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 was coming from! And what better way to experience this lovely fleet of islands than through a Hawaii fishing adventure?
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 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 are you interested in?
Best Catches in Hawaii
You’ll hardly find a place in the US that boasts better deep sea fishing action than Hawaii. Just about every game fish you can think of either stops by the islands or lives here full-time. Among over 400 species, these are many that every avid angler wants to land.
- Mahi Mahi: Although Hawaii’s state fish is the Reef Triggerfish, the magnificent Mahi Mahi is a great alternative symbol for this group of islands. You’ll find Mahi Mahi inhabiting these waters all year, and they put up an excellent fight, often leaping majestically through the air. “Mahimahi” is a Hawaiian word, after all, meaning “very strong.” These fish are also a big part of Hawaii’s local cuisine.
- Yellowfin Tuna: The deep waters that surround the archipelago are home to a variety of delicious, hard-fighting varieties, especially between May and September. The most sought after is the Ahi – better known as Yellowfin Tuna. 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. You may also find Skipjack Tuna (Aku) and Bigeye Tuna lurking in the depths of the Pacific Ocean.
- Blue Marlin (and other Billfish): 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 productive departure point. The Hawaiian island of Oahu is a Striped Marlin hotspot, while Maui is home to lots of Blue Marlin, and Kauai boasts Swordfish.
- Wahoo: Easily one of the top catches across all Hawaii’s islands, Wahoo (Ono) is fun to catch, though not necessarily easy to find. They’re among the fastest fish you can find, and take both live and dead bait with equal enthusiasm, especially when you’re trolling. Wahoo usually stay in the 30 lb range, but there are specimens out there twice that size. If all this is not enough, Wahoo are also delicious, especially when grilled.
- Giant Trevally: Also known as Ulua, GTs are among the most beloved species of inshore and nearshore anglers. Not only are they gorgeous, but they’re formidable and smart fighters. It doesn’t hurt that they can weigh anywhere from 20–100 pounds either. Finding them on the reefs is only a part of the challenge – landing one is a whole other story. They’re burly and stubborn, and you’ll need plenty of skill and patience to get them into the boat. Bluefin Trevally can also be caught.
- Amberjack: Locals call them “Kahala” and love targeting them both around deepwater wrecks and, yes, even close to shore. Sometimes Amberjack come closer to land to feed, and surf anglers make the most of it. Still, bottom fishing around reefs and wrecks is the best way to get one of these bad boys to bite. Smaller Kahala (up to 20 pounds) move around in schools, and bigger fish can weigh upwards of 50 pounds.
- Bonefish: It’s not just offshore fishing you can enjoy on the islands! Favorites of fly fishermen, Bonefish are surprisingly plentiful on the Hawaii fishing scene. The flats around Oahu are a playground to some of the biggest Bonefish you’ll ever see (around 5 pounds) and fly fishing is strong every day of the year, as long as the weather allows it. If you’d like to stay on land, but still enjoy unforgettable action, bonefishing might just be your thing.
As you can see, there’s no shortage of A-listers in Hawaii, and there’s a lot more to chase in these prolific waters. Different types of Snapper are at your disposal – Onaga, Ehu, and Pink Snapper, to name a few. Rainbow Runner, Barracuda, Needlefish, Triggerfish, Wrasse, Jobfish, and Sharks are all on the list as well. And freshwater fishing is also an option! In lakes and reservoirs all over the archipelago, you could hook into Largemouth, Smallmouth, and Peacock Bass, among others.
Hawaii Fishing Seasons
Whenever you decide to go fishing in the Aloha State, you’re in for a treat. There’s really no low season here, the only stumbling block could be the weather in late fall and winter.
Summer is the best time to visit because all the most popular deep sea fish are around. Billfish are the ultimate catch in Hawaii, and Marlin is the most coveted one of them all. Their peak season is during summer, though there are quite a few fish around in fall as well. The same goes for Swordfish, Wahoo, Mahi Mahi, Tuna, and Snapper.
