Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need a fishing license?
No. There are no fishing licenses required for recreational sportfishing in Hawaiian waters.
How should I choose a boat?
Choosing a boat that is right for you depends on the type of boat you like, the gear you want to use, and what you want to do with the fish that is caught. We have provided a photo and information about each boat so that you can choose the one that appeals to you most. Some anglers like rugged macho fishing with no luxuries, while others enjoy a bit of comfort and amenities as well. If you have a question about a particular boat, please feel free to e-mail us and we'll get the answer for you.
How does Sportfish Hawaii select boats for its referral business?
There are approximately 125-150 or so charter boats throughout the islands at any given time, as operations come and go frequently. Kona leads the way with around a hundred, Maui is second with roughly 25, Oahu has about 20, and Kauai has about 10. It’s an industry standard that a booking agent will charge a fee to the operation for referring business, so essentially anyone can provide a list of boats and take a commission for selling a trip. The skippers generally will not charge a lower rate for a directly booked trip, because they know that type of practice will sever relationships with the booking agents they use, and besides, when they sell a trip themselves, they reward themselves with not having to pay a booking fee.
We select our boats based on several criteria. First and foremost is the skipper. As with any business, the person in charge is the lifeblood, and if that person has a good attitude, generally so will everyone else. We select boats that are primarily owner operators because we have found these skippers take better care of the boats and give a little extra personal touch to the angling customers. We also find they go fishing from a labor of love standpoint, and since fishing is their way of life as opposed to a job, it tends to be reflected in the way they carry their businesses. We interview each skipper before placing the company in our program, and we get to know them more and more on a personal basis all the time.
Second, we look at the condition of the boat and the gear, and personally inspect each and every boat. We also talk with other people such as marine surveyors and other skippers to find out how well maintained the boats are, and we also look at the gear whenever we visit our skippers (which is fairly regular). Premature line wear is a sure sign of a boat that has stressed the gear on a big fish without making repairs, and is a great indicator of how much the skipper cares about your fishing trip. Other items such as weather protection, size and weight of the boat, amenities, and the like are also considered and mentioned on our pages.
Third, we look at the reputation of the company. In addition to longevity in business (or at least in fishing experience in the case of guys who are former commercial fishermen) and frequency of catch, we want to know if these skippers can catch a thousand pounder if fortunate enough to hook one. Anyone can get lucky enough to strike a grander, but can the skipper and the crew handle it, even if an inexperienced charter is the angler?
In short, we don’t make a list available on the website and tell you to go and do the research yourself. While you will probably do some research and we do encourage that, we take the guesswork out of your fishing charter. We would go fishing on any boat we refer to, plain and simple, and to please us, that’s an accomplishment.
How long are the trips?
Full day trips are approx. 8 hours, 3/4 day are approx. 6 hours, 1/2 day are approx. 4 hours.
Why are the prices so different on each island?
Like most things in life, supply and demand drives price. Kona has a hundred boats in a world-famous Marlin fishery. Competition is tough, and there are some extremely dishonest operators in the harbor who will steal charters by offering lower prices. Demand simply isn’t high enough to allow all these boats to charge premium rates, and thus, their average price is the lowest in the state. Lahaina has 10-13 boats (the rest are on the beach at Kaanapali or in Maalaea), and they are blessed with the highest rate of foot traffic in the state. Demand is high and supply is low. Also, Lahaina is a good 30-45 minute run to the fishing grounds, so they run harder, which burns more fuel and adds to the maintenance. Oahu boats, while close to the fishery, are cursed with a tough location to attract foot traffic. People have to want to fish by pre-planning a trip before leaving home, or go through the phone book in their hotel room when they arrive. Parking is tough, and the state simply hasn’t done much to help support the fleet by way of harbor improvements or proximity to the customers. Given these constraints, Oahu boats do surprisingly well, and the boats we refer will give a great trip at a very reasonable price.
Can kids go offshore fishing?
Kids are welcome on all of our charter boats. We generally recommend that kids be at least 7 years old to go on an offshore charter. For kids under 7, the near shore bottom fishing trips are more appropriate unless they have previous offshore experience. The boats do rock around offshore, so kids need to be old enough to be aware of the movement and be able to hang on and get around the boat without falling. Many times kids tend to get bored quickly, so we recommend bringing a hand held game or portable DVD player or something for them to do when the action is slow. Click here for photos of Sportfish Hawaii's 10 year old Jake in action with his his first Mahimahi.
What happens to the fish?
Talk to us, and talk to your skipper, so you’ll know what to expect. You are the customer, and whatever you would like to see done with the fish is something you should have a say in. One issue that sometimes offends some anglers is the issue of selling fish, especially Billfish. Honokohau is a fish facility that uses charter boats for some of its inventory. We acknowledge that Hawaii seems behind the times with its "catch, kill, and sell" mentality, and many ask why things don’t change. However, it is an extremely detailed philosophical issue with roots dating back to ancient days, and the people of Hawaii are reluctant to change in their ways.
