For Hawaiians, to fish is to breathe. Long before Captain Cook arrived, Hawaiians harvested this important food source using canoes, surfboards, nets, spears and lines. Hawaiian shore fishing methods were particularly effective. That knowledge, passed down through the generations, influences the how and the where of shore fishing in modern-day Oahu.
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Ancient Hawaiian Shore Fishing
Fishing was part of a traditional hukilau, or beach party. Nets tossed into the shallow water offshore were hauled back in with great ceremony and song -- usually with enough fish to feed a hungry crowd. Ancient Hawaiians used olona fibers which were strong, long lasting and didn’t kink in the water. Dyeing the fibers made them easier to see when cast in the surf. The olona fibers also made excellent fishing lines. The anglers combined them with hooks made of shell, ivory, bone or carved wood. The bait was small fish, octopus, squid or even plants dipped in squid ink. Hawaiians also used spears for shore fishing. Following along a rocky outcrop, the fisherman could see the fish in the shallow water, aim and throw.
Modern Oahu Shore-Fishing Methods
The principle of tossing a line from shore into the ocean is still the same, but today’s fisherman has more of a choice in the equipment department. A basic bamboo pole with a line attached works well for some. Others want a high tech rod and reel with all the bells and whistles. Your fishing spot may determine the type of tackle to use. If you are fishing in a spot that has a rocky bottom, casting a line is usually not the best option. The hook and bait may get caught up on the rocks, costing you time, fun and money. Local fishermen often use surfboards, kayaks or canoes to paddle out to the preferred spot and “dunk” the line into the water.
Going After Ulua
Catching the ulua, also known as the giant trevally, is cause for celebration. Prize specimens weigh in at 100 pounds or more. The bait fish alone weighs between two and three pounds -- anything smaller and most uluas aren't interested. Using a method known as slide baiting, the line has a stopper on the end and carries a 10-ounce, or larger, sinker. These special sinkers have a hook meant to catch on the rocky bottom. The line is cast, and then the individual hook leaders are baited and slid down the line. Multiple baits increase your chances of catching an ulua. When the fish is hooked, a special gaff attached to a rope is lowered to just below the fish. Pulling on the rope gaffs the fish so it can be pulled to the surface. Sometimes yellow-fin tuna and mahi-mahi are also caught from shore using this method. Diehard ulua fishermen usually go after the big ones at night.
Oahu Shoreline Fishing Spots
Local fishermen may or may not decide to let you in on the best places to shore fish in Oahu. Strike up a conversation in a local pub or at the front desk of your hotel and you may get a hint or two. If not, just follow the principle that fewer people usually means more fish. Waikiki Beach is not a great idea. Ewa Beach and the adjacent Oneula Beach Park, west of the Honolulu International Airport and Hickam AFB, are local fishing spots for ulua and other game fish. Family-friendly piers at Sand Harbor, Wailua Bay and Pearl Harbor have the added advantage of getting you to deeper offshore waters without needing a boat.
Oahu Fishing Regulations
Saltwater fishing, whether from a boat or the shore, does not require licensing in the state of Hawaii. All of the other wildlife and fishing regulations do apply. For example, protected species acts protect the manta ray and the green sea turtle, which may not be fished, harassed or even approached. Shark fin harvesting is not allowed. Monk seals, which sometimes decide to snooze on local beaches, are also off limits. Give them a wide berth -- they bite. Much of Oahu’s coast is accessible via beach and public park access paths. If you are lured to a fishing spot that is private property, just ask the owner for permission, and take extra care to treat that locale with even greater respect.