Rat Island, Honolulu, Hawaii, July 12, 2008
The Family watched silently as Man destroyed themselves. Man came one morning, riding birds that flew without moving their wings. The birds were marked with red circles and dropped dark eggs that brought harsh sound and flames. As the day ended, many of Man were dead and the smell of fire and burned flesh was thick in the air. The Family returned to their sandy burrows to feed and to grow their species.


In December 1941 the Army Corps of Engineers was about 10 percent complete on the dredging of three massive seaplane runways at Keehi Lagoon in Honolulu. Dredging was intensified after the attack on Pearl Harbor, with as many as nine dredges working on the project. The runways were useable by late 1943 and completed in September of 1944. More than 10 million cubic yards of dredged fill was placed nearby. (Aviation.Hawaii.gov)

Keehi Lagoon seaplane runway circa 1944.


Life is strong. Where there was once acres of sterile sand and coral fill, plant life began to flourish. Their roots allowed sand and silt to accumulate as the tides ebbed and flowed. More plants became established and eventually small islands, surrounded by huge shallow flats, appeared. Birds arrived. The rats followed. Then Man arrived.


For a while, man and rodent happily coexisted on these remote sand outposts. Man built ramshackle shanties from scrounged driftwood and whatever junk that washed in on the tides. Fishing was good and food was plentiful for the rats. Although nobody can accurately pinpoint the cause, this peaceful relationship suddenly turned sour.

Perhaps it was Man's social repulsion towards the rat or maybe it just got too crowded on the tiny piles of sand and coral. Whatever the cause, the conflict erupted into full scale warfare between Man and rat. Fighting escalated from poisoned food and crude wooden traps to flamethrowers and automatic weapons. Fire and steel versus quick reflexes, claws and razor-sharp teeth. The carnage was horrendous. The body count astronomical. In the end, Man yielded to the rat.

The shanties are gone but the rats remain -- always watching. But rats don't like salt water and the numerous Barracuda cruising the shallow water keep the rodents landlocked, which is good for fly fishing anglers because the flats and mangroves surrounding these islets are also home to gorilla-sized bonefish. If you're looking to catch a trophy bonefish, this is probably the place to do it.


SteveT and I set off on a day trip to an islet called Rat Island in Keehi Lagoon, near Honolulu Airport and the main harbor. As we approached in the kayak I could tell that it was bonefish country. Wide, shallow flats and knee deep water surrounding a tiny island overgrown with mangrove trees. At the edge of the flats the reef took a sudden plunge into a deep channel where oceanic bonefish would swim up on a rising tide, looking for an easy meal on the flats or in the mangroves.
We quickly set up our fly rods and headed out to fish the edge of a drop off. The tide wasn't the greatest and we tried to get casts into the channel but the water was just too deep for us to make a successful approach so we broke off the hunt in the deep water and turned to the flats and mangroves.

This was a totally different game. In the deep water it was blind-casting to select areas. On the flats and in the mangroves it was sight casting to large cruising bones in shallow, still water.

SteveT outlined the plan -- separate, move VERY slowly and always watch the water. Bonefish could be just around the next bunch of mangroves so you had to be ready to cast. He was right.

I was only a few feet into really shallow water, a little over ankle deep, when I spotted a grey-green shadow coming straight at me. A large cruising bonefish. I dropped the size 6 Charlie 10 feet in front of the oncoming fish. It slowly swam right over the fly and three feet past me on my left.

I pushed deeper into the shallows. Coming around a clump of mangroves, I spotted another bone. This one was huge. But it was too close -- just six feet away. I tried dapping the fly slowly into the water but all I got was an ass shot at a quickly departing fish. I took two steps, then dang, that fish came back at me around a small mangrove, heading in the opposite direction. I try a short cast but lined the fish.

After gathering myself I moved onto a wide sandy area dotted with a few mangroves. I saw a school of bones approaching. I made a cast and one of them rushed the fly. It stopped. The tail went up, the nose went down. Small strip. Nothing. The fish nervously circled the fly. Tail up. Strip strike. Fish took off and the school followed. This goes on for the next 30 minutes as single bonefish or small schools march past my position.

I meet up with SteveT and he reported no bonefish, just a Barracuda. As we're standing there talking two bonefish approached, coming head on. I fired a cast and landed it 10 feet in front of them. They swam right over it, not even stopping to look. I make another cast. They ignored it and kept swimming toward us. I made a third cast and lined them. Both fish took off, leaving a puff of sand.

The tide was now getting really high and the wind was picking up. I had a dinner party in town so it was time to leave. As we push off the reef I was bothered by the feeling that we had been watched all day by hundreds of cold, dark eyes.

EQUIPMENT: We used 8 and 9-weight rods and floating weight-forward lines. We used an assortment of crab and shrimp flies from size 2 to size 8.


A recent satellite image of Keehi Lagoon and what remains of the seaplane runways. At left is Dan Inouye International Airport and the reef runway.