Hawaii Fishing: Your Complete Guide
Dec 28, 2020 | 10 minute read
Reading Time: 10 minutes

Mark Twain described Hawaii as “the loveliest fleet of islands that lies anchored in any ocean.” With postcard-perfect scenery, the glittering waters of the Pacific, and lush mountain forests all on offer, we can definitely see where he’s coming from! And what better way to experience this lovely fleet of islands than through a Hawaii fishing adventure?

An aerial view of Hawaii island with a volcano crater and the ocean in view

Yep, the scenery is just as beautiful out on the water as it is on land. The world-famous fish lurking beneath the Pacific’s surface are a pretty huge bonus, too! Our emphasis is on huge, by the way – big game sportfishing is something that’s truly made a name for itself in Hawaii. But that’s not all. You can reef hop, cruise the flats, and cast a line in freshwater fisheries, too.

Ready to say “Aloha!” to the Aloha State? We can see why. However, you probably have some questions: which Hawaiian island is the best fit for you? How can you fish these waters? And, most importantly: what can you catch here? Let’s delve in and find out…

What can I catch in Hawaii?

A Whole Host of Tuna

For many anglers, Hawaii is synonymous with Tuna fishing. The deep waters that surround this island chain are home to a variety of delicious, hard-fighting varieties, especially between May–September. June, July, and August are peak seasons, and perfectly align with summer vacation time!

A man and a boy stand at the back of a charter boat holding a large Yellowfin Tuna

The most sought-after is the Ahi, better known as Yellowfin Tuna, but you’ll also find Aku (Skipjack Tuna) lurking within the Pacific. Battling these beasts isn’t an easy feat, especially as they usually weigh at least 125 pounds, but the excitement of reeling one in makes it all worth it.

Ahi and Aku Tuna tend to feed near the surface but spend most of their time in deeper waters. Chumming is a popular method, and trolling live bait such as sardines, anchovies, and mackerel is also effective. Then you just need to brace yourself and prepare for the fight of your life!

Battle-Ready Billfish

When it comes to deep sea fishing in Hawaii, it’s not just about Tuna. There’s also Billfish – and lots of ’em, too! Hawaii is home to a year-round population of Swordfish, Spearfish, and Black, Blue, and Striped Marlin, with the Kona side of Hawaii’s “Big Island” being an especially lucrative departure point.

Two men hold a large Billfish aboard a charter vessel with the Pacific behind them

Kona is also where the first certified grander Marlin was hooked, so it’s no surprise that Billfishing is a popular activity around this island city. It’s not the only location to explore, though. The Hawaiian island of Oahu is a Striped Marlin hotspot, Maui is home to lots of Blue Marlin, and Kauai boasts Swordfish.

Trolling artificial lures in the azure waters of the Pacific is a popular way of chasing Billfish. It’s one of the most exciting, too. Since grander Marlin are pretty common, local anglers recommend bringing heavy tackle. There’s nothing worse than feeling your Billfish bite your line clear through!

Mighty Mahi Mahi

Although Hawaii’s state fish is the tongue-twisting Humuhumunukunukuapua`a (or, more simply, the Reef Triggerfish), we think that the magnificent Mahi Mahi is a great alternative symbol for this group of islands. Why? Well, they’re both incredibly photogenic, and provide lots of exciting sportfishing action!

A group of men hold large Mahi Mahi fish aboard a charter boat in Hawaii with the Pacific behind them

Mahi Mahi also play a big part in Hawaii’s local cuisine. What could be better than hooking your own and cooking ’em up? That’s not the only reason to target them – they also puts up an excellent fight at the end of a line, often leaping majestically through the air. “Mahimahi” is a Hawaiian word, after all, meaning “very strong.” Accurate!

When it comes to hooking ’em, Mahi are especially drawn to mackerel and sardines. You’ll find Mahi Mahi inhabiting the waters around Hawaii all year, but the island of Oahu between March–September offers seriously productive Mahi-chasing opportunities. Oh, and the blazing Hawaiian sun is likely to make an appearance during these months, too!

Brilliant Bonefish

Hawaii’s deep water offerings are so incredible that its flats fishing action often gets overlooked. No more, we say! It’s the perfect activity for anglers who want to stay closer to shore, show off their skills on the fly, or see a whole other side of this locale. Oh, and it’ll also give you the chance to battle one of the hardest saltwater fighters around – the Bonefish.

A man holds a Bonefish on the shore of a beach, with the water behind him

So why go Bonefishing in Hawaii? Well, the state’s said to have the largest Bonefish in the world. Yep, even bigger than in the Bahamas or Belize! Hawaii might not yet have the legendary flats fishing status that those areas do, but that’s even more of a plus for us – it means there are fewer anglers to tangle lines with.

