W.F.O. on the 150lb+ yellowtail, and
only a five hour run from L.A.?
by Ben Jacoby
Well, almost. Here in Kona, HI we have a fishery that very few fishermen
are aware of, to the point that 95% of the charter skippers here are either unaware that
it exists or are unprepared to do it. It's our version of California Yellowtail:
Amberjack, affectionately know to many as A.J. Yellowtail and A.J. have many similarities,
but two important differences do exist: 1) depth; and 2) size. We usually fish for A.J.at
80 fathoms (about 500 feet), with the average size being 30 to 40 lbs, although commercial
fisherman have caught A.J. up to 150 lbs here in Hawaii. That's considerably larger than
the IGFA all tackle record (if someone has other info, please send back a note). Their
habitat is quite extensive. Research submarines have reported sightings down to 2000 feet,
and I've seen and caught them in Honokohau Harbor which is about 10 feet deep. My tackle
consists of a Penn 6/0 Wide Senator or Shimano LRS spooled with 700 yds of 135 lb Spectra
bolted to a Penn Standup Slammer rod. I use a 500 lb Sampo Ball Bearing swivel tied to the
end of the Spectra. A 1 lb cannon ball lead and a six foot 400 lb pound leader with a 11/0
big game hook is attached. The leader has it's own swivel to allow the lead and the leader
to rotate unhindered. This rig is then set aside while we catch our bait.
One of the best areas to find the A.J. is known simply as "the
Grounds", in recognition of the tremendous fish gathering ability of the place. It is
about three miles from the harbor and is adjacent to the Kona airport. The reason it's
such a great place to fish is the deep bottom structure there. It consists of a 3 mile
ledge at about 80 fathoms that falls off into the abyss. The ledge angles out from the
shore at about 45 degrees such that a strong northbound current strikes the ledge and
pushes up cold water loaded with nutrients. This starts the food chain. One of the main
components of this local food chain is what we call Aku (aka skipjack). These skipjack
pile up over the ledge to such an extent that sometimes the entire length of the ledge is
erupting with skipjack chasing tiny baitfish or squid. The skipjack are our best live bait
for Amberjack (and marlin, tuna, swordfish, etc, but that's another story). If the current
is right, which it often is, a trolled feather-jig will not last more than thirty seconds
before it's nailed by a skipjack. Two to three pounds is perfect and the norm. This is
then "bridled" to the 11/0 hook, and dropped in about 90 to 100 fathoms. This
puts it right on the ledge, where all the action is. Even a 1 lb weight works well in this
situation, because a quickly bridled skipjack will make a bee-line for the bottom once
dropped back in the water. Once the lead hits bottom, the current will have taken us back
into about 80 fathoms. If a giant marlin or huge tuna hasn't grabbed the bait on the way
down, you'll take 10 cranks of the reel to get the lead and bait out of the rocks. There
are so many hungry A.J., that's all you'll have time for, then BAM!...
At this point, we should review the list of life-threatening errors that need to be
1) improperly adjusted drag;
2) angler not wearing his/her harness;
3) rod not in gunwale-mount rod holder,
4) reel in free spool.
Why? When the A.J. strikes you'll think your leader got caught in the propeller of a
passing freighter. The rod will jerk five or six times so hard that it can be yanked from
your hands. Imagine the tackle smashing birds-nest that 135 lb Spectra would make due to a
loose drag or inadvertant free spool with a big hot fish on the other end. The fish will
often hook itself, and after a few tremendous head shakes, will head for the abyss. Even
on this relatively heavy tackle the average A.J. is a real handful. After the strike and
initial run, you'll have a few seconds to strap the rod into the harness and get it out of
the rod holder, if you're brave enough. I've seen big tough-guys that had to fight these
fish from the rod holder. It's not unusual for the fish to "smoke" 30 yards of
line off the reel several times. The A.J. will usually stubbornly fight hard all the way
to the surface, just like a Yellowtail. With the intense violet hued clarity of our
waters, the call of "deep color" is always worth a long look over the side. With
the yellow stripe and torpedo shape you'll swear your first A.J. is a genuine California
Yellowtail. Sometimes the entertainment takes an interesting turn as giant sharks over
1000 lbs (and even Killer whales) have been know to grab the A.J. on the way up and give
the angler the fight of his life, especially if the drag is too tight!
