Kayak Fishing on the Kona Coast

See Bluewater Jon’s video clip of his battle to catch a giant tuna!

The Kona Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii is known as the “Land of the Giants”, and with good reason: thousand pound monsters are caught within mile from shore. It’s a relatively new island in geological terms, and the ultra-steep drop-offs on the water’s edge make for some of the world’s most fertile hunting grounds. That’s why I was there – to pit myself, on a kayak, against the biggest fish I could possibly battle anywhere.

Having been there before, I had some idea of the types of fish I might find myself up against, and what special gear and techniques I would need to use if I had any chance of besting these beasts. Two speed reels, super short custom rods, spears, and state of the art shark repellant equipment were the tools I would use, and as you will see, each of these tools proved to be vital to my success, and indeed, to my survival….

Two local kayakers had warned me that I needed to have some sort of protection against the tiger sharks that can reach 2000 pounds. Unlike great whites of similar size, these behemoths inhabit shallow coastal waters, and can be seen fairly regularly from shore. One kayaker carried a bang stick just in case he was attacked, and another spoke of a device that deterred sharks by emitting electrical pulses that the sharks detected in the jelly-filled sacs in their snouts called Ampullae de Lorenzini. Neither of these sounded like something I wanted to depend on in a critical situation.

The fact was that I was already there, and since I didn’t have either device, it was either stay on shore, or fish. I reasoned that if so many people kayak, surf, dive, and swim without being eaten and mauled on a regular basis, I was being overly cautious. There was one big difference between what I would be doing and these sports, though- I’d be using large baits that trailed blood, gaffed fish bled, and if I hooked into a fish, that would act as a lure to predators father up the food chain.

Well, I had some time to mull it over. For part of my trip, I had hired a boat and a film crew to get some footage of me fishing. We’d be working on a film that I later released in 2007 called Bluewater Jon and the Giant Tuna that documented my wild quests to battle monsters in this exotic land . While I thought about what to do regarding the sharks, I prepped my kayak and gear. I had brought over a cooler full of 15 inch sushi quality mackerel that I had prepped in a brine solution to lengthen its shelf life, and my cooler needed some more ice, so I went to the nearest gas station to get some. As I was paying the cashier, I looked down and noticed, to my horror, a front page headline that read: “Local Officials Fear Sharks Being Lured”, and the article went on to describe how, at this very moment, there were tiger sharks being spotted on a regular basis at the very spot that I planned to launch out of!

The next day, I got into my kayak, and launched out of the harbor, taking my portable fish finder and small tackle box with me, and began paddling just outside of the jagged cliffs to the south. I figured there must be something wrong with my depth finder because I wasn’t even getting a reading. It wasn’t until I got within a three hundred yards of shore that I started registering some numbers… 598… 590…595…big numbers for being so close to land!

This intimidated me so I paddled closer, in the hopes of coming into some more “modest” depth numbers, but even at 50 yards from shore, my fish finder was registering an incredible 300 feet deep!

I got out a special knife jig that can reach the bottom quickly. Using this, I caught a small fish, called a Wahanui. I had planned on using artificial baits so as to not attract sharks, but this fish was just too good of a baitfish to pass up, so I took out some special knottable wire, quickly fashioned a leader with a circle hook, put 8 ounces of lead above the swivel, and dropped Mr. Wahanui down to see what would happen.

As I began drifting, I noticed that the amount of boat traffic had increased considerably. It occurred to me then that the boats returning now were probably the first out of many boats that would be coming in within the next 20 minutes to beat the 4:00 deadline for the Firecracker Marlin Tournament that had been advertised all over the island!

All of a sudden, I hear the line race off the reel, making a high pitched whine that shocked me with its ferocity. I slowly increased the drag on my TLD-20 rigged with Spectra, and soon the line was taught. My all roller 60-100 pound Seeker Rod was completely bent over the side of the kayak and into the water and I was struggling to keep from getting pulled over. Whatever this fish was, I had never fought anything like it. Its brute strength was incredible, and I shuddered to think at what I was now attached to. It felt like I was riding a bull. I fumbled with the lever drag, trying to find the right amount of pressure that stopped the fish from going any deeper, but still allowed the fish to gain some line in its brutish bursts.

At this point, I heard a low, distant rumble, and as I looked toward the horizon, I saw a fleet of boats seemingly as big as the ones in those old WWII films heading directly for me! The fish was towing me directly into the path of the returning boats which were all coming in at the same time to beat the tournament buzzer!

Next, I hear a helicopter overhead, and I start thinking, Man, am I in trouble? Have they come to arrest me? Maybe I shouldn’t be fishing here! As I am struggling to maintain balance on the kayak, the first boat comes straight towards me and almost capsizes me with the wake. Mind you, I am in no position to maneuver- I’m hanging on for dear life. In the midst of all this chaos, it occurred to me that the brute at the end of my line might be one of the tiger sharks that had prompted the warning in the newspapers!

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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