If you’re coming in fall or winter, there’s still plenty for you to chase. Bigeye and Yellowfin Tuna are stellar examples, as you’ll find the brawniest of them all from December through February. You can hook into bottom feeders like Amberjack around that time, too, and there’s also quite a bit of Snapper. Jobfish, and Giant and Bluefin Trevally are also up for grabs.
Hawaii Fishing Calendar
Where is the best fishing in Hawaii?
Hawaii has eight main islands (Big Island, Maui, O’ahu, Kauai, Moloka’i, Lanai, Kaho’olawe, Ni’ihau) plus 137 smaller islands scattered around them. So wherever you cast your line, chances are you’ll find something worth catching. Here are the best of the best fishing spots in Hawaii whose fantastic action you shouldn’t miss out on.
If this is your first time visiting Hawaii, and you’re just not sure where to start, check out this useful guide to help you determine which of the islands is the best for you.
How to fish in Hawaii?
When you come to Hawaii, you won’t just be spoiled with gorgeous views and turquoise waters, but also the sheer number of fish and ways to catch them. The riches of the Pacific are at your disposal whether you use flies, rods, or spears to get to them. Here are the most popular techniques to use and get that trophy fish.
- Fly fishing: Yes, fly fishing can be off the charts in the middle of the Pacific! Bonefish are the stars of the flats, and they grow big and hardy here. Passionate anglers jet in from all over the mainland for the chance to battle these beauties, and Oahu is the epicenter of the action. For more variety, you can target Trevallies from land and in the nearshore waters. Offshore fly fishing is also a thrill, with Mahi Mahi and Tuna as the most prominent catches. Finally, if you’re craving some freshwater fishing, explore the lakes and reservoirs of the islands and try to land various Bass species.
- Spearfishing: It’s no secret that the reefs in the Hawaiian archipelago are phenomenal, their inhabitants even more so. That’s why spearfishing is such a popular pastime, and the clear warm waters don’t hurt either. You can chase reef dwellers like Mahi Mahi, Snapper, Trevally, Goatfish, and Triggerfish. If you’ve got more experience, you can test your mettle in the bluewater, where you can go against Wahoo, Tuna, and Bull Mahi Mahi. Even if you’re a beginner spearo, there are professional guides who can show you the ropes and help you land your first catch.
- Deep Sea Fishing: This is the most common type of fishing in Hawaii. It’s hardly surprising seeing that big game fish feel at home in these productive waters. We already mentioned that anything from Snapper and Mahi Mahi to a variety of Billfish is out there, ready for battle. You don’t even have to travel far to get to these fish – the bottoms drop off quickly and you can be fishing in waters that are over 1,000 feet deep in a matter of minutes. Basically, every deep sea fisher’s dream comes true in Hawaii!
Hawaii Fishing Trips
Whatever your fishing goals are, there’s a Hawaii fishing trip that can make it happen. Local guides often come from generations of anglers and know these waters like the back of their hand. That’s exactly what you want when you’re exploring a fishery that’s undoubtedly productive but can be tricky to navigate.
If you want to start off easy, there are captains who organize short and sweet 2-hour excursions. These will keep you close to shore, but still give you time to hook into something tasty. Half day trips usually last 4–5 hours and are excellent for people who want to get a taste of deep sea fishing, without spending the whole day on the water.
Then you’ve got expeditions that last 8+ hours. These are the trips that will put you face to gills with Billfish and massive game fish. Full day trips give you time to go out to the deep waters and spend time chasing your dream catch. Of course, there are trip options that last longer (anywhere from 10 hours to a couple of days) for dedicated fishers on the hunt for their next trophy.
Hawaii Fishing 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 from a local charter or fish alone.
Hitting the reservoirs or lakes for a freshwater adventure? Then you’ll need a Hawaii fishing license. You can order one online from the Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources. Prices start at $6 for residents and $11 for out-of-state visitors for shorter tourist licenses.
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.