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Fly Fishing Kauai for Bluefin Trevally from Shore

November 27 to December 4th, 2020

When a fly fisher thinks about fishing Kauai it is typically about the rare and the elusive Kauai rainbows.   I have written about hunting the fabled rainbow trout of Kauai many times.  Hundreds, if not thousands of people have reached out to me over the years for guidance on how to find and fish the rainbows of Kauai.  The “thing” about Kauai’s rainbows is that it’s an all-day thing requiring a big drive, a big hike, and lots of bushwhacking through plants and over lava that will take your blood.  it is very physical.  The rainbows live deep in the jungles of Kokee State park where the rain flows cool down streams and rivers from altitude on the rainiest place on earth.  That also means you are using a machete just to get to the water and frequently to cut a path for your fly line.

This article is about DIY saltwater fly fishing from the Kauai shoreline for the Bluefin Trevally.  I wrote about my success after 20 years of misery last year: https://fly-fishing-blog.timhuckaby.com/fly-fishing-guidance-for-hawaii/.  Well, with the island pretty darn empty and a lot more time on the water I learned a lot more on my latest trip.   There are so many ways to fly fish the saltwater of Kauai.  In this article I will be focusing on just one of the ways: hunting the predator gamefish from shore.

This was a last-minute trip Kelly and I pulled off on points.  We snuck it in between the closing of the Hawaiian Islands in the basically 3 week period that the islands were open in 2020 because of COVID-19.  We own a timeshare in Poipu at the Marriott Waiohai.  20+ years ago I was totally against buying it, but talked into it, unwillingly, by my wife, Kelly.  I was totally wrong.  It was the smartest thing we have ever done.  We go every September, travelling on points, after the kids go back to school and the island is less crowded.  But Covid-19 cancelled this year’s September trip.  With kelly going stir crazy at the house and a government regulated testing program in place we snuck in a weeklong trip…. And we were lucky.  With “no one” on the island it was easy to be covid safe.  The islands locked down again just a few days after we left.

how’d ya’ like to pull the fly out of the face of this beast?

The good news was that the island of Kauai was pretty empty of tourists because of the rigorous requirements of passing governmental covid testing and the short notice of the openings and closing of the islands.  I am confident I will never ever again experience the beaches of that island so empty.  I always worry about my back-cast hitting a curious tourist walking up behind me; not on this trip.  The bad news is the Hawaiian economy, almost solely dependent on tourism, is decimated.  So many businesses and restaurants closed.  The people of Kauai are suffering….or will be when governmental aid runs out.  The business owners are definitely suffering.  Even the Hyatt itself in Poipu has closed indefinitely.  That is a huge, wildly popular resort that is even frequented by the rich and famous.  Such difficult times.

I had to pause the double hauling to just stare at this for a while.

The Fishing

Ok, let’s get to the fishing.  I did well.  I caught around a dozen bluefin trevally over 4 2-4 hour fly fishing sessions.  So it’s not like it was steelhead fishing slow in terms of lack of action.  But, it wasn’t like it was crazy nuts getting struck on every cast trout fishing.  Typically what happens when we visit Kauai is that we pick a new adventure every day.  The “battle” between kelly and I is that we are on one of the, if not the nicest beaches on the island in Poipu, so leaving that beach just feet from our condo is hard for her; understandably so.  Since I can’t sit still I will typically snorkel or fly fish or find something else to keep me busy.  Or she’ll just put a rum drink in my hand to keep me from being fidgety.  rum does work to slow me down.

The Bluefin Trevally – quite a special fish

The Bluefin Trevally

The bluefin trevally was the fish I was hunting.  2 Septembers ago I caught a few special ones. After figuring out how to fish them and that changed me forever.  I now dream about fishing for bluefin trevally.  They are an amazing gamefish predator to battle on a fly rod; very special.  They fight like hell.  I have mentioned a few times on this site the monster bluefin trevally I lost many years ago at Mahaulepu that will haunt me forever.  Also, one of my favorite stories from a few years back is fishing bait on conventional gear with my son, Mark. I bought a cheap $20 trout rod for him at the Walmart on the island.  We were on top of the cliff at secret beach in Mahaulepu.  He hooked and landed a large marbled hawkfish (called a piliko’a in Hawaii).  The hawkfish looks poisonous it has so many spines.  And you cant grab them because of those spines.  We had trouble releasing it with forceps, so I told him to give it a breather in the water and we’d try again after it breathed a bit.  While the fish struggled on the top of the water column, clearly tired, a 3 foot long Blue Trevally came from nowhere like lightning and swallowed it.  It took off like a gun shot and started peeling 6 pound mono test from that cheap trout rod….for about 2 seconds when that cheap reel couldn’t keep up and the line just snapped.  We both looked at each other in shock.  I simply said, “that was the blue trevally.”  He said, “Oh my God…”

One of the Bluefins I caught on this trip was special and has a story.  More on that in a bit. I did catch a handful of predator reef fish in the mix.  It was not crazy every cast getting struck upper Kern River or Clark Fork River crazy like us trout fishermen sometimes experience.  I did have to work for the fish I caught.  Frequently I had to work an area for 30+ casts before getting a strike.

