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Fishermen's Journal

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 avoided:
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.

Tight Lines,

Ben Jacoby

Have a question about fishing the Islands? Here's your chance to ask a "local." Questions and replies are posted below this feedback form.

Question: submitted by > >bill chien (flyangler@mediaone.net) 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 (cary13@prodigy.net) on Sunday, December 12, 1999 at 16:02:17
>CITY: Pasadena
>TOPIC: release?
>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.

Great Stuff,
Mark (er, Chark)

You too can get published right here at CharkBait. Have an idea other boaters or fishermen could use, some experience to share, a great trip to report? Well, get typing, include some pics, and if your article is selected for publication you'll receive a free CharkChirt and the appreciation of other fishermen.



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