BIG ISLAND BOAT JIGGING: Trip of a Lifetime

June 16, 2016
By: Scott Haraguchi
www.hawaiinearshorefishing.com

I was invited by Neil, the President of Pacific Islands Fisheries Group (PIFG), to boat fish the Big Island the day before the Tokunaga Challenge weigh-in. We would be working the weigh-in, collecting nearshore tagging data and selling Lawai’a magazine subscriptions. I almost declined the invitation because I had gum surgery 2 days before the planned fishing trip and hadn’t eaten solid food since. I’m glad Neil encouraged me to go. I decided to bring a 3-piece Cabelas travel casting rod instead of my 1-piece rods, to avoid paying for oversized luggage. The rod tip was pretty stiff to jig with but I had no other option. I paired the rod with a medium action Curado 300EJ, filled with 15lb fluoro and backed by 50lb braid. There was about 175yds of line in total, and I attached a 25lb fluoro leader. I was hoping for some goats, papio and maybe even an uku on my relatively light gear.

We had Captain Wes at the helm, first mate Braiden, Neil and myself aboard the 19.4ft Alii Kai named the Akemi K. We started by trolling frozen oama but they were quickly mauled by hage so we replaced them with Crystal Minnows. A just-legal yellow spot papio was landed during a long dry spell so we stowed the trolling gear and zipped out to the first bottom fishing spot.

We wanted to field test a few different jigs so I handed Neil a 42gm (1.5oz) Shimano Coltsniper, one I hadn’t fished before. He dropped it down with his medium spinning rig, got a bump, had a fish pull line and come unbuttoned. That was promising. I free spooled a 2oz Promar Live Deception jig, a size I had never fished, and dropped it to the bottom. Jigged it up and down as best I could with the stiff rod tip, and began to do the slow lift and crank. About 15 feet off the bottom the line took off.

It felt like a good-size papio, making smooth runs, shaking its head and resisting being pulled up. The Cabela’s travel rod had a good parabolic arc, bending from the middle of the rod, and performed much better than expected. After about 5 mins we could see what looked like a big omilu making deep circles under the boat. As it got closer we couldn’t believe our eyes – Kagami Ulua (African Pompano), a relatively rare and delicious catch. Braiden gaffed the fish and it was official. Kagami on the first drop of the Live Deception! My first ulua ever. Neil and Wes looked at each other in disbelief, then Neil quickly dropped his Coltsniper back down.

Neil’s 1st hageNeil got picked up and the fish fought stubbornly but didn’t shake its head. Uh oh, hage action! That was his introduction to micro jigging.

We moved to a new spot; I dropped the Live Deception down and before it hit the bottom the jig felt like it got picked up in a strong current. I engaged the reel and line peeled off the drag.

I dropped down again, jig/pumped and about 20 ft from the bottom, felt a hit. A few nice runs, abrupt headshakes, and a 3lb omilu was boated. I expected a larger fish from the way it ripped line and shook its head. Man those omilu are tough. I checked the line and the 25lb leader had a couple small nicks so I changed it out and made sure the uni-to-uni knot connecting fluoro main to fluoro leader was cinched down. I didn’t want to lose another big fish to a badly tied knot like I did a few weeks ago.

Neil’s trumpetCaptain Wes re-positioned the boat and Neil hooked into something that pulled stubbornly but not like a papio. After a fun fight, Neil hoisted the largest cornetfish I had ever seen. Cornetfish are often confused with the trumpetfish, but the cornetfish can get much larger. It was shaken off the jig and set free.

Neil followed the trumpetfish up with a moana and was definitely catching on quickly to this “shallow water” jigging technique.

