Fishing in Kailua-Kona: All You Need to Know

Sep 9, 2021 | 8 minute read
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Like many island cultures, Hawaiians hold fishing in high regard. And why wouldn’t they, considering it’s some of the best in the entire world! Anyone who’s ever been fishing in Kailua-Kona will tell you it’s one of those magical places where you can go after big fish year-round – mere minutes away from the dock.

Aerial view of Kailua-Kona from the west

Before we really get started, let’s take a second to address the common head-scratcher that comes with the name of this amazing fishing destination. Locals and anglers alike refer to the place as simply “Kona.” This is all well and good as long as you don’t go to the wrong Kona by accident. You see, the word Kona means “Leeward” in Hawaiian, and every island has its own Kona district. With that out of the way, let’s dive into the world of Kona fishing…

Top Catches in Kailua-Kona

The first thing you need to know about fishing here is that the waters get really deep really fast. You won’t make it more than a mile or two out before you reach 100+ fathoms of water. Not only can you fish your heart out even on a shorter trip, but the water itself is calmer than on trips where you have to go dozens of miles out before you find something. And speaking of finding something, let’s see what Kona has to offer:

Marlin

An angler taking a photo with the Marlin he just caught and holding the line in his right hand.

When it comes to billfishing in Kona, Blue Marlin tends to steal the show time and again. Even so, there’s plenty of action for its Black and Striped cousins too. Seeing as this is one of the few places in the world where the phrase “inshore Marlin fishing” actually makes sense, it would be a shame to miss out on all the fun. You can find Blue Marlin in Kona all year round, but we’d recommend mid-summer for the best possible experience.

On the other hand, Striped Marlin are more migratory and are usually found in the winter months. Also known as Nairagi in these parts, they are most commonly found between January and March. While not as big as their Blue counterparts, they’re still a lot of fun to catch – their tall leaps being nothing less than spectacular to behold.

Tuna

Two anglers on a charter boat hold a Yellowfin Tuna they recently caught near Kona.

Yes, Marlin are great, but they’re far from the only fish in the sea. In fact, some would say Tuna fishing in Kailua-Kona is just as good, if not even better. Like Marlin, you can fish for them whenever you want, but for the best results you should plan your trip between May and September.

If your plan is to reel in the biggest and baddest Tuna around, you’ll want to start with Yellowfins. Here in Kona they usually range anywhere from 100–250 pounds, and you can find them in large schools looking for bait fish. Aside from being a delicious meal, they’ll give you a run for your money when you try reeling one in.

Mahi Mahi

An angler smiles while holding a Mahi Mahi he recently caught.

The beautiful Mahi Mahi are another mainstay of fishing in Kailua-Kona. They’re great to eat, fun to catch, and the waters are absolutely teeming with them – what’s not to like? Popular with beginners and seasoned anglers alike, you’re sure to have a lot of fun with these aquatic acrobats.

There’s never a bad time to go fishing for Mahi, but it could be useful to know their numbers peak starting around mid-December up until April. They love schooling near various offshore debris, constantly on the lookout for something to eat. Indulge them with some sardines and you’ll have a real frenzy on your hands.

Spearfish

Two anglers on a charter boat hold a Shortbill Spearfish they just caught.

Did you know that Hawaii is the only place in the world with a stable stock of Shortbill Spearfish? You can encounter this migratory species in other parts of the Indo-Pacific too, but they’re not all that popular because of how rarely anglers run into them.

Locally known as Hebi, they’re also the smallest Billfish you can find in these waters. That’s far from being a bad thing, considering their size made them popular with Kona’s light tackle anglers. And of course, anyone looking to become part of the IGFA Billfish Royal Slam Club is bound to have Kona’s Spearfish on their to-do list.

Wahoo

An angler sits at the back of a boat, holding a Wahoo he just caught.

Last, but certainly not least, we have the speedy Wahoo. Hawaiians call them Ono, which literally means “good to eat.” How’s that for an endorsement? But it’s not all about the taste, seeing as how they’re a wildly popular game fish to boot.

Unlike some other local favorites like Mahi Mahi, Wahoo are loners by nature. This makes them more difficult to track down, but it’s more than worth it. Built for speed and armed with razor-sharp teeth, landing a Wahoo is no picnic. They’re not picky eaters so they’ll jump on pretty much anything you send their way, but ballyhoo and mullet are good starter options.

Types of Fishing in Kailua-Kona

Whether it’s a quiet day on the beach or an offshore fishing adventure with non-stop action, Kona has all you need for an unforgettable fishing experience. We’ll be taking a look at some of the most popular ways to go fishing in Kona, so you can work out the best fit for your own Hawaiian adventure.

Charter Fishing

Five young anglers enjoying the view from a charter boat cruising near Kailua-Kona

If you’re looking to head out into the deep blue for some huge fish, you’ll want to find yourself a good charter boat for the job. This is the most hassle-free way to go about things, since your captain will have everything from rods and reels to bait and lures ready to rock ‘n’ roll. When you’re looking to duke it out with some big-league Billfish, having a good crew at your back is indispensable.