That said, we only recommend boats that will agree to your request of releasing Billfish (and in fact support the whole concept), and will also allow you to keep some of the catch for dinner or to take home. We believe the preservation of the fishery is the most important concern for all fishermen (or should be), and more and more skippers are agreeing to let some of the fish go as an effort to do their part in this preservation.
If you request all Billfish be released and/or would like to take home some "table fish" to eat or share with friends, our skippers ask that you acknowledge the crew is partially paid from the sale of fish and request that some form of compensation that you feel is fair at least be considered.
What are share trips?
Shares are for anglers who don’t have the inclination to book a private charter and would like to go fishing without paying some $600.00 or so. The advantage, of course, is lower cost, but there are several disadvantages. First, share trips generally do not go unless the boat is able to get four or more passengers to go along. So, if you are on a tight schedule, there is a possibility the trip might not happen on the day you wanted to go fishing. It’s also difficult to go on the specific boat you wanted because private charters tend to take priority.
Second, when fishing is slow, there are times when only one or two fish are hooked up. With rotational watches on the rods, it may mean you won’t get to fight the giant Marlin or big Ahi that strikes the lures, and you may feel a little bit left out if this happens. Still, a day on the water and witnessing the catching of a big fish firsthand is pretty exciting, too.
Third, personalities at sea tend to differ greatly. Some people may become ill and want to go home just as the bite picks up, creating a tension on board between those who want to stay out and those who want to go home.
Are shorter (4 and 6 hour) trips worth it?
We only recommend shorter (four hour) trips on the island of Kauai. We will begrudgingly book a shorter trip in Kona, but recommend against it on Oahu and almost forbid it on Maui. Kauai and Kona have deep water right near shore, and many times big fish are caught right out of the harbor. Kauai also has a steep ledge very close that tends to produce alot of Ono, Mahimahi and smaller Ahi, and the charter skippers there are able to get you fish on the short, 4 hour trips. Kona is similar with the deep water, however, we believe the hunt for a big Marlin should be done as a full day event. The seas are calm and concentration should be pretty good for the whole day. Current and trash lines run through Kona frequently, and bait schools come in pretty close. So while longer trips always increase the odds of catching something memorable, 4 hours trips are better than not going at all.
On Oahu, it’s 18 miles to the 1,000 fathom line. While it’s still pretty deep running out to this area and Mahimahi, Ono and smaller Ahi are caught in close (heck even the Marlin venture in close fairly regularly), it does take a little time to get to the prime fishing grounds. A 6 hour trip is alright on Oahu, but we do try to discourage going for only four hours if at all possible.
Finally, on Maui, we feel a four hour trip is a waste of time and money. A six hour trip is barely acceptable, and the best thing to do is fish for the full day. Lahaina is the playground for the humpback whales every winter, and they play in the shallow waters in the triangle between Lahaina, Lanai and Kahoolawe. Accordingly, the Lahaina boats need to run about 45 minutes at planing speeds to get you to the grounds where the highest fishing potential exists (that’s also a big reason why the charter rates are higher - more fuel burn)
Which is the best island to fish from?
It’s purely subjective. While all the Kona boats will tell you Kona is the place to fish, the Kauai guys will tell you their island is the best. The truth is, the total number of fish caught in Kona where the majority of the boats are is the highest because there are more boats operating there. And the reason the boats operate from there is because the seas are calmer. Many claim the North Shore of Molokai would be Hawaii’s great fishery if the predominant weather pattern was from the South. But as it is, coming from the Northeast, Kona has all the wind shadow from Mauna Kea making the waters nicer to work with every day.
Lahaina boats have some of the best scenery, and that fishery has produced the only double grander in a single tournament. Large Marlin come into Lahaina all the time, but with only 10 percent of the boats that Kona has, of course there will be fewer total fish brought in. The same holds true for Oahu and Kauai. The bottom line is that Hawaii is the best place in the world to fish, because we have the opportunity to catch everything from a 10 pound Mahimahi to a thousand pound Pacific Blue Marlin every single day of the year, and do it within plain sight of land. No other fishery in the world can claim this, and history speaks for itself.
What is the policy on tipping?
Similar to restaurants, tipping should be considered only when service is good or exceptional. Fishing is one of those things that we have such little control over that the judge of a good fishing trip should be based upon how well the skipper in crew present there are product and service to you. If the boat is clean, and in good condition, and the crew are courteous, friendly and place you in a position which gives the appearance you are about catch fish at any given moment should be your guide as opposed to the final result. We recommend tipping in the range of 15 to 20 percent of the charter rate if you feel the service received was appropriate. Sportfish Hawaii does not receive any portion of the tips you decide to give, if any.
