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Hawaii Sportfish Species

hawaii sportfishing mahimahi sailfish tuna

The anglers of Sportfish Hawaii are always in pursuit of Hawaii’s ultimate sporting prize: The Pacific Blue Marlin; one of the largest, most beautiful, and most powerful fish in the sea. Sharing the Hawaiian waters with this awesome creature are a variety of other sportfish species, some of which we feature here. While there are many types of fish in Hawaii, in keeping with our offshore theme we profile the types of sportfish we’re likely to come across in our quest for fishing nirvana. Like many issues related to fishing, the data and narratives provided here are always subject to varying opinions. State and IGFA records are current according to the best available information. We’d sure appreciate an email with any new State or IGFA records if we've missed them. 

 

Pacific Blue Marlin A'u Pacific Blue Marlin - Makaira nigricans
  • Hawaiian Name:  a’u
  • Avg Weight:  200lbs
  • Fishing Method:  Trolling/Live Bait
  • Best Fishing:  Year-round
  • IGFA Record:  1,376lbs Kaaiwi Point, Big Island Hawaii  5/31/82
  • State Record:  1,805 Waianae, HI 1970
Read what you will in the magazines and papers and interpret it any way you wish, but the entire calendar year is the season for Pacific Blue Marlin in Hawaiian waters. Sure, many skippers will say there might be a few more in the summer time coming in behind the Aku (Skipjack), but take a look at the catch records over time. There is no fishery in the world that can make the claim that Hawaii does in that a large Blue Marlin can be caught any time of year.

The anglers at Sportfish Hawaii like to troll artificial plugs such as those found in our lures page, but when conditions dictate, live baiting is so much fun. We rig up a 400lb leader to a single hook on a bridle through the tops of an Aku’s or small Ahi’s eye sockets, and let the fish swim. We troll the boat at slow speeds in order to create a conflict between the live bait and the Marlin. Just like the tigers on the Serengetti, no predator can resist the weakest link in the chain.

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Drawing from Fishing Hawaii Style by Jim Rizzuto

The bait will become nervous when a strike is impending, and this is where the angler’s and the boat driver’s skills must work in unison. Although many claim the right approach is to count to 10 or more after the initial strike, Marlin open their mouths wide and engulf the entire bait with a vacuum-like force. We believe the hook should be set about 3 to 5 seconds after the taking of the bait. Any longer and the fish tends to have swallowed the bait making for a less enjoyable fight and a higher chance of mortality caused by gut-hooking.

One of the great advantages of live baiting a Marlin, if done correctly, is the cost of releasing it. When the fish is controlled at leader, if the hook is not easily removed the line can be cut and the fish released with minimal trauma and a total loss of about $3.00 worth of fishing gear (a hook and 8 inches of line) instead of losing a whole $50.00 lure.

Striped Marlin A'u Striped Marlin - Tetrapturus audax
  • Hawaiian Name:  a’u
  • Avg Weight:  60 lbs
  • Fishing Method:  Daytime trolling/Live Bait
  • Best Fishing:  May-December
  • IGFA Record:  494lbs Tutukaka, New Zealand 1/16/86
  • State Record:  211lbs Red Hill, HI 1996
Catch a Striped Marlin the same as you would a Blue if you are running with plugs. One of the fun things about Stripers is multiple hookups are quite frequent. Unlike the Blue which is essentially a lone-wolf predator, the Stripers often travel in pairs; male and female. Stripers are often found away from the usual banks and bottom curves that many other fish hang around in, and most interestingly, the Stripers often school up in deep water hundreds of miles off shore (out of range of most day trips, but certainly within range of our Long Range Charters).

Although not as large on average as the Blue, the Striper can be an awfully fun fish to play, especially on light tackle. Because of this, Sportfish Hawaii anglers like to switch to lighter tackle in areas where we believe Stripers are more prevalent than Blues.

Black Marlin A'u

Black Marlin - Makaira indica
  • Hawaiian Name:  a’u
  • Avg Weight:  200 lbs
  • Fishing Method:  Daytime trolling/Live Bait
  • Best Fishing:  Year-round (seldom caught)
  • IGFA Record:  1,560lbs Cabo Blanco, Peru 8/4/53
  • State Record:  1,205lbs Red Hill, HI 1980
Black Marlin are very rare in Hawaiian waters; we only average about half a dozen or so a year throughout the whole state. It is thought that the Black Marlins that travel away from their "home" in Australia strayed following a school of bait and forgot the way back after the feeding frenzy dissipated. Not much is known about the breeding or feeding habits of the Black in Hawaii, and all of the Blacks landed are incidental catches while trolling or baiting for Blues. We hear Blackies put up one heck of a fight, but frankly, none of the Sportfish Hawaii anglers have ever caught one.

