A rainbow showed bright against the green, vegetation-lined cliffs of the southern end of the island of Kauai. It was a beautiful, land-to-water arc that was incredibly vibrant, displaying all of itscolors with an unusual intensity. I saw it so clearly because my senses were on overdrive as a 20-lb. mahi-mahi was stripping the backing line off my fly reel at a knob-blurring rate that would have him in Japan shortly if I couldn’t turn him.
He had struck with a bone-jarring, rod-bending slam that got my immediate attention. The first run is best handled by pointing the rod at the running fish and letting him have his way. Reaching down to the right side of the Delta reel, I tightened the drag a bit. I knew this would put more pressure on the leader, but I knew the 100-lb. fluorocarbon could take it.
Sure enough, the fish slowed down a bit as the increased load started to take its toll. The minute I felt him tire a bit, I raised the slender wand and put an arc in it to provide shock resistance.
Up he came, his blue-green back shimmering in the sunlight, his bright golden sides illustrating why the Spanish named this fish Dorado. He whipped his big bull head back and forth, trying to shake the hook from his jaw. He crashed back to the surface, water flying everywhere as he made a hole in the ocean.
The gigantic swells we were wallowing through made standing on thestern deck a balancing act. The thigh-high rails allowed me to lean into the fish at the same time keeping me aboard.
The fish decided he wanted to make another move. Turning one hundred and eighty degrees, he launched into a high-speed dart just under the surface, running back toward the harbor of Lihue. Now I started to let the rod do its work. I raised the tip and and let it bounce a bit giving the mahi-mahi not only the line drag but the resistance of the rod itself.
There were still little bursts of energy and short workouts, but he kept steadily coming toward us. The question was what would he do when he saw the boat? Lance continued moving back toward the fish while I reeled as fast as I could, keeping tension on the line so he wouldn’t throw the hook. I hoped he was done.
Fooled ya! With flick of his tail he started the reel sounding off again with a high-pitch squeal. I raised the rod a bit and let him go. The word mahi-mahi is Hawaiian for strong and this one certainly was. He flew away from us but I could tell the first run had taken a lot from him. This time when he paused I was able to reel him back to the boat.
Howard, our mate, got the gaff ready. With a single practiced swipe, Howard bent his knees and pulled the big fish aboard. My first mahi-mahi on a fly rod.
Back in January when I first contacted Lance Keener of Ohana Fishing Charters in Lahue and told him of my desire to come to Kauai to fly fish for the big pelagics that frequent his coast, his reaction was somewhat quizzical.
“You want to fly fish?” he asked. “Nobody fly fishes here. There are only about a dozen charter captains on the whole island and nobody goes out of the harbor to fly fish.”
“I know,” I said. “I have talked to three other captains who have all told me the same thing. But, I know the big fish are there and Mary Gayle and I have the requisite gear to hook up and land them. What we need is a captain that is willing to try something different. And I heard you were the best at finding fish (I thought a little blatant flattery would help).”
“Well, I’ll give it a go with you, but I’m bringing along our regular trolling gear in case your fly rods blow up,” he replied.
We arrived on a Wednesday afternoon (fresh from spring skiing in California) and met our guide at his boat on early Thursday morning. The sun was just climbing up out of the ocean. as we headed out of the Lihue harbor. While we burbled on out of the harbor, I rigged the fly rods.
I brought along the 12-wt., 4-piece Predator for a rod and attached to that the Redington 11/12 Delta wide arbor reel made of machined 6061-T6 aluminum. It has a cork/teflon drag system and the newer model has a large drag knob for easy access when the action gets hot.
The Rio Leviathan 26-ft. line is great for big fish. It has an ultra strong core of at least 70 lbs. with a short heavy head that really loads up big rods. This line was designed for tropical fishing so it has a hard coating to prevent it from wilting in the heat. The 300 and 500 head weighted lines get the rig down into the water column where these feeding fish would be wandering. To those lines I add a leader of fluorocarbon in the 100-lb. test category.
Kauai is the top of a mountain that sticks up from the ocean floor. It is an almost round disc of green about 40 miles in diameter. The drop-off around the island is incredible. Within a mile from the shoreline you are in twelve hundred feet of water and it quickly drops off to over six thousand feet! These conditions are the reason for the great surfing along this coast. They also make it a great fishing ground for pelagics.
The second mahi-mahi couldn’t resist the pink offering on Mary Gayle’s line. As with the first fish, it took off in a screaming first volley. A seasoned veteran of the fishing wars, Mary Gayle fought the fish as the three of us cheered her on. It is not an easy task working a fish in the huge swells that moved the boat hither and yon, but she let the line run when appropriate and reeled it back when she could. Soon another big mahi-mahi came to the rail.
Over the next two hours we caught seven of them. There were several strikes with no hookups and a few unproductive follows. The fish were there.
When it slowed a bit, Lance headed north along the island, looking for tuna. We headed for a flock of birds that were busting the surface about a mile away. As soon as we got there Mary Gayle hooked up. The rod bent and the reel hollered as our first skipjack tuna (aku) of the day went flying off.
With a rhythm learned from many battles in the chair, Mary Gayle worked the rod and reel to tire the fish. It was not long before this soon-to-be sushi came to the side of the boat.
Over the next couple of hours we landed five tuna including a very nice ahi (yellowtail). A boat near us was lucky enough to boat an 8-foot black marlin. Although we didn’t see any wahoo (ono), Lance tells me they are here as well. All too soon we had to head back to the harbor.
So what are you waiting for? Get on the phone and book your flight to Kauai. This garden paradise just happens to be a fisherman’s paradise as well!