All you need to know about charter boat sportfishing in Hawaii.
What is big game sportfishing?
Trolling on a chartered boat for Marlin, Tuna, or Sailfish are examples of what big game sportfishing is all about. There are few things more exhilarating than the sound of a buzzing reel taking off on the back of a boat and hearing the captain yell "Hana Pa'a." That's Hawaiian for "Fish on!"
Hawaii has some of the best sportfishing in the world. Think about it - we're a warm water archipelago in the middle of the Pacific. But there's a lot to consider before letting your inner Hemmingway come out. Here's some information to guide you on your adventure.
Where is the best place to catch big game fish?
You can catch large fish on a chartered boat off of any of the islands, but the Big Island is considered best. In fact, some think that it's the Marlin Capital of the World. Yes, even better than Cabo San Lucas. Several tournaments happen each year off of Kona attracting world champion anglers.
But, don't be discouraged if you're visiting one of the other islands. There is excellent fishing off of Oahu, Kauai, and Maui.
What can I catch?
If you are deep sea fishing, you're likely to troll for Blue Marlin, Striped Marlin, Yellow Fin Tuna, Ono, Mahi Mahi, or Skipjack Tuna. If you're shallow-bottom fishing, you'll be fishing for Jack Travelli, Gray Snappers, Sheepshead Fish, and Blue-Line Snappers. Check out this guide on Big Game Sport Fish of Hawaii.
How do I choose a fishing boat?
Although there are many fishing boats in the harbors throughout Hawaii, few of them charter fish on a regular basis. There are many websites for charter tours, but you'll need to call or email to make certain that they are currently in operation.
Typical charter boats range in size from 20 - 50 ft. I recommend a boat that has shaded seating for all passengers. The captain may allow guests to sit on the passenger side of the upper deck or flying bridge which is usually shaded. Smaller boats are likely to be less stable, thus rock more than the larger ones. However, hull design improvements in recent years have improved stability for smaller craft. If you're prone to seasickness, be sure to take Dramamine, or Bonine an hour before boarding.
How long are fishing tours?
Most charters offer half day (4 hour), 3/4 Hour (6 Hour) and Full day (8-10 hour) tours. The longer the tour, the greater your odds of catching fish. It's like baseball - the more at-bat, the more likely you'll get a hit.
Private vs Shared Charters.
Private charters are great if you have 6 friends all willing to split the costs. But if you are alone, or with another person, you may want to consider a shared charter. An agreement will need to be made beforehand who will reel first. If conditions are favorable, everyone will have a chance to sit in the chair, but there is no guarantee. It's fishing.
Most charters will charge 10% if you cancel the tour outside of 48 hours. Some are nice and won't charge anything. But within 48 hours, you may not get a refund. And within 24 hours it's almost a certainty.
It's customary to tip the crew for taking care of you on the boat. Typical activity tipping in Hawaii is 15 -20%
Boat Owners vs Captains
You may see some ads that say "Owner Operated." This is simply marketing, and it really doesn't matter if the boat is operated by the owner or a hired captain. What does matters is the skill of the captain and crew.
What should I expect on a tour?
Once on the boat, the captain will give a safety briefing about safety protocols. Once at sea, the mates will prepare the lines and set them up for trolling. Trolling is the typical way of catching big game fish such as marlin, ono, and mahi mahi since they are attracted to running lures.
It's a waiting game, but once a fish is on, you'll hear the reel spinning like crazy, and a crewmember will strap you in the chair and put the rod in your hand. You'll be guided (loudly) how to reel that monster in. Once the fish is close to the boat, you'll be told to stop reeling and step back as the fish is gaffed and brought on board. You'll then receive numerous high-fives from your friends and the crew.
Will I see whales and dolphins?
There's a possibility you'll see whales during the winter months. Dolphins can be seen off the Kona Coast all year, so it's likely you'll spot a few of them.
Do I need a fishing license?
You do NOT need a fishing license for sport fish in Hawaii. A license is required to SELL fish in Hawaii. There is also size tackle requirements for some fish, but your captain will be up to speed on that.
Why no bananas on the boat?
Bananas are considered bad luck on boats, so don't bring them with you. This is serious stuff. The captain may get angry if he see's you peeling one cluelessly.
Can I keep the fish?
Many boats will NOT let you keep the fish. The catch are usually sold to the local fish markets. Cutting the fish renders it unsaleable. If you're visiting from somewhere other than Hawaii, this shouldn't matter since what are you going to do with it anyway? But some boats allow a portion of the fish to be distributed equally among the guests.
Can I take my portion of the fish to a restaurant and have them prepare it for me?
No, it's against the health code for restaurants to cook fish brought in by customers.
What should I bring with me on the boat?
You should pack a lunch, sunscreen, a hat, and beverages in cans or plastic bottles. (Don't bring beer in glass).
Looking for a boat charter? Here's a list of companies to get you started.
Sportfishing Charters on Oahu
Sportfishing Charters on Maui
Sportfishing Charters on Kauai
Sportfishing Charters on The Big Island
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