You also want to figure out the color of your targeted fish’s primary prey and match that as well. It’s a complex game. For now, let’s cover some of the major categories of lures. Knowing these is a solid start to a fascinating world that’ll have you hooked!:
Jigs – Jigs have heads weighted with lead and are the most common lure. Some claim they can be used for almost any kind of gamefish. They’re often dressed with hair, feathers or bait.
Spinners – Get their name from the spinning blade that creates a distinctive sound to attract the fish. Good beginner lure since it’s easy to use.
Spoons – Looks like what it originally came from, a spoon with the handle removed. The curved shape makes it wobble back and forth, imitating an injured fish to attract the predator you’re after.
Plugs – Hollow and made to look like certain small fish or even frogs. They customarily have 2 to 3 hooks hanging off them. Can be made to dive in the water to catch the attention of the fish.
Poppers – Popular in Hawaii. They float along the surface and make a noise (a ‘Pop’) that’s hard to ignore. There’s a learning curve to this one.
Spinnerbaits – Made of wire bent like a wide V, with a lead head. Often have a ‘skirt’ to add enticement to bring in your prey.
Those are just a few of the main types of lures to give you some idea of what you’ll encounter out there. The best way to learn about what to use and when is to get advice from experienced sportsmen or your charter guide. They’ll be glad to give you the benefit of their knowledge. Another place to get more knowledge is this article in Wikipedia. You can click on the item names in the Types list to get even more information about each category of lure.
It can be intimidating getting to know even this one aspect of the sport, but the rewards are out there and there’s nothing like the thrill of the chase – and ultimately the Catch!
CHARTER BOAT FISHING IN HAWAII – WHAT TO KNOW
Now let’s talk about actually getting to the water! If deep sea fishing is the way you want to go, then a charter boat is in your future. Do not just sign up with the first charter you see. Do your research to learn exactly what they’re offering in the rental package – time, travel distance and equipment, for starters, as well as pricing.
We also highly recommend checking out online reviews in places like Yelp and Trip Advisor. Nothing can guarantee a perfect experience, but taking this one smart step will head off a lot of potential mistakes. Consistent low ratings and complaints are a sure sign you should move on to the next option. If you make that effort you should have no problem finding one or even a few fishing tours who are well-established in the Islands and deserve your business. Still, here are a few more things you should know, especially if this is your first time going the charter route.
Fishing Charter Share Trips
If your budget is a little lower or you’re just 1 or 2 people, be prepared for a Share Trip, which is exactly what it sounds like. Due to their costs, boats often won’t go out unless they have a minimum number of paying customers, usually 4.
In that case, you’ll be sharing deck space with a stranger or two, which can mean they’ll be on the poles when a big catch finally strikes the lures instead of you. It’s just a matter of timing and luck in this game.
As long as you can accept those minor issues, though, just getting out there on the ocean will be worth it and you just might make some new friends.
How Long Are the Fishing Charter Trips?
Charters come mainly in 4, 6 or 8 hour terms. For serious anglers, the 6 and 8 hour trips will be a no brainer. Those give you time to get out to the real depths, where the big fish play.
The 4 hours are the way to go if you just want a taste of the experience or have other things on the schedule that day. Just understand that the chance of a catch is lower and you may not have much time past the key 1,000 fathom line, where you pass into deep sea fishing territory.
Boats leaving from Lahaina on Maui, for instance, need as much as 45 minutes to get to the best fishing grounds, plus the same to get back. Factor these things in when considering your trip length. It does make a difference.
What’s the Best Place for Charter Fishing in Hawaii?
All of Hawaii offers excellent fishing, but if there’s a Fishing Capital, it’s Kona on the Big Island. This becomes clear just from the fact that the most of the State’s charter boats run out of there. Another solid sign?
The biggest competition of all happens here, the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament, now going on 60 years. It never fails to reel in teams from all over the world who relish chasing Pacific blue marlin and spearfish.
Not everyone is looking for that kind of expense or challenge level, though. Let’s look at another side of fishing.
You can get plenty of excitement fishing in Hawaii without a boat. Drive down the coastline of any of the Islands and you’ll see lines of poles set up in the sand or on the rocks. Shore fishing may mean smaller catches, but it brings a lot of advantages in exchange.
Lower cost. Easier access. No boat time to get to the right spot. Plus you can do it alone or with a bunch of buddies – there’s no limitations, unlike the charter route. You can see the attractions of staying on land.
That brings us to the unending quest of every angler. Where do I go? What’s the best fishing spot? First, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with pulling over when you see a group of people with their poles in – after all, they just might know something.
However, here’s some good places to start that have earned their reputation for good catches and, for the most part, are easy to reach. There’s a few that aren’t and sometimes those are the very best.
