Most discussions concerning monster bonefish involve driving down I-95 until it turns into Overseas Highway. This is for good reason, as Florida Keys flats have provided numerous anglers with potential shots at IGFA world records and I feel obliged to give credit where credit is due. As a matter of fact, without the help of many world-class guides and anglers who’ve scoured Florida’s flats in search of the mighty grey ghost, Hawaiian bonefishing wouldn’t be what it is today. Heck, if Joe Brooks didn’t hook that tailing bonefish many years ago with legendary Florida guide and bonefishing pioneer Jimmie Albright, this great game fish might still be considered subpar.
For many years, folks whispered about Hawaii’s bonefish but it was said the islands lacked extensive flats, the fish were only found in deep water, and random coral heads dotting the shallows made it impossible to land them. In addition, some very well respected individuals within the community published reports stating that Hawaii was not worth the trouble and that its bonefishing potential was extremely limited. Add to this that the best flats are on the windward, wetter, and therefore cloudier side of the island, and you have a number of complex factors at work against the development of a viable fishery. However, the pictures of a recent outing with a good friend and photographer Blake McHenry, tell a different tale altogether.
We routinely spot fish that eclipse the double-digit mark...you may even get a shot at a true monster topping 15-pounds!
Unbeknownst to most, the Island of Oahu has extensive shallows including inner reef flats with both white sand and dark, mud bottoms. Stalking the shallows by foot and from my Andros Boatworks Backwater, we routinely spot fish that eclipse the double-digit mark. If you’re really lucky you may even get a shot at a true monster topping 15-pounds! While these brute fish are indeed big and fast, make no mistake—Hawaii’s bonefish provide a very frustrating experience if one expects dozens of hookups a day. These aren’t your typical 3-pounders’ encountered throughout The Caribbean. This is challenging, technical fly-fishing due to the environment and the size and age of the fish. These fish also live in an urban environment and much like the biggest bonefish found cruising Florida Keys flats, Hawaiian bones can be extremely fickle.
When I started guiding in Hawaii I needed some advice on techniques, effective fly patterns as well as other important matters. One of my first clients was famed Florida bonefish butt-kicker, Jim Bokor. A legend in tournament circles and a true fishing machine, I was honored to guide such an experienced angler. To quote Jim after our first day on the water, “I have no doubt the next bonefish world record will come from Hawaii!”
In addition to time spent on the water with experienced anglers, Dr. Aaron Adams of the Bonefish Tarpon Trust has provided instrumental advice. The consummate angler, fly-tier and accomplished artist Tim Borski has also helped with effective fly designs, and of course Tim Mahaffey and fly-fishing ambassador Chico Fernandez have promoted my progression.
Captain Chris Asaro, longtime Florida tarpon and bonefish guide, now works alongside me and handles all spin and baitfishing trips. He’s also an experienced fly-caster and has won an IGFA Inshore World Championship. Even with his extensive knowledge he swears these are by far the biggest and most testing bonefish he has ever seen. Chris ties his own deer-hair jigs, which he often tips with shrimp or crab. Having him around has taught me a lot of the secrets and nuances that have been perfected in Florida’s cutting-edge angling scene.
There are two distinct species of bonefish in Hawaii, the most commonly encountered is the Abula Glossodanta. Found from Hawaii, across the south shores of India and down the east coast of Africa, it is an ancient species and a bit more streamlined than its Florida cousins. They also sport larger tails and reach greater lengths. With powerful currents, big water, vicious predators and ample food sources it makes sense that Hawaiin bonefish are the cream of the crop. While we may target a different species than our Florida counterparts the game is pretty much the same.
Big fish eat big, so I prefer large flies with minimum flash that produce plenty of action in swift currents. All of the patterns we tie are designed to mimic mantis shrimp or swimming crab species. We’ve been working on a tagging project with biologist Kimberly Harding leading the charge, and by sampling stomach contents of Hawaiian bonefish we’ve found that mantis shrimp make up the bulk of their diet. We have so far identified 17 different species of mantis shrimp with only three endemic to Hawaiian waters, thus matching the bottom is more important than replicating a particular species. Not surprisingly, the most productive fly patterns include tan, dark brown and olive. When it’s one refusal after another, orange and yellow are worthy substitutes, however, in my humble opinion presentation far supersedes fly selection.
After you’ve sighted your quarry and made an accurate presentation it’s best to make one long, smooth and slow strip and then let the fly sit. At this point if the fish rushes the fly, let him stop on it, suck it back into the grinders and pause a full second before strip striking. If he refuses, then it’s a tip of the visor and off to the next target. When stalking this super species second chances don’t come often. They will also punish you for too many backcasts, a pronounced profile, or heavy feet stomping on the deck, much like mature bonefish will anywhere.
For equipment I prefer a 9-weight C.F. Burkheimer or Scott S4S fly rod and have never had an issue with either a Galvan or Hatch reel. Unlike many guides, I prefer to give my clients a choice so they can pick up an outfit that fits their style. We run a minimum of 200-yards of backing and only use Monic clear floating lines, a line that has won its share of tournament titles. I live and die by Seaguar fluorocarbon and really feel that it helps me out when fish are super spooky. My leaders are tapered with very simple formulas often going from 50 to 30 to 16lb. tippet. Dedicated to sight fishing, we’ve tested every sunglass under the sun and have come to the conclusion that Oakley Shallow Blue polarized lenses are the best. They help us spot fish in both low and bright light conditions and they also highlight the green hues that our bonefish portray on the flats.
If you find yourself enjoying our beautiful Island of Oahu give us a call and let’s chase monster bonefish. There’s also plenty to do for the non-angler, with Waikiki, the world-famous North Shore, and bustling city of Honolulu all within easy reach. The surf is always up somewhere and the Mai Tais are always strong. Tight lines and A Hui Ho (until we meet again)!
Notes of Interest About Oahu
- Third Largest Hawaiian Island
- Known as “The Gathering Place”
- Honolulu is the state capital, largest city, and main deepwater port for Hawaii.
- Hawaii is the only state that grows coffee.
- More than one-third of the world’s commercial supply of pineapple comes from Hawaii.
- Population: 905,034
- Climate: Average air temperatures 74-88°F
Terrence Duffield was born and raised in Seattle. He spent 7-years in the USMC and is a proud veteran of Desert Storm and Somalia. A degree in Sports Science led to a career in coaching, culminating with a trip to the Sugar Bowl in 2007 with the 12-0 Warriors. Known as “Coach Duff,” he is one of few FFF certified casting instructors in Hawaii and has over 30-years of fly-fishing experience.
Captain Terry Duffield
Captain Chris Asaro