Broadbill Swordfish A'u Ku

Broadbill Swordfish - Xiphias gladius
  • Hawaiian Name:  a’u ku
  • Avg Weight:  100 lbs
  • Fishing Method:  Night hand line
  • Best Fishing:  May-September
  • IGFA Record:  1,182lbs Iquique, Chile 5/7/53
  • State Record: 503lbs Kona, HI 6/15/06
This fish is one of the reasons why Hawaii is able to provide such diversity to the Angling Adventurer. The Broadbill, a night fish caught using a lightstick at the end of the line (basically the same trolling methods, just done at night), supplements the Billfishing activity after everyone else has gone home. These fish are more abundant in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands than in the main islands; possibly as a result of overfishing by commercial fishermen. The Broadbill is a delicacy known as Shutome in Japan, and they have truly become a specific target of longliners looking for supplements to their stocks when the tuna bite is slow.

Shortbill Spearfish A'u

Shortbill Spearfish - Tetrapturus angustirostris
  • Hawaiian Name:  a’u
  • Avg Weight:  35 lbs
  • Fishing Method:  Daytime trolling/Live Bait
  • Best Fishing:  December-May
  • IGFA Record:  74lb 8oz Bay of Islands, New Zealand 3/16/99
  • State Record:  72lbs Kona, HI 1996
This fearless little predator is often a precursor to the Marlin. If a hook up with a Spearfish is made while trolling for other gamefish, pay attention to the direction the fish was headed, which you can sometimes tell by watching the strike or by the feel of which boat heading makes for a more difficult fight. It’s important to know this information because if you know which way the fish was headed, you can often tell where he came from. Since the Spears and the Marlin eat the same food, once you know with some degree of accuracy where the Spear came from, you have a good chance of going in that direction to find the Marlin. It may not happen the same day, but usually within the next couple of days, especially if the Spears are schooling, the Blues will be right behind.

Pacific Sailfish A'u  lepe

Pacific Sailfish - Istiophorus platypterus
  • Hawaiian Name:  a’u lepe
  • Avg Weight:  45 lbs
  • Fishing Method:  Daytime trolling/live bait
  • Best Fishing:  Year-round (seldom caught)
  • IGFA Record:  221lbs Santa Cruz Island, Ecuador 2/12/47
  • State Record: 119lbs Kona, HI 1983
Don’t spend too much time targeting Sailfish in Hawaii, because they are pretty rare. If you have light tackle and happen to run across one, play it and then actually say you intended to do it, the gang back at the dock will call you a liar. This beautiful species is one in a million in Hawaii, so if you get one, the best thing to do is immediately go buy a lottery ticket, because you are on a hot streak.

Mahi-mahi Dorado Dolphinfish

Dolphinfish - Coryphaena hippurus
  • Hawaiian Name:  mahimahi
  • Avg Weight:  20 lbs
  • Fishing Method:  trolling, live bait
  • Best Fishing:  September-May
  • IGFA Record: 88 lbs Highbourne Cay, Exuma, Bahamas 5/5/98
  • State Record: 82 lbs Kona, HI 1987
This Hawaiian staple table food fish is also one of the most exciting to angle for. While out cruising for Marlin, the anglers of Sportfish Hawaii will often find a cargo net, a piece of plywood or some other floating debris with a nice school of Mahi-Mahi underneath it. We try to catch the first one as we troll by the hazard, and if we get a good hookup on about a fifteen pounder, we either leave it on the rod or set it out on a bleach bottle rig attached to a 40 foot piece of 20lb line. The Mahi will return to the school, and as he does, one crew will go below and get out the light tackle casting gear while two or three crew will watch the bottle and the floating debris. Then the fun really begins. We cast live Opelu (if we have it), spoons or small plugs with or without dead bait into the school, and we then spend a couple hours fighting beautiful, rambunctious fish. The lighter the tackle, the more fun the fishing.

Wahoo Ono

Wahoo - Acanthocybium solanderi
  • Hawaiian Name:  ‘ono
  • Avg Weight:  25 lbs
  • Fishing Method:  trolling, live bait
  • Best Fishing:  April-October
  • IGFA Record: 158 lbs 8 oz Loreto, Baja California, Mexico 6/10/96
  • State Record: 124 lbs Oahu, HI 1940’s
The rule of thumb for catching Ono, one of the fastest and the most delicious yet sharpest toothed of the Hawaiian species of gamefish, is to use the depth recorder religiously in order to stay right at 40 fathoms. Although we don’t know what the reason for Ono’s preference to this depth is, we do know they often hang around near the bottom in this part of the water column and then attack surface lures with a vengeance. Our theory is the pressure gradient at 40 fathoms allows them to be comfortable yet still have the ability to feed on both the bottom (hence the sharp teeth) and the surface. Hawaiian waters have many ledges very close to shore, and the depth often drops from 40 fathoms to several hundred fathoms in only a few miles. While we do occasionally catch Ono in deeper water, we usually consider the deep water dogs to be an incidental catch. Don’t target Ono in deep water, or you might spend a bunch of time wondering why you have no fish back at the dock. To prove our point, we often share the story about the end of a recent tournament we were in. While heading home, the Sportfish Hawaii anglers traveled and zig-zagged right at 36 - 40 fathoms and boated several Ono only 300 yards away from another boat in the same tournament who was consistently outside the 40 fathom line in deeper water. Our competitor didn’t need to stop at the weigh scale on the way into his slip.