BIG ISLAND FISHING SPOTS
Smoking Rock – You’ll hike some over rocky terrain to this place on the Big Island’s southwestern tip, but the effort brings reward. Ulua fans are drawn to the site, with one lucky guy bringing in a specimen weighing 102 lbs after fighting for a ½ hour. Good chance you’ll meet members of the Hilo Casting Club hanging out here. Remember – NEVER point at the fish or lie down on the rocks. It’s the rules at Smoking Rock.
Keahou Harbor (Kahaluu-Keauhou) – You get 2 choices here. Head to the pier for a chance at the larger fish or go to the rock wall for the smaller ones. Angel fish, manini and yellow tang swim here, especially after the boats have left.
Kailua Kona Fishing Pier (Kailua Kona) – Walk across the street from the Kona Seaside Hotel and you’ve arrived. Can get crowded at times, but it’s hard to beat the easy access. White tip shark are caught pretty often along with ulua. A great place to get started!
Spencer Beach Park (Between Kona & Hawi) – Locals love this park because the fish are always biting. That goes for the big ones, too, as both white tip and black tip shark end up coming home with fisherman fairly regularly. You’ll also love the cooler temperatures up here after Kona!
Anaeho’omalu Bay / A-Bay (Waikoloa) – Easy to find as it’s right in front of the Waikoloa Marriott. If you like omilu or papio, go to the south rocky area. The area directly in line with the Marriott tends to bring up barracuda and bonefish. Give both a shot. Best to go early, before the swimmers come out.
South Point / Ka Lae – The Ancient Hawaiians knew this was a prime spot, so you’ll see remains of their fishing shrines nearby. The currents mix here, creating perfect conditions that gather all kinds of fish. Mahimahi, ahi (tuna) & red snapper are common, along with a lot of other varieties. The ocean is very strong here, so stay back where it’s safe.
Kona Natural Energy Lab (Kailua Kona) – Very deep waters right off the rocks. Not far from Kona Airport’s south end, you can park your car and walk to your spot. Waves hit hard, so safety first, please! Papio and peacock grouper get pulled in along with the bigger fish, too.
Papakolea Green Sand Beach (Mahana Bay) – You’ll spot a lot of old heiau sites here as well, most put up to honor the gods for this fertile supply of fish. This is a hike and it gets hot & humid at times, so don’t attempt if you have health problems. Few people so casting from the beach is no problem. It is true, by the way. The sand is actually green.
Onekahakaha Beach Park (Hilo) – Tends to be shallow in places, but it’s a favorite with resident anglers and they know where to go. It’s east of Hilo Airport, far enough from the bay’s pollution. All kinds of fish get pulled out of these waters. Just be prepared for some tangles.
James Kealoha Beach Park (Hilo) – Also called 4 Mile Beach by Islanders, the distance to the Hilo post office, Ancient Hawaiians set up numerous fish ponds on the site. Stay to the western end as the swimmers tend to stay on the east, where the waters are calmer. That does mean it’s rougher for you, but fishermen always love a challenge
Waimea Pier (Waimea) – If hammerheads are on your bucket list, this is a good place to hunt. They are the smaller sizes, of course, but still the the real deal. A lot of papio fill the buckets at Waimea as well as the rare and highly prized moi that’ll earn you instant celebrity status. Try your luck!
Ahukini Recreation Pier (Lihue) – Located in Lihue, this is where the crabbing is good, so bring your nets. Pole fishing is just as popular at Ahukini and for good reason, with mullet & akule being brought in routinely. Please Note: The pier is deep in a State Park so packing water and food is a good idea. Otherwise, kick back and enjoy the exceptional peace & beauty of the bay. Check here for prime feeding times.
Wailua River Beach (Kapaa) – Bring snorkeling gear to scout out the best spots, but starting at the rock wall is a reliable place to start. Water is clear here and usually calm, so it’s made for a pre-check.
Hanalei Pier (Hanalei) – Best in summer when the bigeye scad and other finally arrive. You’ll also see ulua, amberjack and oama then, too. Draws a lot of both locals and visitors, so share space with aloha. A teenager recently pulled in a 50 lb ulua there, so bring the good bait!
Papaa Bay (Anahola) – Take North Aliomanu Beach access for about a 15 minute hike and you’ll reach the rocks. A view so beautiful you just might miss a nibble. Catches come pretty regular when they’re biting, so be ready. You just might have the place to yourself.
MAUI FISHING SPOTS
Kahului Harbor Pier (Kahului) – Dolphinfish and yellow tuna are spotted around here often. You’ll have a lot of company, but there’s room for everyone. The waves can get big in the harbor, which makes for good entertainment as you wait for that nibble. If you venture out on the rocks, do be careful – it gets extremely slippery as many have found out the hard way. Be smart and stay back where it’s dry.