What if we don't catch any fish?
It is a simple fact of life that all fishing places, no matter how good or how many stories have been written about them, sometimes don't produce fish on a given day. Some people feel there should be a guarantee in chartering a boat, however, what customers are paying for is the opportunity to be on a boat with an opportunity to catch a large fish and the story of a lifetime. We believe our angling customers should enjoy the beautiful scenery, the color of the water and the sky, the camaraderie with the crew, and the good fortune they have for being on the water in Hawaii with the opportunity to participate in the Yankee Stadium of all fisheries. The anglers of sportfish Hawaii have fished in many places and have experienced getting skunked firsthand. However it is very seldom that we get upset over failing to catch any fish if we feel the crew did everything they possibly could to catch us fish. If the crew shows us a good time and gives us a chance to catch fish, that's all we ask for.
Do I need to bring tackle?
All of the boats listed provide tackle, bait, ice and fresh water unless otherwise noted. However, if you have a favorite lure or rod you would like to bring, most skippers will certainly oblige.
What should I wear?
Dress as though you were going to work in the garden on a hot summer day. T-shirts and shorts, a light baseball type hat, polarized sunglasses, and preferably deck type shoes are perfect for your day on the water.
What about food and drink?
Except on the boats as noted, you are asked to bring all of your food and drink aboard with you. Cans are better than glass for drinks, and snacks like Cheetos and Doritos for some reason seem to go down well at sea. It’s tough to please everyone’s appetite especially at sea, so every skipper in the state asks that you bring what you would like to eat for the day. A couple boats will provide drinks with the charter, and all will have fresh water, ice, and a way to keep your stuff cold aboard.
What's this I hear about no bananas?
If you have not heard of the Hawaiian tradition/superstition, absolutely, positively, no if's and's or but's, do not bring bananas on your trip!! Bananas are considered unlucky on a boat in Hawaii, and we have personally witnessed and heard way too many stories to even think about bringing bananas or anything with banana in it on a boat. We wouldn't recommend testing this superstition. Ask your skipper about this age old Hawaiian kapu.
What can I do about seasickness?
If you are at all prone to motion sickness, here's pseudo-doctor Mike's recipe for a more enjoyable trip:
Seasickness tends to be accentuated by lack of sleep and poor nutrition, so start with a healthy (non-greasy) dinner the evening before the trip. I'd suggest eating a little earlier, say about 6 or 7:00 if your fishing trip is at 6:00 am the next morning.
Next, do some math on the number of hours to get about eight hours of sleep. If you have a 30 minute drive to the harbor and it takes 30 minutes to get up, shower and eat breakfast, you need to be up at about 5:00 for a 6:00 departure. Thus, get to bed at about 9:00 or before.
Third, just before you go to bed, take one of the commercially available motion sickness medications such as Dramamine. This helps your body begin to get used to the medication before you need it. If you wait until you are on the boat and feeling queasy before taking the medication, you can kiss the rest of the day goodbye.
When you get up in the morning, take another Dramamine and have a light breakfast (again, non-greasy). Be alert and awake when the boat leaves the dock so you adapt quickly to the movement. It is fine to nap later when you have your sea legs, but don't go on board and immediately head back to sleep. This again spells trouble.
Take along ginger ale and/or ginger snaps to snack on. Keep your mind active by asking questions, focusing on the horizon, looking for fish, and involving yourself in the process.
The trick to combating seasickness is to be pro-active instead of reactive. Don't wait until you feel ill to do something about it, take steps to stop it before it starts. Don't fear your day on the water....enjoy it!!!
What kind of sunscreen should I bring?
You will also want to bring sunscreen. We recommend a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher as the Hawaiian sun is very strong, especially on the water. Also, a tip from Captain Mike: select a brand that doesn't run into your eyes as you sweat; this makes for a terrible time when you are angling a fish for a couple of hours.
What else should I bring?
Other things to bring along for the trip include a hat to shade your head and face, sunglasses with a restraint (polarized are best to see debris and fish in the water), an extra t-shirt, and closed toe boating shoes to keep you from slipping and to protect your feet from flying hooks, etc. when the action gets good.
Important tip on driving to the harbor early in the morning?
On all of the islands you can either drive to the harbor yourself or take a cab. If you choose to take a cab, we recommend calling the cab company the evening before and setting up your ride. If you are going to be driving your rental car from the hotel and you use the valet parking, be sure to check with the valet the evening before to see if you can get your car out early in the morning. We've been told by some of our customers that some of the valet services do not open that early in the morning, and they had a difficult time getting their keys as they were looked up in the valet shack.