We moved to a new spot; I dropped the Live Deception down and before it hit the bottom the jig felt like it got picked up in a strong current. I engaged the reel and line peeled off the drag. The line angle looked straight up and down but the water wasn’t as deep as the amount of line out. 75 yds of 15lb fluoro top shot was out and the fish wasn’t slowing. Captain Wes quietly said “this is a big fish”, telling the others to clear their lines. I tightened the drag carefully and the fish still kept going. Finally I tightened it to the point the line started pinging and there was maybe 25 yds left on the spool. The guys were coaching me but we all figured the fight would end in a few seconds. Miraculously the fish slowed and I started making very small pumps, gaining one or two turns of the handle at a time. The fish rested and I got back 1/4 of the braid backing. It surged again, but didn’t take out too much line. I then started doing the drop a few inches and crank quickly method and the Capt remarked that he never saw anyone boost an ulua with such small gear. I took that to mean “be very careful” so I slowed the pumping action and tried to be as smooth as possible so the fish wouldn’t realize it was being yanked out of his home.

… I could hear the voices of ulua vets in my head saying “kill its spirit, don’t give him hope”.

The travel rod’s foregrip was half the length of my other rods so my left hand spilled over the ends and was beginning to cramp. My left bicep was engaged the whole time and felt like I was doing a really long isometric curl. But I could hear the voices of ulua vets in my head saying “kill its spirit, don’t give him hope”. So I kept the tension in the rod, hoped my back would hold out, and short pumped when I could. Halfway up, the guys decided to resume jigging cuz they figured it would either be awhile before the fish was landed, or the line would pop soon. The travel rod seemed up to the task but I was worried about my uni-to-uni knot joining the braid to the 15 fluoro main line that I tied months ago. I really hoped I tied that knot well! The fact that I hadn’t eaten real food in almost 3 days also wore on my mind.

At around the 8 minute mark the uni-to-uni splice was on the reel and I had about 75 yds of 15lb fluoro left. The big fish saw the boat and tried to make it down to its home but only took about 30 yds of line. That was the last big run it made. The rest of the way it planed its body and resisted getting pulled into view. We still didn’t know what was on but thought it was some kind of big jack. I had only caught one kahala before, a little more than 10lbs, and just caught my first actual ulua, but strongly felt that this fish was an ulua not a kahala. The one kahala I fought didn’t seem to have the leverage of a wide body that this fish did.

When it was finally at deep color, it looked brown and long like a kahala. Ugh… I was disappointed but still wanted to see how large it was. Then as I pulled it closer, the body shortened and color darkened. Black ulua? It looked huge, even larger than I had imagined. I had always said that I’d photograph and release a large ulua but the Capt had plans for smoked ulua to share with the ohana, so he told Braiden to gaff ’em. Capt Wes had given us smoked ulua and was super ono so I knew the fish would feed a lot of people. The Live Deception’s treble hook was hooked on the outside of the fish’s head and so was the assist hook. This caused the lure to bend but also prevented the fish from chewing through the 25lb leader I had just tied on. Lucky-Lucky. The leader and main line didn’t have any nicks at all. I removed the 2 oz Live Deception to ensure I wouldn’t lose it to a fish or a snag. It was going into “the museum”. I didn’t have any other 2oz lures so I put on a 1 oz Live Deception.

I hadn’t eaten nabeta before but grew up hearing how it just melts in your mouth when you fry ’em scales and all. Then I actually foul hooked a nabeta on the Live Deception! Man that lure really does deceive everything!

Upon closer examination, Capt Wes said that the fish was a dark, white ulua or GT. Oxymoron, I know, but I guess they can get dark if they live in the black lava tube caves. I would not have believed that my tackle and lack of big fish catching success would’ve allowed me to land that. All credit goes to the Capt who put us on the fish and maneuvered the boat. Near the end of the fight he backed down to help me gain line, deftly keeping the line away from the props.

Neil’s hageI told the guys to use my bait casting setup cuz I was done for a while! My left arm felt useless. Neil declined and promptly brought up a monsta hage on his spinning setup. He said he was doing his best to keep the rubbish fish away from the rest of us. What a nice guy! Actually, what he didn’t know was that I rubbed hage-attractant on the Coltsniper before I gave it to him and it appeared to be working. He brought up a good sized moana next that jumped off the hook. I actually saw it break the surface! He still refused to use my bait casting rig so I dropped the 1 oz jig down, did one lift and a fish was on! I had never fished with Neil before and he was beginning to think I could catch fish at will. If you have read my blog you know that was far from the truth. In fact, a fishing buddy Kelly has never seen me land a decent fish. Here’s a classic outing.

