Being spoiled, I just got back from 2 weeks in Maui on Kaanapali Beach.  Being me, I of course fished a lot of it: pretty much in fact every day there. Saw multiple sunrises and saw sunset every day I was there. Rod in hand, as is my M.O.

zach-sunset-fishingWhile I have never fished so far south, I had a general idea of what I’d find and got a lot of help from this one great thread about Maui fishing…yet artificial was not happening for me. Or rather, frozen squid was hitting for us every cast, so why argue with what works.

zach-fish-tinyYep- everyday was a pretty little postcard here – it is truly paradise as far as I could see. But beach fishing is different everywhere and our first plunk in, we lost so many rigs (like every other cast) on the reefs and rocks and the fish we did catch, were tiny and often weird to us. Cool to see in this regard…but not quite what we were expecting. They were all toothy and spiny, so hard for us novices to grab safely.

Not so easy to capture the beauty of some of the little fish either. But it was fun. When I finally did catch something bigger, it was a very nasty eel who had wrapped the steel leader around his own neck and made it really hard to grab him.


I tried to get him safely behind the head but he coiled around and tried to bite me a few times and was full-body-strong, like a shark. His jaws were pretty terrifying–coming at me with a clearly audible snapping noise that suggested a very powerful bite indeed. He was like a dinosaur that made it. Not that he made it past our encounter, but I’ll spare you the details.

And so thru trial and error and a few days of trying various things (which tended to result in losing a lot of stuff on reefs and rocks),  we found an egg slip sinker and pinch weight with a small hook holding frozen squid strips was perfect. Kind of like a pegged Carolina rig, but using egg weights pegged with a pinch weight, not bullet weights.

The huma huma nuka nuka apua’a bites back

humahumanukanukaapuaaIn no time, we met with the huma huma nuka nuka apua’a- a cool looking little bastard that is everywhere- and is Hawaii’s state fish. One of these guys I caught (and there were many of them) was about 3 pounds, so a fattie- I was rubbing his bottom lip to ease his mouth open and get the hook out, and  he bit me on the index finger. Hard.

red goatfish Maui beach fishingI yelled-I swore at him, shouting “You little f-bomb!” much louder than I had intended. Some old leather-skinned guy in cheap mirrored aviators and a faded bathing suit that I could sense, much like his baked alligator skin, reeked of cigarettes, said to me with disgust: “You know its the state fish and you can’t eat him, right? You gonna throw him back, right?” I mumbled something and tried to stop the bleeding- wanting more to club the old wallet built man with the stupid state fish who bit harder than a motherhummer. But of course he, like all the fish I caught on the beach except the eel, made it back into the water, unharmed. He drew blood and my finger hurt for days, so don’t take any of these dudes for granted. Because they eat off rocks and reefs they have super strong bites, and most have teeth, though more like molars than sharp ones.

All my other encounters with this fish, which were many, were very good. Made me learn how to say and spell it- and they get to be a few pounds and will hit quickly and fight, hard. I got to a point where I could feel them pick it up opposed to other fish- so catching one was something I did a lot. I saw this guy as Maui’s bluegill, and some squid would pull one out even if nothing else was anywhere close. If you beach fish in Maui/Kaanapali, you will catch the huma huma nuka nuka apua’a…it is a sure safe bet, and other than not keeping him (if you are looking for fish to eat) worth it for sure to catch a bunch. Made me popular with the tourists, who were happy to see me catching them a lot.

picasso triggerfish beach fishing MauiA close relative, is the Picasso triggerfish, whose stripes certainly had different shades working underwater. This little guy was pretty common, and super pretty underwater. The belly stripes on some, either reflect color or are colored differently- hard to say, but you can see it in a variety of the same fish.

Triggerfish, plain looking ones, are also really common little bait-stealers. I laughed, because the guy in the thread I linked up top, calls triggerfish “Hate” and I didn’t get it until after I fished there. But they eat your bait a lot, and compared to the excellent stuff you land are more of a junk fish down here.

And though I tried local jigs, it was frozen squid all the way, that really worked. The guys at All About Fish offered some great tips and inexpensive lures to try, but artificial was not happening for me.

