Hawaii 5-0
by Jon Schwartz

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The wife and I made tentative plans to go to Puerto Vallarta with our two girls in August. They’ll have a fine time during the day while I fish, I thought. Then we’ll hook up at night time, and I’ll only fish a couple of days anyway. This delusional thinking continued unabated until a couple of weeks before the trip, when reality began to creep in. 

They’ll swelter in town while you’re out having fun. It’ll be about 100 degrees with suffocating humidity in August! What kind of dad are you?

And thus began the search for a new vacation spot. Rhino had talked in posts about yakking on the Big Island of Hawaii, on the Kona Coast. After some furious hunting on the internet for a suitable place to stay, I found the following deal: less than 500 a person airfare, and a 3.5 star hotel on the beach for 119 a night!! But what was the yak situation there like? Obviously there’s no real point in traveling anywhere at all unless there is good yakfishing. Don’t you agree? I talked further with Mike Allen and Rhino, as well as “Conejo Man” from one of the BBS’s. All were very helpful in explaining the situation there. Turns out that it gets super deep close to shore there, and thus big game fishing happens within a mile from shore, sometimes less.

In addition, yaks are available for rent there. However, I didn’t want to venture offshore by myself in a yak in an unfamiliar mid-ocean location where I was not familiar with the currents and winds, so I was hesitant to launch by myself.   I wondered if any captains would take me and a yak out to the grounds, so I emailed about 15 that I found on the net. As usual, most didn’t reply. Several told me that I was nuts because the fish tend to be very big, as in, monstrously big, and they had never heard of doing this anyway, so forget it.

Finally, I logged on to this fellow “Captain Bob’s Kona Sportfishing Charters” website. When the site came up, the theme from Hawaii Five-O came on. Kinda cool and quaint. Plus, Bob actually returned my email within the hour. He seemed excited to put me on some fish, going on about when the wahoo bite would be the best, and encouraging me to shuffle my fishing dates to a better date in the lunar cycle. Must be something wrong with this guy, I thought. How come he’s up for it and no one else will? Must be too good to be true….

In fact, Bob even agreed to pick up the yak the day before I arrived and have it on the boat!!. I called the Kona Boys and told them that “Captain Bob” would be coming in to pick up a stable kayak. Now, you have to understand how good this sounded. The boat that I would be renting was about 500 bucks a day, which initially sounds like a lot, but consider this: One, there’s no drive to the fishing grounds- literally they begin at the exit to the harbor. Big tuna, marlin, wahoo, and much more are available very close to shore in spots, and the weather and water conditions are consistently excellent, so in many ways, one full day’s worth of fishing can amount to the same amount of opportunity as would a much longer period of time in a place like the East Cape. Two, even in the super reasonable East Cape, the pangas rent for 250 a day, and the 33 foot the cruisers rent for 350 a day. The one Bob was going to put me on was 46 feet!!

Not that I needed a boat that size. I actually much prefer mothershipping in a panga, because in choppy seas it’s easier to get on and off a kayak when the rail of the panga is so low, and also, a small panga bouncing in choppy seas is nothing compared to a cruiser when it’s swimstep is heaving up and down 5-7 feet with each swell as you attempt to get on or off your yak..

However, I couldn’t find anyone who had a smaller boat for hire, so the choice was, rent a yak and troll rapalas for the possible wahoo, or spend a bunch and have a possible epic trip that I’d never forget. I read Rhino’s Kona report and he didn’t mention any major catches, so I figured, if this veteran who knows the place didn’t score big launching from shore, what are my chances?

My choice came down to two important words in any teacher’s vocabulary: credit card. I made the arrangements to fish on one of Bob’s boats for a day. Bob wanted to know, whose tackle did I plan to use? Well I’d already lost another captain’s rod and reel when my yak flipped after touching the side of the boat in the swells off Corbetena, and Bob’s boat was outfitted with super expensive tackle geared towards grander marlin, so I had to bring my own.

Let me say a word about the boats and the tackle in Hawaii. If you even go into a Walmart in Kona, they have Penn 80 International reels for 750 bucks and bent butt grander sticks for sale!! No joke! And next to a reel of this size, a 6/0 looks like a trout reel. But most of the boats there  are outfitted with 130’s. This is a reel that is so big, it’s got to be seen in person. So imagine that. Most boats have 80’s or 130’s matched with grander sticks, five to a boat, which must set them back about 2500 apiece. No way was I going to fish with those!

When I told Bob that I would bring my TLD-25’s. he grunted and said, “What kind of fish do you expect to catch with that?” “Well, maybe I’d like to target tuna in the 50 pound range.” “Lemme tell you something, Jon. Any fish that size is considered a rat over here!” “Well maybe you can put me on a rat or two...”

After some hemming and hawing I went down to Hugh at Pacific Coast Bait and Tackle. He was out so I talked to a fellow there. I asked him if he thought the TLD 25’s would be sufficient. “Sure, I’ve landed big marlin with those! Those’ll be fine” “Well how big are you talking about?” “Oh, two hundred pounds.” If a tuna under 100 pounds is considered a rat there, a marlin around two is considered an ant!

I was going to have to figure out my approach to tackle. I wanted to bring my own gear, have it not be so expensive that I couldn’t afford to lose it if the boat tipped my yak over, big enough to troll with from the boat if I wanted to hook a fish trolling and land it from the yak, yet small enough so that I could troll live bait from the yak if it was calm enough.  I ended up buying two mint 6/0’s on the cheap, strung them with 60# , and backed them with 80 # spectra. I had acquired a TLD-30 2 speed on ebay for a great price and these three reels, coupled with some basic roller guide trolling sticks, would be my big game setups. In fact, they worked out perfectly, and I am so glad I made these selections.