With all the fishing opportunities here in Kona, we always quickly release
these fish. After that you can try for another, bigger A.J. That's if you don't need a nap
first or an ice pack on your arms and shoulders. And for you dyed-in-the-wool
"iron" fishermen, yes, these A.J. will readily take a yo-yo'ed jig too, even if
it feels like you're fishing for Cow Cod at 500 feet. It's not unusual for anglers to boat
10 or more A.J. in a day.
With Kona only a five hour direct flight from LAX, anyone who loves
Yellowtail should give this a try. And who knows, if you use a large enough bait, you
might even rewrite the record books.
If you have some questions about fishing the Islands please use the form below. I'll try
to get back to you. Chark has offered to post questions and replies in a running dialog
here on this page.
Question: submitted by > >bill chien (email@example.com) on Monday, May
24, 1999 at 11:24:09 >
>--------------------------------------------------------------------------- > >
> >CITY: los angeles > > > >STATE: ca > > > >TOPIC:
additional info on AJ fishing > > > >MESSAGE: > >The info sounds great.
Who at the islands specializes in charters for these fish and when is the best time to go?
Thanks > > > >Submit Query: Submit Query > > >
A-Your best bet would be Kona because the 100 fathom line is so close to shore
here, but AJ are available throughout the island chain, and throughout the year. About
five different charter captains will take you out for AJ in Kona, but it depends on the
style you want. As an example, Capt Jeff on the K-IX is THE expert at light tackle deep
jigging, but won't use bait. You can call me at 808 895 7910 when you're ready to set a
date, and I can tell you where to stay and who to charter with if you give me your
parameters. Writing the article got ME all fired up and I had to go AJ fishing today, but
we varied the theme. I dropped cut frigate mackrel (locally called oi'oi') in 50 fathoms
on the end of a 3 foot leader with 10 ounces of lead. I used a Shimano TLD 25 with 100lb
Spectra on a custom medium action rod. Special tuna circle hooks are the order of the day
since they hook quickly and lodge in the corner of the mouth for a quick release. We
didn't have to wait more than about five minutes for the bite. The fish were all about 15
to 20 pounds. If anyone ever tried to anchor and chum it would definitely go WFO. Great
fun! Regards, Ben
Question: John (firstname.lastname@example.org) on Sunday, December 12, 1999 at
>MESSAGE: After my first vacation to Maui last year, and reading about the prevalence
of pelagic species in your waters, I am anxious to fish Hawaiian waters for tuna, dorado,
jack, etc. My experience is with San Diego offshore/ Baja Cal. fishing grounds,
where the enjoyment for me comes from eating my catch as much as from fighting it.
With the exception of the threatened and/or less than tasty billfish, I've never released
a good sized fish in my life. (I usually quit when I've caught enough to fill my
freezer.) So you may understand why I'm a bit puzzled by your remark "...we
always quickly release these fish". While I've never eaten amberjack,
yellowtail (grilled or sashimi) is one of my favorites, and I assume amberjack must be
good also. What gives??
Answer: In response to your readers question. We
release the fish because there is no market value, they sometimes of have worms, sometimes
have ciguatera (I've tested many and never found ciguatera though), and there are plenty
of wahoo, tuna, mahi and snapper to eat. We also can catch about 10 or 20 jack per
day and would just be killing the fish. If he wants to come over and eat some
Amberjack there is no problem with it though. It's almost as good as yellowtail, but
not quite. Frozen fish sucks!!
I met Ben via the Internet. We exchanged a few e-mails regarding tackle, and he kept
dropping little bits of info about the fishing in Hawaii. You know, things like,
"albacore don't count for much here, skipjacks' king..." He couldn't believe
we've had such good fishing recently for threshers and white seabass, having lived in So.
Cal. and done plenty of local fishing. He remembered those mackerel and sandbass days...
With all the contrasts in fishing Ben mentioned, as well as thoughts shared by other folks
who fish the islands and visit CharkBait like Apelu Galeai, Troy Hasp and others who have
shared tales with me, well, I couldn't help but beg for Ben to consider writting up some
things about fishing Hawaii. Ben kindly responded in the affirmative, and really spins an
interesting and entertaining yarn. Ben has offered to assist other anglers by answering
their questions regarding fishing Hawaii. If you'd like to send over a question please use
the form at the bottom of this screen.
Mark (er, Chark)
You too can get published right here at
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