Rat Island, Honolulu, Hawaii, July 12, 2008
The Family watched silently as Man destroyed. Man came one morning, riding large birds. The birds, marked with red circles, dropped their eggs and it brought harsh sound and flames. When the day ended, many of Man were dead and the scent of fire and burned flesh drifted across the water. The Family returned to their sandy burrows to feed and to grow the species.


In early 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, life began to flourish. Plants began to take hold, their roots allowed sand and silt to accumulate as the tides ebbed and flowed. Eventually small islands, surrounded by huge shallow flats, appeared. Bonefish fed on a plentiful supply of invertebrates and crustaceans. Birds arrived to nest. The Family followed. Then Man arrived. Fishing shanties made of discarded plywood, steel sheets and plastic went up across the shallow flats, resting on crooked stilts so the rising tide would not flood the makeshift homes. Life was simple. Life was good.


For a while, man and The Family happily coexisted on these remote sand outposts. Man built more ramshackle shanties and small fishing skiffs appeared. The Family gladly ate whatever Man left in rusty, discarded oil drums or in shallow pits filled with trash. Fishing was good and food was plentiful for everyone. Although nobody can accurately pinpoint the cause, this peaceful relationship suddenly turned ugly.

Was it Man's historical social repulsion towards rodents? Others claim 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 The Family of rat. Fighting escalated from poisoned food and crude wooden traps to illegal explosives, flamethrowers and automatic weapons. Fire and steel versus quick reflexes, claws and razor-sharp teeth. The carnage was horrendous. The body count astronomical. But 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 this was bonefish country.

Wide, shallow flats and knee deep water surrounding tiny islands 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. SteveT told me he once got a huge take at this spot and whatever was on the other end, he could not stop it. His Bauer fly reel was cranked down to almost dead stop but the fish kept stripping off backing until he could almost see the bottom the spool. He was forced to break the fish off or he might have lost everything.

The tide wasn't the greatest and we tried to avoid heads of coral to get clean casts into the channel. However the water was just too deep so we switched to a shallow water game.

This was a totally different approach. In the deep water, it was blind-casting to select areas the bonefish used as their front door to enter the flats. On the flats and in the mangroves, it was careful wading, 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 moving slowly along the perimeter of some juvenile mangrove plants in really shallow water, a little over ankle deep, when I spotted a grey-green shadow coming straight at me. A large cruising bonefish was swimming straight at me. I dropped the Size 6 Charlie 10 feet in front of the oncoming fish. It slowly kept swimming, right over the fly, and three feet past me on my left.

I pushed deeper into the low-growing mangroves. Coming around a clump, I spotted another bone. This one was huge but it was too close -- just six feet away. I couldn’t cast. The tip of the fly rod extended way over the fish. I tried to slowly dap the fly but all I got was a huge puff of sand and an ass shot at a quickly departing fish. I took two steps, then dang, that fish came rocketing back at me around a small mangrove clump. I tried a short cast but lined the fish.

After getting my heartbeat under control, I moved onto a wide sandy area dotted with fewer mangrove clumps. I passed some wreckage of what used to be a makeshift camp or home, now collapsed and overgrown by the 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. Strip strike. Nothing. The fish nervously circled the fly. The nose went down and the tail went up. Strip strike. The bonefish took off for the channel 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 hooked bonefish, just a Barracuda. As we stood there talking, two bonefish approached us head on. I threw a cast and landed it 10 feet in front of them. They swam right over it, not even stopping to look. I picked up and made another cast. They ignored it again and kept swimming toward us. I made a third cast and lined them. Both fish took off, leaving two puffs 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.