So I asked Neil to fight the fish on my line and he said “no, no need” (translation: I don’t need your pity, I can catch my own fish). I told him I’m just gonna put the rod in the rod holder and let the fish come undone so he took the rod and skillfully battled the fish. Turns out the omilu was foul-hooked. Neil said “you knew was foul-hooked you buggah, that’s why you nevah like fight ’em!”. He was beginning to think I could catch fish at will and tell how they were hooked!

The Capt had seen enough and took his turn with my bait caster. He had used large conventional trolling reels with right hand cranks, and smaller spinning reels with left hand cranks, and had to adjust to cranking such a small, light reel with his right hand. On the first drop he got used to the action of the rod, the quick free spool release and the level winding of the Curado. On the second drop he hit the bottom, jigged once and was on! The pole bent in its parabolic arc and line peeled off the spool. Another big fish, surely an ulua. Capt Wes took his time and played the fish like he catches ulua every day, which he probably could do if he wanted to. After a patient battle he landed a beautiful omilu ulua, about 15lb. Capt Wes was very impressed with the gear and the way the 15lb flouro held up to such a strong, heavy fish with sharp scutes.

Neil and Braiden switched to damashi to target the tasty kau kau fish. I wanted to see what else the Live Deception lure could catch and dropped down again. Neil started catching legal yellow spot papio, which are tastier than omilus and whites. Braiden started off eradicating a few taape. I felt what I thought was the jig getting fouled on itself and brought up a deep water lizardfish. Uh oh, maybe Neil rubbed some lizardfish-attractant on the jig when I wasn’t looking. The boys started bringing up nabeta (razor wrasse), which were the best eating fish caught on the trip. I hadn’t eaten nabeta before but grew up hearing how it just melts in your mouth when you fry ’em scales and all. Then I actually foul hooked a nabeta on the Live Deception! Man that lure really does deceive everything!

The jigging action slowed down for me, probably because we were in shallower water where there were less predators. A moana came up on their damashi and I dropped it down as live bait. I was hoping for big papio and maybe even the uku that has eluded me on Oahu. Nothing hit that lively moana on the next few drifts and the boys continued to catch yellow spot papio, nabeta and taape.

Too lazy to rig up with damashi, I dropped the 1 oz Live Deception down again and felt it get picked up right off the bottom. Felt like a couple lb omilu so I asked if Braiden wanted to play with the bait caster. He took the small reel in his large hands and worked the fish up to the boat. UKU!!!! My first uku I ever hooked, and on a jig at that. And I handed it off!!! Aww shucks.

With that it was time to pack it up and head for the barn. What a boat trip of a lifetime. My equipment held up, the 1 oz and 2 oz Live Deceptions were on fire, and I was bathed in Big Island hospitality by Capt Wes, Braiden and Neil. I brought back the Kagami ulua, uku and a few nabeta to Oahu for my family and friends to try. Will write more later… this has gotten too long as it is!

kagami with curadoAlmost forgot. This is how small the reel was. Too bad I didn’t take a picture of it next to the 30lb ulua. It wasn’t even fully loaded with line. Lucky-luck indeed.

Note: I purchase my Live Deception jigs at POP and Charley’s. POP has the most variety, both in sizes and in colors. Charley’s has the best prices in general, and besides the Live Deceptions, they’ve brought in a new assortment of very small micro jigs from Japan. Charley’s is also running a jigging combo special: the Curado 300EJ I used on the Big Island paired with the Shimano Trevala S jig rod which would’ve had more sensitivity and backbone than the travel rod I used. That combo at the price Charley’s is running now, will be the perfect setup to start shallow water jigging.

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