It’s also a good learning experience. There are some fishing techniques native to Hawaii that are an absolute blast to try. Probably the most famous example is the “Ika-Shibi” technique. Devised in the early 1900s by immigrants from Okinawa, it’s used on nighttime trips to great success. You’ll start off by catching squid that you’ll then use as bait for handlining Yellowfin Tuna throughout the night.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! When going with a local crew, you can be sure you’ll be using the best tools for the job.

Kayak Fishing

Angler on a kayak retrieves his lure from the water.

Have you ever wondered if it’s possible to go after Billfish from a kayak? We’re happy to say that the answer is a resounding yes! The amazing combo of deep and calm waters close to Kona is what makes this type of fishing possible. For anyone who’s got some yak experience, this is a must-try. It’s also a budget-friendly option if you’re not looking to splurge.

Most local kayak anglers will be targeting Yellowfin Tuna, but you’ve got plenty of other options too. You can also target Wahoo, Mahi Mahi, as well as the occasional Billfish and Giant Trevally. Something you’ll notice about other kayak anglers here is that hardly anyone uses a traditional hook gaff when fishing. This is because the weapon of choice in Hawaii is the spear gaff, also known as a “kage.”

Surf Fishing

Father and son fishing from an area in Kailua-Kona covered in black lava.

Kona surf fishing is a great way to spend a day out with friends and family, clear your mind, and hopefully catch some fish. Like most other places in Hawaii, the nature is breathtaking and the waters bountiful, so what’s not to love?

There’s a good variety when it comes to the fish you might hook at the end of the day. Trevally are a common sight in the summer, but so are Peacock Grouper, Bonefish, Flatfish, and others. For fly anglers, Kona can be the perfect place to work on your stripping technique. Just cast out as far as you can manage, wait a bit, and start stripping with both hands. The fish will come running!

Where to Fish in Kailua-Kona

The coastal part of Kailua-Kona shown on the left-hand side with Kailua Bay to the right.

Truth is, once you’re a few miles out on the water, it won’t take long before you see rods bending and heads turning. That’s what makes Kona such a popular fishing location in the first place. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular spots for fishing in the wider Kona area:

  • Kaiwi Point: Just to the northwest of Kona you have a premier trolling location in the form of Kaiwi Point. Back in the old days, anglers didn’t just come home with a lot of fish but with stories too. The most famous one concerns the Kaiwi Point Mermaid, said to be keeping the local dolphins company. Keep an eye out when trolling for Mahi and Tuna, you never know what you’ll see out there.
  • Keauhou Bay: A few miles south of Kailua Kona proper you’ll find this popular kayak-launch area. Other than kayaks, you’ll also find regular charter boats headed further south to look for Marlin and other Billfish. Surf anglers can stay on the pier and try their luck at reeling in a GT.
  • Anaeho’omalu Bay (A-Bay): Now this is your classic summer getaway location. Beautiful sandy beaches that give way to rocky ledges to the south make A-Bay a prime place for the whole family. Some of the more regular species caught here include Trevally, Bonefish, and small Barracuda.
  • Honaunau: Lastly, further down to the south, we have the small town of Honaunau. Primarily known for its national historic park, its waters are a popular location for offshore ledge fishing. If you plan on looking for that big Blue Marlin, keep this scenic little place in mind.

Fishing Tournaments in Kailua-Kona

Flags fluttering from a fishing boat show the fish caught by the crew that day.

Being one of the absolute best locations for deep sea fishing on the planet, it’s no wonder that Kona has its share of fishing tournaments. In fact, it’s home to over a dozen such contests where the best anglers compete for millions of dollars year in and year out. Probably the most famous of the bunch is the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament (HIBT). Having gotten off the ground in 1959, it’s actually the second oldest big game sportfishing event in the world.

For all the women anglers out there, make sure to check out Huggo’s Wahine Fishing Tournament. With a tradition spanning two decades and counting, it’s widely known as the world’s largest all-women Billfish tournament. As many as 75 teams compete under four different categories every year.

Of course, it’s not all about the super-serious international events. Hawaiians adore fishing, so there’s a bunch of locally-driven tournaments to look forward to every year. It’s always a good idea to see what’s going on when you’re in the neighborhood, you might find something right up your alley.

Fishing Licenses and Regulations

An infographic that says Kailua-Kona Fishing Regulations - All you need to know on a blue background with the Hawaii state flag above and the image of a boat below the text.

One of the good things about Kona fishing is that you don’t need to worry about getting a fishing license as long as you’re fishing in saltwater. This applies to the other Hawaiian islands as well, and should make things easier if you’re going on your own.

On the other hand, you will need to pay attention to fishing regulations that concern angling in specific areas of the island. You can find the most up to date regulations on the official Division of Aquatic Resources website. These address things like dedicated zones for spearfishing, fish limits, and more.

Fishing in Kailua-Kona – Welcome to the Land of Giants

A view of Kailua-Kona from the top of a nearby hillside.

Kona is one of those places that are almost too good to be true. You have world-class deep sea fishing minutes away from the dock, and waters calm enough for ‘yak anglers to go after Swordfish. If you’re a dedicated big game angler, this little slice of paradise needs to be on your bucket list. And if you’re not, Kona might just turn you into one.

Have you ever been fishing in Kailua-Kona? Any stories to share or tips for all the greenhorns out there? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Leave a reply
NameRequired *
Your comment Required *