Kamaole Park (Kihei) – Head for the rocky outcroppings at then ends of the 3 beaches here. You’ll avoid swimmers and that’s where the good fishing is anyway. Octopus, opelu and akule gather here, especially in the times around sunrise and sunset. Nighttimes are when the ulua are active. Be a good neighbor and watch out for snorkelers and surfers in the water. This is a popular park so it does get busy.
Makena Landing (Kihei) – A lot of kayak anglers still come here despite a 2013 shark attack. Shore fishing is good at Makena, and safer, so staying on land is the way to go. The fact that some still paddle out tells you what you really need to know – the fish are biting at Makena.
Kalama Park (Kihei) – Go to the north side of this park and you’ll be in big bonefish territory. Reports come back that it doesn’t always pan out, but when it does it’s pretty good! Oio found here, too. Try the early AM hours as they seem to be most reliable times and bring weight in case of winds.
Black Rock (Kaanapali) – That’s the name for the peninsula sticking out at the northern end of the 3 mile Kaanapali Beach. Snorkelers come here for the same reason as you, all the fish. Mackerel, trigger fish, perch and even turtles are common sights. Even if your luck is bad, you’re still on what’s called one of the Best Beaches in the World. Not a bad place to be.
OAHU FISHING SPOTS
Waialua Bay Pier (Haleiwa) – There’s more than big waves at the North Shore. Haleiwa Alii Beach Park has a pier that draws local anglers from all over. Goatfish and papio are the most common catches, but barracuda, ulua and giant sea bass come up pretty often, too. Live bait best.
Kaena Point – Pack a lot of food because you’ll want to spend the day – and night – out here. Sportsmen camp out here and fish from sunrise through to the next sun up. Great deepwater fishing due to the extreme depths just off the shoreline. Ulua are caught here a lot. TIP: Regulars wrap their poles with reflective tape & hang small bells on the line. They know exactly which pole has struck, even in the dark!
Makai Pier (Waimanalo) – TV fans will recognize this pier as the home of TC’s helicopter tour business on Magnum PI. It’s on Kalanianaole Hwy just past Sea Life Park and before Waimanalo. You’ll see lots of sardines in the waters, but the real attraction here are the papio! Usually open until 5PM and the view is beautiful.
Bamboo Ridge – A famous spot for ulua lovers, the name comes from the forest of old bamboo poles that filled the site whenever the casting clubs were there. Found between Hanauma Bay & Sandy Beach. Best bet is parking in Blow Hole lot and carefully hiking down. Watch out for high waves coming in – the Jizo monument you’ll see means fisherman have drowned there.
Heeia Pier (Kaneohe) – Another on the Windward Side of Oahu. Famous for the hammerheads and goatfish that get caught here. Does draw a lot of hopefuls with their poles at times, but show a little respect for others and you’ll find everyone pretty friendly.
Laie Point (Laie) – Up on the east end of the North Shore, across from Laie Shopping Center. It’s all rock here, with sometimes turbulent ocean below. It’s said that the 145 lb ulua caught a few year back came from this spot. There might be an even bigger one still out there! Check feeding times here.
Lake Wilson (Wahiawa) – Freshwater, so you’ll need your license and entry permit. Another issue – most fish from boats or inner tubes (yes, really) due to difficult foot access when water level is high. If you’re a bass fishing fan, though, this is where you need to be. Open year round.
Haleiwa Alii Beach Park (Haleiwa) – A popular surf spot, so watch for those heading in and out. Stay on the rocks and you should have no problem with the swimmers, either. Remember to bring extra weight to counter the water’s force. Check for best feeding times here.
Ewa Beach Park (Ewa Beach) – A place you’ll see few tourists, it’s in the hotter Ewa Plain part of Oahu toward the West side. Lots of papio, oio and omilu are reeled in with regularity from here. Smaller fish on average, but good eating. Bring a cooler with food & drinks due to both higher temperatures and the distance to any place to refill.
Pokai Bay (Waianae) – Escape the crowds of eastern Oahu up on the Waianae Coast. Like Ewa Beach, you’ll be dealing with warmer conditions so sunscreen is a must. This is another spot where ulua chasers like to come and see if it’s their day for the Big One.
LET’S GET FISHING!
Even after all this, we’ve only scratched the surface of fishing in Hawaii. You’re on the edge of something that will take you not just to the exhilarating highs of reeling in one that didn’t get away, but to the deepest of bonds, formed by spending good times on the water with friends and family. It just might be the most satisfying way you’ll ever earn a meal. See you on the water!