The gear going down and what worked for me

Being a vacationing angler always presents interesting challenges in gear. You don’t quite know what to bring, what will work, and it can be very expensive for a thing like this…extra baggage on airplanes (like rods) cost now and we were already bringing a bunch of stuff for the long stay. So my wife and I figured out the smart thing to do, was pack a smaller tackle box and some reels and buy rods on the island. We did just that, going to Costco on the way in where I found 2 cheap Shimanos for about $18 each, which seemed perfect.

spotted fish in Maui beach fishingThis actually was a great way to handle it, though most of the lures I brought, I stopped throwing (and losing) pretty quickly. All my hooks and stuff were much larger than what I was using – there were hilariously small hooks down there, because a lot of these fish have tiny mouths. I hit All About Fish as a local bait shop on the first day there and the guy there helped me pick out a bunch of weights and rigs. But we had 3 reels and 2 new cheap rods to allow us to get lines in the water the first night.

maui goatfishI had a spool of 15 pound test, some braided line, and some 50 pound leader. I also had a lot of coated, pre-rigged steel leaders, hooks and weights from shark fishing in Hilton Head. However, the way they suggested to fish here used a 3 way swivel- which was a way I lost a lot of rigs. In trying different things, we came up with tying a steel leader straight on the 15 pound test, and using a large egg sinker over the leader. We added in a pinch weight to peg off the egg- so your bait (conceptually) would float the length you pegged…a few feet off the bottom was working for us. This rig did not catch up as often, and allowed us to get the bait in front of different fish.

We tried variations with the braided line, but it was very hard to use compared to the mono even as leader. When you pull on a snag with braid, the braid locks down where mono has a bit more give, and you are gonna hook up a ton here. Rocks and reefs are where the fish are, so you gotta figure out how to hit them and not shred or tangle everything doing it. Plus, the waves push things around so braid getting all twisty is a pain in the butt, comparatively.

Frozen squid was cheap enough, and the hooks we got there were smaller than what I have used for crappie or trout. The hooks and egg weights were cheap, and we broke more than one hook on rocks and reef- but they were better than what I brought down and worked more than not. I still went thru a lot of them- and tying them onto a 50 pound leader was not happening…the diameter of that leader was too much for the small hooks.Maui Beach fishing from shore

It is also important to note, we kept it to daylight shore fishing, and nights in Maui (as like most places) do bring in bigger stuff…I was unsure how our little Shimano rods would survive any true test. I have broken many rods, and besides- we konked-out early there every night after long days soaking it all up. But if you are after bigger fish, no doubt some of the same approaches in the right spots at night would pull out much bigger boys. I would suggest getting your lures there- the ones I had for stuff up here on the mainland, were not as applicable…but I am going to Florida soon, and the same box will be perfect down in the Gulf of Mexico.

What I did need, was a knife to cut squid, 15 pound test was good, egg weights and hooks by the score. Never used the bobbers I had, because the fish were down deeper than anything I wanted to put together with a float. Pre-rigged, coated leads were quick and easy, and avoided teethy cut-offs. Hit barracuda a couple times, and they simply bite off whatever was there- but I don’t think we had steel on, when we lost stuff to the barracuda. No fishing licenses needed here, which is super cool.

Maui Beach fishI found that a tide would affect the bite- and a faster incoming one, was better than others as it is in most places. I learned waves were pretty unpredictable, and could directly affect you- same for wind. Constant tension on the line helped a lot…had to feel the bite and set it, or risk some of them swallowing the hook pretty quickly or just missing them. The cheap, whippy rods were good for this…bigger stuff would have had less feel to it.

Lures, simply did not have the pull for me they typically do- squid brought everything out to play while lures never got me anything, so I did not stay with them too long.

I found places where rocks and reefs were, and fished them all up and down Kaanapali beach (can easily see them on clear days)…and caught fish, pretty much everywhere. If nothing else was there, a huma huma etc. would come and get it after a while. But the closer I could get to clearish sandy paths between rocks and reefs, the better the payoffs.

