Hawaii's Kayak Fishing Hot Shots

How a growing fraternity of Kona's kayak anglers has dialed in the Big Island's pelagic big-game fishing.

A group of kayak-fishing enthusiasts based in Kona, Hawaii, has been consistently proving that they can catch the same big game targeted by big sport-fishing yachts. With blue water very close to the coast and with the Pacific off the west side of the island typically very calm, the area can be a kayak anglers’ dream.

For these guys, tuna catches are routine, but some of their (often incidental) billfish catches have sent shock waves through the Kona fishing community. Anglers like Matt Reed, Andy and Steve Cho, Rob Wong Yuen and Devin Hallingstad have repeatedly caught sailfish and an occasional black marlin. (In fact, from his kayak, Hallingstad caught the island’s biggest black marlin in 2014.)

It’s only a matter of time before a Big Island yak-angling enthusiast beats Hallingstad’s 175-pound yellowfin, or the state-record wahoo of 80 pounds, or a mahi of 82. More and more anglers here are taking on pelagics from kayaks: The fishing is outstanding, conditions are often near-perfect along a widely accessible coastline, and costs are minimal.

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Playing with the Big Boys

Use a big bait on the big ocean off the Big Island and you're likely to hook ... a big fish. Kona local Matt Reed proved that when he trolled a 12-pound skipjack tuna. The result was a big blue marlin. In fact, most Kona kayak hot shots prefer to target tuna over marlin, since many sell their tuna to supplement income. (Photo by Aaron Schmidt / blackschmidtphotography.com)
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Early morning launch

One of Kona's well-known kayak fishers, Steve Cho launches from the west side of the Big Island. Cho's Ocean Kayak Trident is well equipped for catching tuna, mahi, wahoo and even billfish. Odds are Cho will look for signs of live bait, especially opelu (scads), first thing, which he'll catch with sabiki rigs. (Photo by Aaron Schmidt / blackschmidtphotography.com)Aaron Schmidt / Blackschmidtphotography.com
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Top prize for Kona kayak anglers

Yellowfin tuna are particularly sought by Kona kayak fishermen like Rob Wong Yuen. (Photo by Aaron Schmidt / blackschmidtphotography.com)Aaron Schmidt / Blackschmidtphotography.com
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Hard-earned prize

Although not particularly common, sailfish are always a possible prize for kayak anglers. Like tuna, they're widely considered food fish in these waters. (Photo by Aaron Schmidt / blackschmidtphotography.com)Aaron Schmidt / Blackschmidtphotography.com
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Productive Waters

Taking a photo-op moment to show off part of their morning's catch are Kona kayak hot shots (from left) Matt Reed, Rob Won Yuen, Andy Cho and Steve Cho. (Photo by Aaron Schmidt / blackschmidtphotography.com)Aaron Schmidt / Blackschmidtphotography.com
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Nearshore Giants, Too

One needn't paddle out to blue water to hook monsters. Chris Kutsch caught this beast of an ulua (giant trevally) near Keahou Bay (a popular kayak-launch area). (Photo by Chris Kutsch)Courtesy Chris Kutsch
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A Stone's Throw to Blue Water

Proving that offshore pelagic are within easy reach of shore in many areas, Andy Cho and Rob Wong Yuen troll for wahoo around the south end of the Big Island. (Photo by Aaron Schmidt / blackschmidtphotography.com)Aaron Schmidt / Blackschmidtphotography.com
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Plenty Pupule

Kelly Harrison owns Kailua-Kona's Plenty Pupule Kayaks, a shop for serious yak fishermen with a full line of kayaks and kayak-fishing gear.His Plenty Pupule Fishing Club gives kayakers a chance to join organized trips to great spots around the island. (Photo by Jim Rizzuto)Jim Rizutto
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Wahoo City

Ono, as wahoo are called in Hawaii, can be very abundant at times. Rob Wong Yuen caught this one from his Ocean Kayak Trident 15, which he likes for its tracking ability, stability and carrying capacity. Some Kona pros swear by the pedal-driven Hobie kayaks.Aaron Schmidt / Blackschmidtphotography.com
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Opelu — Prime and Primary Baitfish

Predators such as tuna feed heavily around the Big Island on the scad known as opelu.Serious yak anglers here usually I have live wells in which they can keep opelu alive and lively for hours. (Photo by Jim Rizzuto)Jim Rizzuto
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Wahoo Want Wire

Generally, kayak big-game anglers out of Kona favor 80-pound fluoro leaders, particularly for sharp-eyed tuna. But in wahoo season, many switch to a tandem rig of wire and a single-strand wire leader. (Photo by Aaron Schmidt / blackschmidtphotography.com)Aaron Schmidt / Blackschmidtphotography.com
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Gaff Alternative

Kona kayakers favor kages or spears like this one held by yak fisher Devlin Hallingstad for landing their fish. Their goal is to spear a tuna or other prize in a killing spot in or near the head. Once the spear tip is firmly anchored in the fish's head, they can bring the fish aboard more safely by pointing the head away and lifting the catch in by its tail. (Photo by Jim Rizzuto)Jim Rizzuto
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Game Over for an Ono

Andy Cho looks for just the right shot to sink his kage into a wahoo. (Photo by Aaron Schmidt / blackschmidtphotography.com)Aaron Schmidt / Blackschmidtphotography.com