Yellowfin Tuna Ahi

Yellowfin Tuna - Thunnus albacares
  • Hawaiian Name:  ‘ahi
  • Avg Weight:  125 lbs
  • Fishing Method:  trolling, live bait
  • Best Fishing:  May-September
  • IGFA Record:  388lbs 12 oz Isla San Benedicto, Revillagigedo Islands, Mexico 4/1/77
  • State Record: 325lbs Lanai, HI 1990
Some anglers, like our master lure craftsman Stu Dixon, don’t consider a Yellowfin Tuna an "Ahi" unless it exceeds 100 pounds. Although from a scientific standpoint the characterization is inaccurate, it is fun to follow the same guideline and call the smaller ones Shibi's. Thus an "Ahi" is more of a prize, while a 15 pound Yellowfin is a baitfish or a great piece of raw table food. A long time staple in the Hawaiian diet, Yellowfin are succulent and flavorful, especially when prepared with Musubi (a mixture of soy/shoyu and green-paste Japanese horseradish), and served chilled over a bed of shredded green cabbage.

Hunt for the Ahi the same way you would for Marlin and other gamefish; look for piles of birds that are active and organized. The anglers of Sportfish Hawaii also try the FADS (Fish Aggregation Devices) when looking for Ahi. Mix up your lures to see what they bite on a given day; sometimes it’s big and purple, sometimes it’s small and green. You should also carry bait if you are looking for Ahi, because there are times you’ll want to drop bait down to the fish instead of trying to troll the surface.

Bigeye Tuna ahi

Bigeye Tuna - Thunnus obesus
  • Hawaiian Name:  ‘ahi po’onui
  • Avg Weight:  40 lbs
  • Fishing Method:  trolling, hand line
  • Best Fishing:  October-April
  • IGFA Record:  435 lbs Cabo Blanco, Peru 4/17/57
  • State Record: 228lbs Kona, HI 1996
The Bigeye is often mistaken for a Yellowfin, but it is typically a smaller fish and does have a much bigger eye. The other most remarkable difference is found in the dorsal and anal fins; the Yellowfin’s are longer and sharper, almost like a catfish’s, while the Bigeye’s are more fin-like. Bigeye is seldom targeted per se in Hawaiian waters because Marlin, Yellowfin and other species are so readily available, and they often are found as incidental catches with the other Tunas. In fact, many anglers catch them and eat them as though they had caught a yellowfin without batting an eye that something was different.

Skipjack Tuna Aku

Skipjack Tuna - Euthynnus pelamis
  • Hawaiian Name:  ‘aku
  • Avg Weight:  5 lbs
  • Fishing Method:  trolling, hand line
  • Best Fishing:  May-September
  • IGFA Record: 45 lbs 4 oz Flathead Bank, Baja Calif, Mexico 11/16/96
  • State Record: 37 lbs Big Island, HI 1964
Known in Hawaii as Otado’s when they exceed 20 pounds, many anglers target Aku for their multi-hookup action-packed activity which makes for a fun time regardless of whatever else is caught on a trip. Once an Aku school is found and identified by constant surface boiling combined with active and organized bird feeding, get out the smaller lures and handline them with small double hooks for quick retrieval. Multiple hookups are frequent, and the crew work will be constant.

For big time sportfishing excitement, however, the Aku truly is the known hero for live-baiting Blue Marlin. Where there’s Aku, there’s usually Marlin. Rig the Aku as described in the Marlin section, and troll at slow speeds just outside the school creating the disturbance and fear that predators sense so well.

The great thing about live baiting Aku is if you catch a Marlin you have a story to tell your friends about forever. If you don’t catch one and the Aku dies while trying, you can bring it back on board, ice it down, and make sashimi (raw cut fish) or poke (a salted concoction mixed with herbs and greens) for a delicious crew meal.

Bigeye Tuna Kawakawa

Kawakawa - Euthynnus affinis
  • Hawaiian Name:  kawakawa
  • Avg Weight:  3 lbs
  • Fishing Method:  trolling with bait
  • Best Fishing:  Year-round
  • IGFA Record: 29 lbs Isla Clarion, Revillagigedo Islands, Mexico 2/19/75
  • State Record: 23 lbs Makapu’u, HI 1993
This little fellow will show up when you least expect it; trolling for hours on a sunny day with no strikes, the Kawakawa will suddenly strike a lure rigged on a 130 class line and try to hard in vain to outstrength the drag. The poor thing usually ends up being towed around awhile before the half asleep crew even notices strange activity out off the back of the boat.

This fish is similar in appearance and often found with Aku.  The easiest way to tell a Kawakawa from an Aku, especially if they are in a school together, is the underbelly of the Kawakawa has spots instead of black stripes. It tends to stay nearer to shore and in the same areas, and will feed off both the bottom and the surface just like Ono. These traits may help explain why Marlin are more likely to hit the Aku than the Kawakawa in a live baiting situation.

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