Our best day, we went to Kapalua on the suggestion of the guy in All About Fish. These were rocky cliff points about 20 feet over 20 feet of water more than offshore fishing, but they proved to be awesome to us and well worth the trip. The guy at the store circled where to park and where to go, and in Kapalua the fish were bigger and more varied- we caught them on pretty much every cast, too. Plus, there we saw some sea turtles swimming around, including a little baby one no bigger than a manhole cover…a huge plus to me.

The beach was great in the mornings and at sunset, but the Kapalua rocky cliffs were much more productive and exciting for daylight fishing.

Chartered fun

Maui charter fishingIn addition to beach fishing daily, we tend to hit a guided trip in many places we visit, and Maui definitely had some awesome charters to consider. They are expensive for sure, costing us about $200+ a man each time…but considering the opportunity to tie into really monster fish, it is what it is.

maui start me up charterWe went out on 2 of them, one being the Start Me Up out of Lahaina for a 6 hour effort. Leaving at 5:30 in the morning, we saw perfect, glass-like water as the sun rose over the volcano- which I did not realize was as rare as it was, until later. Made a very smooth ride, and we trolled about 30 miles out for pelagic fish- Mahi Mahi, Wahoo, Tuna and Marlin.

On a trolling trip, you put out huge lures on huge reels with crazy heavy line: but it is a lot of waiting, if you have never been. We got some mahi mahi a few hours in- a double hook up first, where one was landed but the other swam into the prop…and later, I got to fight a third one in. There were 6 of us on the boat, everyone with a number and if you got called, you fought the fish.Maui Mahi Mahi

Mine was a very jumpy 30-40 pound mahi, which was exhausting but fun as hell to land. My left arm was sore for 2 days because I choked up on the pole too much- I have landed much bigger fish that were not as strong and determined. It was totally awesome.
I just loaded the video of the catch- we boat him at 5:23 or so, if you want to skip to it).

I have seen varied stories on captains with the catch afterwards- but for us, it was incredible…we got over 10 pounds of fresh Mahi, which fed us all (4 of us) multiple times. I do know the other 3 folks also got all they asked for…and the captain still had a completely untouched, beautiful Mahi to sell to a restaurant, slightly bigger than the one we fileted.

At the cleaning station, we saw two 7-8 foot Galapagos sharks cruising about 12 inches under the surface–it was actually a little unnerving for us landlubbers. I did not like standing over them, even though it was no big deal- their bite radius was bigger than my head, so I was not getting any closer. The captain was super careful to ensure nothing went into the water from the fish carcasses- this is why the sharks are a problem in this docking area. But cool to see- I should have grabbed a pic.

Know that if you go out on a charter like this, there is much more waiting than anything. The scenery is awesome, and it is relaxing as hell- made better, if the folks you share the time with are fun to talk to (which worked out very well for us, indeed). If you catch a couple, it makes it seem all OK- catching nothing, will make you leave the boat angry, so try to avoid that by knowing it is coming.zach lamers eats sushi

My son and our pal Trey did not get a chance to catch anything, so we took another charter the next week where it was reef fishing. On the reefs, we caught a Soldier Fish, trevally, blue lined snapper, and more – you troll out to the reef (looking for big boys) hit the reefs for definite fish, then troll back in…no big boys here, but fun stuff on the reefs.

They hooked into a 30-40 pound grey snapper that got eaten by a shark right up close to the boat – then later caught the shark, which was about a 5-6 footer that they got up close to see, then broke it off to save any risk. All our fish were fileted by the time we docked (I caught 5, Trey caught 2-3 Zach caught 1), so no pix- but we ate like champions, and out-fished the other folks on this boat. Trey says to always get the back of a party boat, which worked here.

Summing Up

If you are going to vacation in Maui and are a fishing type, you are going to be in heaven. Beach fishing is awesome, and charter presents world class experiences (but it is a gamble: these fish are not always so easy to find).

I found, bringing reels and buying cheapie rods worked well. Need a bait knife, 15-or-so pound test and you can get hooks and weights there…when you get frozen squid. Leaders were a plus…their locally popular 3 way rig was not so good for me, but a Carolina-style pegged weight was great. The number of different types of fish caught, was stunning: one of the best I have ever seen.