Now, Bob practically insisted that I fish the first day that I arrived because the conditions were to be optimal, but I felt bad that I would be leaving my wife and kids alone at the hotel on the first day. To mitigate the guilt I sat with the girls on the long plane ride over and let the wife relax somewhere else on the plane. Suffice it to say that by the end of the ride, I felt that I had earned the next day off.

As soon as we arrived at the hotel in at 6:30 pm, I began to ready my gear, for I was leaving the hotel at 4:00 am to make it to the dock for a 5:00 am departure. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until I realized that I forgot to pick up my rod case from the baggage claim!! I truly broke out in a cold sweat. I couldn’t cancel at this late hour and I couldn’t yakfish with their gear, so what was I going to do? I called the airport but couldn’t find anyone willing to walk the 30 yards to check for me. I drove to the airport laden with a dull feeling of worry and dread. When I got to the baggage carousel, there was nothing lying around, so I freaked out even further. Ultimately it turned out that my case was put away, and when I saw it, I didn’t even care if I caught a single fish the whole trip. I just wanted the chance!

I arrived at the deck the next morning at 4:30 and met Fred the mate and Bobby the captain. Bob is the one who arranged these fellas for me. As usual, they were asking, “What is it you want us to do here, anyway?” When I told them the game plan, Bobby sounded up for it, but Fred seemed to think it was a kooky idea, considering that this was “the land of the giants.” I asked him if there was any way to target some of those 50-75 pound “rats” and he said, nope, you troll a bait and you don’t get to pick who grabs it. Could be a huge marlin, and we don’t have any control over that. So I figured I’d troll any big baits way behind my yak and keep the drag loose in case something huge grabbed it.

This leads to an interesting topic- “pure” yakfishing. One totally valid perspective is that if one hooks into something from a boat, then fights it from a yak, it is not pure, since the fish wasn’t hooked while in a yak. In addition, catches made in this fashion can’t be put in the same class as ones where the fish was hooked in a yak. True again, I say.    

On the other hand, from my perspective, it is more complicated than that. One, to me, yakfishin’ ain’t pure unless you launch from shore by paddling out, and make or bring your own bait or lures with no mothership or panga support.      As soon as you get help with bait or transportation, and to the degree that you get help, it becomes less “pure”. Getting dropped in a location and trolling around in your yak, waiting hours for fish that may or may not be there may be the next step removed from pure yakfishing. It’s still a lot harder than hooking it in a boat, though, to be sure. You got help getting there, but the rest, other than the bait, is up to you. 

After that, and farther removed from “pure” yakfishing, may come “sightfishing” in a panga, and then quickly slipping into your yak with a baited rod when you spot the fish to see if you can get them to bite.

To me, that is exciting, and fun to do when calm conditions permit getting on and off the panga, but it is not “pure” yakfishing. More “pure” than hooking in a boat and then launching, but not really “pure”, any more than it is “pure” hunting to have a driver race you around in a Range Rover on the African plains until you spot a beast, have the driver screech to a stop, get off, quickly plant your feet on the ground, and then fire off a shot. The pure hunter would leave on foot and track their prey with their own efforts.

I have done all of these types of yakking. I love yakfishing the totally “pure” way but I also want to battle as many beasts as I can before I leave this earth, and sometimes, to me, having fun is more important than “purity”. If I’m blowing a couple grand on a trip to Hawaii, I want to have pretty good odds of hooking into a nice fish, since I may never get to go there again. The chances of me hooking into big fish are greatly increased when I can add the mothership, troll bait-in-the yak and wait for a bite approach, or if the seas are rough, “hook in a boat, land in a yak” methods, and I elect to take the latter path on occasion.

There are several other things to consider too. Sometimes I’ll rent a boat to take me out, and the seas will be very choppy, making it dangerous to get on and off the mothership. When chasing big game there is a lot of this, where you’re trolling a live skipjack for 10 minutes and then it’s slashed by a wahoo, bashed by a billfish, or it just plain dies, and then you have to get close to the boat and rebait. Or get back in and relocate, again and again. In calm seas it’s not an issue. But in choppy seas, it can be very dicey. It’s amazing how a kayak absorbs a swell, while a boat, particularly a big one, will heave up and down on the same wave. I was in Corbetena and spent a whole day getting on and off a cruiser in choppy seas, and paddling up to the swimstep to rebait, risking getting crushed, all for the sake of purity. While other boats were hooking into 150 pound tunas, I was paddling like a around furiously just out of reach of the giants.

Finally, there’s the question of monster fish. At Corbetena and Hawaii, tuna get upwards of 200 pounds, and marlin go well over 600 pounds with some regularity, unlike the East Cape, so one has to consider how safe it is to troll bait when these fish are apt to be your hookup. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what to do in case this happens. First of all, taking a wrap on the line could prove fatal on a huge fish. It was kind of overwhelming to have that blue marlin in Baja greyhouding near me, and that was only about 200 pounds. Imagine being hooked up to a desperate 400 +   pound fish . Also, subduing a fish of this size at yakside is an issue.  Just think about it! There’s no releasing a 400 pound marlin at yakside. It won’t come to you unless it’s absolutely exhausted, at which point you won’t have the ability to safely revive it. It’s a fight to the death.

Therefore, in some ways, when targeting fish that might end up being monsters, it can be smarter and safer for the yakker and the fish to hook it from a boat. If the fish turns out to be a huge bill or something else too big, you can stay in the boat, fight it safely, and even choose to release it if it comes up healthy. Keep the boat in gear, and have the leaderman unhook the fish or cut the leader. But if you’re stuck on a huge fish and you’re in your yak, you either hold on for dear life until it comes up, probably dead, freak out and cut the line, or something else that I haven’t thought of. And by the way, if you have a better idea, lemme know! Better yet, go out and do it. I’ll buy you lunch!


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