There are many places to battle Bonefish in Hawaii, but the island of Molokai has the largest square mile area of fishable flats. It’s also home to Molokai Reef, where species average 6–8 pounds. Fly fishing for Bonefish is the most popular technique here. Just hold on tight – you’re in for a wild ride!

…Largemouth and Peacock Bass?!

Okay, it’s fair to say that the last fish on our list probably stand out a little bit. When you think of freshwater Bass, the sun-drenched azure blue waters that surround Hawaii probably don’t come to mind first! However, this island chain is dotted with a surprising number of reservoirs and lakes – and that’s where you’ll find an impressive amount of Bass.

A man holds a Peacock Bass to the camera with the freshwaters of a lake behind him

Largemouth Bass inhabit these waters, but they’re not the only Bass species here. They’re joined by the picture-perfect Peacock Bass, as well as a variety of other freshwater fish. To hook these species, local anglers recommend using either light tackle or fly fishing gear, and bringing along plenty of patience! Bass fishing is often a waiting game.

The reservoirs and lakes in Hawaii are the perfect places to relax, pick up some new fishing skills, and hook some world-famous species. The atmosphere is worlds away from a high-energy sportfishing adventure and shows a whole new side of this island chain – one resplendent with lush forests, calm freshwaters, and plenty of serenity.

And Many More

Hawaii is a diverse place – no two of its islands are the same, and the same could be said for the fish species on offer. With world-famous and local underwater creatures filling up this fishery, writing about them all would fill a book. That’s why we focused on our favorites above. But that’s not all you can catch!

A man holds a Needlefish with rocky structure behind him as well as water

If you head to the reefs, you’ll be able to target Pacific Barracuda and local bottom fish known as the “Deep Seven,” including Snapper varieties. That famous “reef donkey,” the Amberjack, joins them. Inshore, you can target Trevally species as well as Needlefish, while Wahoo join Mahi Mahi and Marlin offshore.

How can I fish in Hawaii?

From a Boat

With deep sea fishing right at the forefront of Hawaii’s fishing scene, it’s no surprise that hopping aboard a local charter is the most popular way of casting a line. How else can you reach those startlingly blue deep waters?! You’ll find a whopping selection of charters to choose from, usually located on the state’s most popular islands (Oahu, Big Island, Maui, and Kauai).

Charters and sailboats docked in Honolulu, Hawaii

You’ll find charter captains specializing in deep sea fishing, spearfishing, flats fishing, and freshwater fishing. You can opt for a professional tournament-level adventure, with all the latest gear. You can hop into a kayak. Or you can join a captain who’s all about introducing visitors to traditional island-style angling. There really is something for everyone!

From Shore

Always dreamed of standing underneath the sun in a tropical locale, sand between your toes and rod in your hand? Shore fishing in Hawaii has your name written all over it. Just be aware of the regulated no-access areas all across this chain of islands.

A woman stands in the foreground casting a fishing line into the surf as the sun sets

The beaches on Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island are prime shore fishing locations. There’s also a whole host of cliffs and piers to cast a line from, which offer access to deeper waters. What you’re likely to catch when fishing on foot depends on where you go. Some impressive species are on the table, including Trevallies, Snappers, and ‘Cudas.

Where should I go?

The name “Hawaii” can be somewhat misleading. It refers to a single island, often called the “Big Island,” as well as the entire cluster of islands that make up the state of Hawaii. Phew! All you want (and need) to know, however, is where the best departure points are. Below, we’ve highlighted the best hotspots for you on the islands with the most action…

Hawaii – “The Big Island”

A view of the Big Island showing ancient statues in the foreground and the ocean in the background
  • Kailua-Kona: Yep, the Big Island is home to this town, often considered to be the best place to fish in the entire state of Hawaii. It has world-class charter fleets, direct (and often quick!) access to deep bluewaters, its own fishing tournaments… Oh, and you’ll usually start trolling for big game fish as soon as you leave the dock, thanks to the sea floor’s deep drop.
  • Anaehoomalu Bay: Also known as “A-Bay,” this beach is an excellent shore fishing spot. Head to the left side of the shore, which is usually quieter, and provides access to some prime angling action. Common target species include Triggerfish, Barracuda, and Mahi Mahi. Head out early to avoid swimmers and tourists!

