Fishing in Hawaii - Everything You Need to Know Before You Go

Fishing has been central to Hawaii’s culture throughout history, with a countless number of fish species to catch from shore, the reef, offshore and deep sea. Wherever you are in Hawaii, from the Big Island across the Maui Channel to Maui, or Molokai to Oahu and the capital Honolulu, fishing is literally all around you. Luckily, whether you’re a local or a visitor, this is the one ocean-bordering state in the U.S. where there is no marine recreational fishing license required to fish! This makes fishing accessible anytime you can get out on shore, in the surf, or on a boat.

Regulations

Even though a marine recreational fishing license is not required, there is a license required for freshwater fishing if you intend to keep any fish. There are also some regulations for keeping fish from the ocean and areas where shoreline fishing is prohibited.

Weather, Seasons, and Species

Year-round fishing and consistent weather is a big reason Hawaii is a fisher’s paradise. The temperature at sea level averages around 76 - 85 degrees Fahrenheit (24 - 29 degrees C) year round. While it rains somewhere in the islands almost every day, they’re typically passing showers that last for about 10 minutes. For more info on what to expect from the environment and on peak travel dates, check out the Hawaii Guide.

Many fish species are around all year, and may be brought in on a run by a mid-Pacific current or the shifty weather of the region. There are prime seasons for species, though. Summer is when blue marlin are most common, and it’s also great for skipjack tuna, yellowfin tuna (best in summer and late spring), and ono (wahoo). In summer, the surf is also calmer with warmer water if you’re planning a visit around the best time for surf fishing, snorkeling, or diving. Fall and spring are good also for blue marlin and mahi mahi. For instance, though blue marlin are most common in the summer, March has produced more of Kona’s historic grander marlin catches (marlin over 1,000 lbs) than any other month, including a 1,694 lb behemoth in 1984! Winter is best for catching striped marlin, snapper, skipjack tuna, and bigeye tuna.

p.s. Did you know mahimahi is the original Hawaiian name for dolphinfish and means “very strong”. It’s now regularly used around the world and helps avoid confusion with common dolphin species.

Saltwater / Ocean Fishing

Hawaii is by no means lacking in its number of marine fish species (around 550). Though, it actually has fewer than many other island chains due to being the most isolated land mass of its size or larger on Earth. For comparison, the Philippines has about 2,000 fish species. The game fish in Hawaii are very large and abundant which gives everyone, from the most experienced to beginners, a chance to reel in a huge catch as long as you’re fishing with a quality captain.

Deep sea fishing is great from every island, though the most well-known haven is Kona, the west side of the Big Island. Kona plays home to the Hawaii International Billfish Tournament and is renowned as one of the best spots in the world for big game sportfishing. It’s where the first certified, world-record grander Pacific blue marlin was caught in 1954. Get your workouts in before you visit because you may be lifting some big trophies. Keep your eyes split too because you may get treated to some free whale watching while on a deep sea trip!

Spearfishing has been a source of sustenance and cultural tradition for Hawaiians throughout history. It’s also taken on new significance as a way to defend Hawaii’s reef and native fish species from invasive fish including the Ta’ape, To,au, and the most prominent current threat, the Roi.

For another unique experience, how does a tug of war with a tuna sound? Ika-shibi is the name for the traditional form of handline fishing that is still practiced and takes place at night. Try this to work off all those tasty luau dishes ;)

Flats fishing: Hawaii is home to big bonefish, many pushing into double digits and some even over 15 lbs. You can also catch Great Trevally (White) and Bluefin Trevally. If you’re a fly fisher used to the sandy flats of the Caribbean, know that much of Hawaii’s flats feature coral which can be dangerous and painful to step on and, of course, harmful to the coral itself if you make contact. Wear protective flats boots with sturdy soles to stay safe.

Freshwater Fishing

Largemouth bass, tucunare (peacock bass), catfish, and rainbow trout have all been introduced in Hawaii and can be caught in public fishing areas (read on for island-specific location information).

Island geography makes for streams in Hawaii that are shorter in length than mainland streams you may be used to as a visitor. Waterfalls are a feature of many of the streams too, especially on the Big Island. Most stream flow comes from rainfall, which results in frequent flooding and flow spikes.

Regional Information, Guides and Charters

Oahu

Oahu is the most-visited island in Hawaii (almost 5 million travelers visit each year). It’s home to Honolulu, Waikiki beach, and Pearl Harbor.

The North Shore is famous for surfing and big waves, but it also offers close proximity and shorter runs out to deep sea fishing grounds if you’re looking for charter fishing. You can target big game, jig for tuna, and of course catch plenty of bottom fish.

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For freshwater fishing, you can visit Wahiawa Public Fishing Area.

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The Big Island (Hawaii)

Kailua-Kona is where most visitors stay, and the Kona coast (west side of the island) is not only one of the best sportfishing destinations in the world, it also offers incredible snorkeling and diving in addition to sight fishing due to its clear water. The “Gold Coast” of Kohala north of Kona is more barren but also has some beautiful beaches. The eastern side of the island includes the Hilo and Puna areas which are close to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

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For freshwater fishing, you can visit Waiakea Public Fishing Area.

Maui

Maui has 30 miles of beaches and features many impressive resorts and accommodations. Though, whatever budget you’re traveling with, being on Maui is a 5-star natural experience in itself. It’s called “The Valley Island” for its landscape in the center of the island framed by volcanoes and mountains. The west side of the island is the drier side leeward of the volcanoes, but the eastern side is a green and tropical wonderland full of valleys and waterfalls.

For freshwater fishing, there are multiple regulated freshwater fishing locations in Maui County.

Kauai

“The Garden Island”. Kauai has the most beach coastline of the Hawaiian islands, so it’s great for explorers looking to find secluded beaches without crowds or fishing pressure. If you’re looking for shoreline fishing and not straying too far from other humans, try Hanalei Bay.

For freshwater fishing, you can find rainbow trout and smallmouth bass in the freshwater streams and reservoirs of Kauai. Here are two public fishing areas: Koke’e Public Fishing Area and Wailua Reservoir.

Bob Barker voice: Say aloha to your next adventure and experience your dream trip in one of the best fishing destinations in the world -- beautiful Hawaii!

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