blah blah

To be successful fly fishing the bluefin trevallys (and other similar predators shore-fishing in Kauai) there is a prescription for success.  I am not claiming to be an expert, yet, by any stretch.  But, every hour on the water; every year gets me closer:

  • You have to be able to double haul a cast more than 50 feet, frequently into the wind. So, this is the type of fly fishing that is just not for beginners.
  • You have to be able to do that double haul while standing on lava or rocks or sand getting pounded by waves. I never do anything too crazy that it’s unsafe, but it is annoying when you get pounded.
  • You aim for the back of the wave; not in front of it. if you have snorkeled you have seen fish follow the waves, not get pounded in the chop by them.  It’s easier to keep a tight line in the back of the waves too.
  • You have to be willing to lose flies. Anything can happen with that wind and surf that will allow your fly to sink and catch the reef.
  • I use a Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO) TiCr2 9’0″ 4pc. 300-400GB Lefty Kreh 10 weight with a Rio Outbound short tropical line. TFO has replaced the TiCr2 with the Bluewater SG.  With that super fast retrieve I’m fishing the top of the water column so there is no need for casting heaving sinking lines.
  • You have to strip as fast as possible. Because of that fast retrieve the take to landing ratio is really good.  You rarely miss a fish when you are stripping so fast.  Well, except for those damn foot long needle fish that nip at the tails of your flies all the way in.
  • You’re aiming for deeper water that has structure close. Some of my success is simply hunting where they hang out while snorkling.  Then going back at where they are with a rod.  On this trip I was very surprised to run into a school of 20 or so of them in 20 feet of water with a sandy bottom at poipu beach, though.
  • Flies? Well, who knows.  My success came on a number of different flies, including bonefish flies (which makes very little sense).  For that reason alone it seems that presentation, placement and stripping speed are a lot more important than the fly itself.  But, what I was most excited about was catching them on an Avalon Permit fly that my buddy and co-inventor of the fly, William from Cuba and now working at RO Drift boats in Bozeman tied for me.

one of the obstacles to avoid when fly fishing Kauai: the endangered hawaiin monk seal

Catch and Release

In Hawaii the bluefin trevally is called the Omilu.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bluefin_trevally.  The Hawaiians not only eat them but consider them a delicacy.  If I was offshore in a boat railing tuna I wouldn’t have a problem keeping a fish.  But, as a tourist, I just don’t feel comfortable harvesting fish from shore.  There are a lot of local Hawaiians that fish from the shore (netting, spear fishing and bait fishing) every day for simple sustenance.  I just don’t feel good about being their competition, so I let everything I catch go unharmed.  And yea, I sure do get some strange looks and even some comments when people see me let fish go after catching them.

Other fish i caught on this trip included the marbled hawkfish – piliko’a and a big ol wrasse or parrotfish that I had trouble releasing so I didn’t take a picture trying to release it without killing it.

Another not so endangered species to avoid tripping over: the green sea turtle.

My favorite Takeaway Story of the Trip

There are some things we do every time we visit Kauai.  One of them is what we call “the north shore” – Kee beach at the very northern part of the island where the road ends at the Kalalua trailhead.  Officially it’s called Hāʻena State Park and you have to reserve in advance and pay a fee because it is so popular.  I like that.  I assume those fees are going to the conservation of that magical place.  It’s a huge trek from Poipu where our condo is on the southern part of the island in Poipu.  It’s an all-day thing.  It’s 51 miles and frequently takes longer than an hour and a half to get to.  You can see from this map.  The interesting thing truly unique about Kauai is that the road doesn’t go entirely around the island; not even close.  A full third of the island is completely undeveloped jungle.  I like that a lot.  Anyways, my point is it is a very popular place and normally I have to walk for over a mile to get space to cast.  Not on this day, though.  No one there.  So, I got to hunt.

A completely empty Mahaulepu. i’m pretty sure i will never see that again in my lifetime

I saw the flash, but it was a good 60 feet away. The wind backed down just long enough for me to double haul my TFO 10 wt TiCR2 into the zone. Whack! At first, I thought I caught the reef…until the reef started peeling line away. That rod is a single hand rod designed by the Lefty Kreh, but it is a beast with two handles and the fighting butt of a spey rod. The fly was an Avalon Permit fly tied by the William of Cuba, one of the designers who currently works at Ro in Bozeman. That fish gave me everything I had in the fight.  Picture little ol me with two hands on the rod and line peeling away.  I was using a 20 lb flouro leader and actually worried about it at points in the battle.  Those Bluefins fight so hard.  Well, after what seemingly took forever and was probably just a few minutes I had it tired out and on a shelf with water so I could release it.  I wanted to do it as quickly as possible so as not to harm the fish.  A couple Hawaiians watched in shock as I let it go.  I put it on my Instagram here.

That’s Kelly on Kee beach with the sun shining and completely empty – shocking

Epilogue

I still have not caught a bonefish on Kauai.  I thought I did two Septembers ago, but one of you readers pointed out that the fish I caught was a related species, but not an actual bonefish. On this trip I did not see a single bonefish so I never got a chance to try.  Of course, the way I fished for Trevallys is totally contrary to the way you’d fish for bonefish; hunting in shallow water from the beach with pinpoint accurate casts and slow retrieves.

school of small bluefin trevally