Maui – “The Valley Isle”

A view of a beach in Maui with a rocky shoreline, palm trees, and the ocean
  • Lahaina: The majority of sportfishing charters on this island depart from Lahaina Harbor, making it the perfect place to begin your deep sea adventure. You’ll be able to target all the usual suspects on a Maui fishing adventure. Mahi Mahi, Wahoo, and Marlin varieties are especially common catches.
  • Kahului Harbor: This harbor is the primary port on Maui’s northern side, and it’s also one of the area’s primary on-foot fishing spots. It’s home to a dock and a pier that you can fish from, and you’re likely to encounter Triggerfish, Trevallies, and Barracuda.

Oahu – “The Gathering Place”

A view of Kaneohe Bay on Oahu island showing the mountains and ocean
  • Wahiawā Reservoir: Also known as Lake Wilson, this freshwater reservoir is packed full of Bass, including Largemouth and Peacock varieties. The best place to explore it is Wahiawā State Freshwater Park, which has direct access to the reservoir as well as a boat ramp and various amenities.
  • Kaena Point: Or, more precisely, the dirt road leading up to it. There’s a reason you’ll see a plethora of local anglers camping all along this stretch – the shore fishing action is incredible. The main species on offer? Ulua, also known as Trevally. This is a prime on-foot fishing location, so come join the locals and see what you’re made of!
  • Kaneohe Bay: Located along the northeast strip of this island, Kaneohe Bay is beloved by Hawaiians for one reason: Bonefish, and lots of ’em! If you’re after an inshore fight you won’t forget, chasing these hard-fighting fellas across the bay’s shallow waters is a must.

Kauai – “The Garden Isle”

A view of the shoreline on Kauai island, showing the mountains and the water
  • Walta Reservoir: Another Bass-fishing hotspot! This reservoir is something of a hidden gem, making it the perfect place to visit if you’re looking to escape the crowds. You’ll need to fish alongside a local guide to explore it – but the serenity, seclusion, and wonderful wildlife make the journey more than worth it.
  • Waimea Pier: There’s a whole selection of piers to choose from in Kauai, but Waimea tops our list. Why? It’s peaceful, located in an area with jaw-dropping sunsets, and is the perfect place to pole fish. Sharks are a common catch here, thanks to the murky waters caused by the river runoff. You can also go crabbing!

Anything else I need to know?

What techniques can I use?

So now you know a little more about how you can fish here – but you’re probably also interested in the kinds of techniques that are commonly used. Historically, Hawaii has always been ahead of the game when it comes to fishing. Techniques used around the world these days, such as trolling and kite fishing, were first pioneered here.

A spearfisher rests underwater wearing spearfishing gear and holding a speargun

That’s not all that’s on offer here, though. Hawaii fishermen also lean heavily into tradition. Spearfishing has been a source of sustenance for islanders throughout history, and remains a popular way of exploring the reefs to this day. You can also indulge in tug of war with a Tuna – Ika-shibi is a form of local hand line fishing for this species that takes place at night.

Rules and Regulations

Exploring the flats, the reefs, or the open waters of the Pacific? You won’t need a fishing license to cast your line. This goes for all anglers, whether you choose to cast off aboard a local charter or fish alone.

Hitting the reservoirs or lakes for a freshwater adventure? Then you’ll need a license. You can order one online from the Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources. Prices start at $6 for residents and $25 for out-of-state visitors.

A sign advertising a bait and tackle shop, a common place to buy a LA fishing license

If you’re fishing Wahiawā Reservoir from the public fishing area, you’ll need to bring an entry permit, which is free and can be added to your freshwater license purchase on the DoAR site.

When it comes to keeping your catch, most deep sea sportfishing charters expect to keep anything that’s reeled aboard. If you’re bottom fishing around the reefs, you’ll likely split your catch with your boat. Make sure you discuss your expectations with your captain beforehand, to avoid disappointment.

Hawaii Fishing: Paradise on Earth

If we’ve painted you a picture of Hawaii that’s anywhere near as beautiful as the real thing, then we consider it a job well done. Hopefully you’re well on your way to deciding what a perfect island fishing adventure looks like for you – whether that’s a Billfish battle under the sun or some freshwater action at the base of a volcano.

A view of some boats on the water with mountains in the background

Before you grab your rods and reels, we’re going to end with another quote from our friend Mark Twain: “For me the balmy airs are always blowing, its summer seas flashing in the sun; the pulsing of its surfbeat is in my ear.” We think his message is pretty clear. Come cast a line here, and you’ll take an unforgettable slice of paradise home with you!

Have you ever been fishing in Hawaii? Which island did you visit? Any tips or tricks to share? Let us know in the comments below. We love hearing from you!

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