Honolulu, Hawaii, Dec. 22, 2017-Jan. 9, 2018010718hawaiiflats001-2
I was adjusting the stars on the stripping basket as the rising sun chased away the morning gloom shrouding the flats. A cool wind rippled across the water, and this might be a problem at the spot I planned to fish, but it didn’t bother me too much because the conditions here were a lot better than back home where snow and ice were slamming the Northeastern US.

The office was closed for the holidays so we returned to the islands to spend quality time with family and friends and to maybe squeeze some fly fishing in at some of our favorite spots. However the sometimes fickle Hawaiian weather played a big part in our plans.

I flew solo on the first day. The usually calm trade winds were up a bit over normal but it did not present a serious problem, so I brought a new fiberglass 8 weight rod to the flats and aired some line out.

The rod handled itself well with the wind. Its action was more on the high side of medium to medium-fast than the slower noodle-like action of most fiberglass sticks. I tried a number of lines and found that the rod liked the Rio Saltwater line the best. This is rated one and a half weight over normal (an 8 weight is really a 8.5 weight). The rod did not like underlining (7 weight), could cast a 9 weight line, but felt overloaded at 10 weight and over.

One thing bothersome about this rod—at nine feet long, it was a bit tip heavy, with the center of gravity approximately one inch in front of the grip. It would balance much better if six to eight inches, or maybe even a foot, were knocked off the length. I compensated by adding a measured layer of lead core trolling line as a base on the reel before adding backing and fly line. This brought the balance point back to the meaty part of the grip but added more weight to a heavy (when compared to graphite) rod. Another option would be to just use a heavier reel. The one I used on this rod was a modern, heavily ported, aluminum reel. However when I strapped on a Tibor Tarpon anti-reverse reel, balance point was perfect.
I fished for about half an hour before I got a take. The bonefish ate with authority then ran for a long distance across the flats but the rod handled the fight well, protecting the tippet through three strong runs. I also caught a Jack and a small Pipefish before I called it a day around 10am and headed back to the parking lot. I should have stayed out longer.

The following day, the rains came. It rained heavily, dumping almost three inches across the island and ruined fishing on the flats for the next three days. When this much water enters the system, the nearshore waters are a coffee-colored mess. Rainwater carries tons of debris and waste from canals and storm drains into the ocean. No swimming warnings went up islandwide and they are justified. You do not want to be wading or swimming in that water. Period.

When things cleared up, I headed out to the flats to fish with Eric at a couple of our favorite bonefish spots to fish the rising tide. I started the day by picking up a real dink bone, or o’io as the locals call them. I would have been surprised if it weighed more than a pound. Eric hooked two but both got off after a short fight.

As the tide began to rise we split up. Eric waded further out to fish a particular spot near the outer edge of the reef while I headed in towards shore, hoping to intercept some fish using a natural channel to access the inner flats as the water rose. I would occasionally glance up from what I was doing to see if Eric had any luck. Each time he was standing and casting but once I saw him wading way out towards the breakers, nothing out of the normal that would raise an alarm.
I saw Eric heading in and when I checked the time I saw that it was about 10:30am, time to head home. I met him on the beach and he asked me if I had seen him running across the flats, then he told me the story.

He hooked a really nice bonefish that was pulling a lot of line and heading for the outer reef and the open ocean. He was switching the grip on the rod from his right hand to his left so he could add a few more clicks on the drag knob to slow the fish when the bone put on a sudden surge. The rod was pulled out of his hand and he watched as it hit the water and headed for the outer reef.

Eric jumped off the rock he was standing on and chased his rod. Running in water is not easy and at first he could see the rod in front of him, sailing across the flats. He was close, but the fish was too big and too fast and gradually the rod disappeared. But he did not give up. Eric knew that near the outer reef fringe, before it got too deep and the fish hit the open ocean, there were a lot of coral heads. He figured there was a lot of line out so maybe it would get snagged somewhere shallow. He was right.

He kept walking in a straight line, following the estimated direction of his rod and reel, and eventually saw it laying on the bottom. The fish had taken a hard right turn just past a large coral head and the line was tangled up there. Eric grabbed the rod, untangled the line, reeled up the slack and discovered the fish was still on the other end. He fought it for a while but it eventually worked loose and escaped.
We fished every morning but the weather and tide made things difficult and sometimes uncomfortable. Technically this was Hawaii’s “winter” season, when there was sometimes a lot of rain. And while rain is a hell of a lot better than ice and snow, it did muck up the water around the flats through canal discharges. Coupled with unusually high tides, I went through two “king tide” events, it made fly fishing on the flats difficult and somewhat creepy. There were some days where I did not wade out as dawn was breaking because I could not see the bottom or my feet and being in waist deep, murky water, near a flowing canal, alone, made me feel extremely uneasy. Even when the sun came out and I could see, I usually stayed very close to shore. But so did the bonefish, and I managed to hook my fair share by fishing some of the cuts and channels that were just off the beach.

The water was also, to the local anglers, “cold.” “Cold” means anything between the mid to high 70s to very low 80s. And this year it was this “cold water” that put off the bonefish bite for most anglers. Eric and I managed to catch something every day for the few hours that we stayed out on the flats but we noticed that we had to really work hard for the bites. Because of the cold water, fish were reluctant to come in to feed in shallower waters. Sometimes, when we were washing our gear, a surfer would mention seeing a “carpet of silver”—schools of bonefish outside the flats in deep water.
I caught my last fish a few days before I left the islands. Another round of rainstorms was heading in and the normally calm trade winds had whipped up to the point where whitecaps developed on the flats and trying to make a cast was ridiculous. It just wasn’t worth the trouble to challenge nature when she wasn’t in the mood to cooperate.

DIRECTIONS: Hawaii is located in the Central Pacific Ocean roughly 2,000 miles southwest of the United States. It is the only state that is not geographically located in North America, and the only state completely surrounded by water.

EQUIPMENT: A 7, 8, or 9 weight rod will work depending on weather conditions or location to be fished. Bring a stripping basket, stripping gloves or finger tabs, forceps, nippers, waterproof (not water resistant) waist bag for your gear. Wear flats shoes, not flip, flops or sandals. A Buff and suntan lotion is mandatory. A standard 12 foot leader tapered to 15 to 20 pounds will work for areas that have a lot of coral. Lighter tippets will work on sandy or flat coral flats. Flies from size 2 to 10 in various shrimp patterns. The only fly fishing shop in the state is Nervous Waters Fly Fishers.