Honolulu, Hawaii, June 14-17, 2012
Dawn was just peeking over the mountains as I launched my first cast of the day. There was a warm breeze blowing as I stood in knee-deep water on a rising tide casting and hoping for a tug from a cooperative bonefish.

After fishing for an hour I got a strike but it wasn’t what I had hoped for. A huge Pipefish, or
nunu, had inhaled the fly. It wasn’t much of a fight--I hand-stripped him in then used my pliers to perform deep throat fly removal. I watched the fish swim off as I attempted to remove the copious amounts of slime from my hand. These fish are so slimy, and to remove the fly you have to handle the fish, that the closest thing to describe what it’s like is to imagine you have a really bad cold and you just blew a huge wad into your hands. It would make a great reel lube or if you needed to slick up a fly line as long as you didn’t mind the smell.

I was fishing with SteveL, who joined me for a few hours before he had to take off for the office. We worked our way down the coastline but had no luck. Steve took off for the office as I continued to work my way across the flats, fishing the deeper pockets and sand patches, but the fish were just not in the mood for a bite. The closest I got was when I laid out a pretty decent cast right over the back of a cruising fish. The huge explosion of spray really gets your attention and tells you in a not so subtle way that yes, there are fish here and you just blew it.

I was washing my gear I was approached by two out-of-state fly fishers. Tourists. They did not have any rods strung up but I could tell they were fly fishing tourists because the locals don’t walk around with rod tubes and they also had that “Ok, we’re here so now what do we do” look on their faces. They approached me at the wash-up and said they were visiting the islands and had heard there were “huge bonefish” on the flats and were wondering if this was the flats that they read about.

I told them there were bonefish swimming somewhere on most of the flats around the islands. Some could be large but most averaged 4-6 pounds and there weren’t a lot of them like on Christmas Island, the Bahamas, Mexico or Florida because in Hawaii they practice catch and eat rather than catch and release. You had to work for your fish and also have more than a good bit of luck along for the ride. I asked them if they had ever fished for bones before and they admitted this was their first try and most of their experience was with trout in Montana. Then the conversation shifted to gear.

I was still dripping wet and covered with equipment so they asked about the weight of the rod I was carrying and other gear questions. When it was my turn to ask, their answers floored me. They showed up with trout gear to pursue bonefish. Like bringing knives to a gunfight. Their rods were 5 and 6 weight medium action sticks. Their largest reel was spooled with 60 yards of 20 pound backing and had an offset click-pawl drag. They did stop in at the local fly shop,
Nervous Waters Hawaii, to pickup some flies and get a little information but they only bought three flies. Luckily they got the ones that were about the right color and size.

I said they undergunned for the fish they were after but it didn’t seem to bother them that much. I told them even with my disk drag reel, a good fish will usually run off with all the fly line and up to half, sometimes way more, of the 200 yards of backing on its first run. A reel with 60 yards of backing--he’ll be starring at an empty spool in seconds. One of them asked me if the bonefish strike and fight like a 20-inch plus brown trout and I told him the smallest bonefish you’ll catch on this flat will kick the crap out of a school of 20-inch browns and would probably strip the reel clean of all backing in a few seconds. He told me he could palm the reel to slow the fish down but I warned him not to get his fingers anywhere near the spinning handle and that the fly line and backing would be gone before he could even think of moving his hand up to the spool. I hoped he had a good backing knot on the spool.

I also told them they should wear the proper footwear for walking on the flats. One was wearing sandals and they other guy had rubber flip-flops. If you don’t want to be spendy on the flats-specific gear, go to a local big box store or fishing supply shop and buy a pair of
tabis or cheap sneakers and wool socks. They’ll hold up fine during your vacation.

I had other business waiting for me so I told them where to start, what to look for and gave them a quick lesson on fly presentation then took off. I hope they had better luck than I did and got a fish. But on the other hand, with the gear they were using, it might be better if they only saw a fish and didn’t hook it.

7 weight--Little on no wind, average fish and beautiful conditions. Usually for calm water and gentle presentations using long leaders.
8 weight--Best all-around rod but might be a little undergunned on really big fish and strong winds.
9 weight--I use this rod the most for dealing with brisk to heavy trade winds and nearly anything that swims on the flats.
12 weight--Really, really big bonefish, jacks, small tuna.
My opinion--spend money on a good reel first, one with a proven disk drag system that works well in salt water and will hold a minimum of 200 yards of backing. A good two or four-piece, fast to medium-fast action mid-price rod will work well on the flats in Hawaii. Keep in mind that tradewinds blow almost all the time on the flats and you need it to deal with it. A medium-fast stick will work but you better know how to cast it when the wind is up.
Any quality disk drag reel. My smallest reel holds 200 yards. The largest 600 yards. You can never have enough backing.
Lines we’ve used in Hawaii--
Monic Clear FST Bonefish and Saltwater lines. Rio Bonefish, Rio Bonefish with clear intermediate tip, Rio Saltwater, Rio Saltwater intermediate, Rio Tropical Outbound, Rio Tarpon with clear intermediate tip, Rio Leviathan 550 grain floating, Scientific Anglers Bonefish, Cortland Crystal PE clear line, Cortland Saltwater, Airflo 40+, Orvis series of saltwater lines, Orvis Depth Charge 350 grain fast sink, Orvis Depth Charge 550 grain fast sink.
An aggressive taper
monofilament or fluorocarbon leader about 7 to 9 feet long with a tippet of 15 to 25 pounds will work. If you tie your own, you want the leader butt to be heavy (around 40-50 pounds) with an aggressive taper down to an 18 to 24 inch tippet. We use fluorocarbon as tippet on our leaders but generally the bonefish are not leader shy and monofilament will work too.
Other items
A good pair of shoes. Wear socks so the sand doesn’t abrade your feet. If you are primarily a freshwater trout person and don’t want to invest in an expensive pair of flats shoes, go to a discount big-box store (there are several in Hawaii) and get a cheap pair of ankle-high athletic shoes and wool socks (wool dries quickly). Hat, long-sleeve shirts, polarized glasses (green, amber or rose works well) and a tube of sunscreen.

We use a waist bag to carry our gear but I’ve seen people use vests, chest packs and sometimes a backpack. However it would be best if whatever item you choose to carry your gear in is waterproof if dunked momentarily under water. Items labeled “water-resistant” will keep your stuff dry under a sprinkle of water (like light rain) but will totally flood if you walk or fall in deep water. We use the Simms roll-top (out of production) and Patagonia zippered waist packs. A wise investment would be a protective case for your cellphone and a very cheap Bluetooth earpiece that won’t break your heart if it falls into the water.