Hawaii is an excellent fly fishing destination for many reasons. There’s a lot of diversity and opportunity for both saltwater fishing and freshwater fishing, which makes it a fun place to visit.
Hawaii is also famously beautiful. It’s a place where people from around the world visit just for a glimpse at the volcanoes, beaches, canyons and more! Now imagine all of that, while being able to catch a variety of fish.
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I’ve been fly fishing for over 20 years, spending part of that time as a guide. I love exploring new places to cast a line. Fly fishing in Hawaii is well worth it, but it’s important to do some research and planning beforehand. Hopefully this guide will help you on your journey.
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Why Fly Fish Hawaii?
The obvious answer is that there’s water everywhere. It’s hard to look at a map of Hawaii and not be awed by all of the water and coastline, which means endless possibilities.
Hawaii is famous for its saltwater fishing. It has some very large bonefish, and it also offers the opportunity for giant trevally and other saltwater species.
Hawaii also has some of the most exotic freshwater fishing. It’s one of the only places in the United States where you can catch peacock bass. The trout fishing might not be for trophies, but the locations are unbeatable.
Hawaii Fly Fishing Fish Species
As with most saltwater locations, there’s no shortage of fish species to catch. Many of the classic flats species are here, as well as some blue water species.
Hawaii also has many streams and lakes that hold fish. Here you can find trout and bass in some of the most impressive and unique settings in the United States.
Hawaii is quickly gaining a reputation for being a place well worth visiting for saltwater fishing. If you like big fish, this is your place.
Bonefish are some of the most iconic saltwater fish out there. When anglers think of flats fishing, this is usually the fish that comes to mind.
Hawaii might not have the number of bonefish that some other places do, but they definitely have trophies. (The average fish is 5-6 lbs.) Anglers in Hawaii can expect to have some shots at large bonefish, so make sure to spend some time practicing your casting before you go.
Make sure to bring an 8 or 9wt saltwater rod, one with a lot of backbone, to allow for casting in all conditions. Also bring a matching saltwater reel with a good drag outfitted with a shooting head line and 12-16 lb fluorocarbon leader.
You’ll want to bring a variety of flies with both larger dumbbell eyes for deeper water and lighter bead chain eyes for shallower flats. Spam and Eggs, micro crab, and mantis shrimp variations are all good.
If you see one of these fish on the flats, you won’t ever forget it. They’ll come in to chase schools of baitfish, and if you’re lucky, you can hook into the fight of a lifetime.
Just like with the bonefish, the GT’s in Hawaii aren’t as common as in some other places like the Seychelles, but you’ll have a shot at a monster. These fish can grow to over 100 lbs, and they fight like a freight train.
If you’re planning to try and do battle with a giant trevally, bring a 12wt rod and a reel that won’t let you down. These fish are known for shredding gear, so it’s important to have a reel with stopping power. You’ll want a fly line with a strong core (higher than the average fly line) and 80-100 lb fluorocarbon leader.
Giant trevally are true apex predators, so they’re looking for baitfish. Any baitfish pattern that’s presented like it’s wounded has the potential to induce a strike. If it happens, buckle up.
Although saltwater fly fishing in Hawaii gets most of the publicity, there’s some good freshwater fishing as well. Much of the fresh water in Hawaii is privately owned, so make sure the area you’re heading to is public before fishing. Also make sure to check with the state’s Division of Aquatic Resources to obtain proper licensing.
The appeal of peacock bass have made places in South America famous to fly anglers, and you catch them here in Hawaii as well. Peacock bass are beautiful, colorful fish that can be an aggressive target.
Peacock bass have earned the respect of fly fishers for being one of the hardest fighting pound-for-pound freshwater fish in the world. In Hawaii, these fish average 2-3 lbs, but the state record is over 8 lbs. They live in several reservoirs throughout Hawaii, and they won’t disappoint if hooked!
A 5 or 6 wt rod will be sufficient for fly fishing Hawaii’s reservoirs. Any matching reel will work, as you don’t need a sealed drag since you won’t be in salt water. I recommend leaders as strong as 6-8 lbs to account for the hard fighting ability.
Peacock bass hunt other, smaller fish. They’ll eagerly take any baitfish pattern, such as a Clouser Minnow.
When fly fishers think of rainbow trout, Hawaii isn’t usually the place that comes to mind. However, rainbow trout have been introduced to many streams on the islands of Hawaii and Kauai. Fishing for trout here will be unlike anything you’ve experienced in the rest of the United States.
Rainbow trout are found in streams and local reservoirs. Hawaii limits trout fishing to a few months in the summer, and you must have a license to do so. (No license is required for saltwater fishing.)
Very light tackle is recommended for these rainbows, as they are smaller than many of their counterparts in the contiguous United States. A 2-4wt rod will make fighting these fish fun, along with light leader and tippet material (2 lbs).
Many of these fish are voracious eaters. Focus on subsurface nymph patterns in small sizes.
Best Fly Fishing Spots in Hawaii
With a mix of a little bit of everything, the below spots should have something for every angler. Whether you are looking to get away for an afternoon to wet a line or fish hard for days in a row, Hawaii has something for you.
Fly fishing in Hawaii is excellent for people searching for variety. It’s a rare place that offers both saltwater and freshwater fishing within close proximity to one another.
This is where you want to go if you’re looking for a trophy bonefish. There are several flats around this island that hold trophies.
The fishing here can be tough, and patience is required. There’s regularly a trade wind that will test your casting, and the fish (as is usually the case with monsters) can be cautious. For this reason, especially if you’re short on time, it’s recommended to hire a guide. It may seem expensive, but having their knowledge and ability to lessen the learning curve is invaluable.
Depending on the conditions, you could be fishing in very shallow water or out on a boat. Bring a rain jacket and a good pair of polarized sunglasses. Polarization is critical when you’re trying to peer through the water to spot a fish.
Also known as Wahiawa Reservoir, this privately owned lake has a section that’s a designated Public Fishing Area and State Freshwater Park. The lake is located in the central part of the island of Oahu.
Lake Wilson has great fishing for peacock bass. It also has several other species of fish, including largemouth and smallmouth bass. Lake Wilson is a great location for anglers of any skill level to wet a line.
Lake Wilson does allow boats, and it’s possible to fish out of a belly boat. Anglers can rent a kayak and bring it up to the lake to use to get around if they desire.
Koke’e State Park
Located on the island of Kauai, this is another designated Public Fishing Area. There are several small streams and lakes that make up the state park.
Koke’e State Park has imposed fishing regulations in the past, but they change each year. Make sure to do your research on the state’s website to find out if there are any regulations or other information you need to know before going.
Rainbow trout are stocked each year and can make a fun trip for someone looking to catch a trout in Hawaii. Four wheel drive vehicles are recommended to access the fishing areas, and anglers must check in and out at designated checkpoints to help the state track its resources.
Hawaii Fishing Season
Hawaii doesn’t have a best or worst fishing season, but things do change as the year moves along. To be clear, the fishing can be great year round, and the only true limiting factor is that the trout fishing is closed outside of summer.
It’s good to understand the seasonal changes, but also important to understand that weather is an important factor, and in Hawaii that can be unpredictable.
In the salt water, the water temperature is cooler, so there are fewer bonefish up on the flats. They’ll be spending more time in deeper water and can still be found, but it may be harder to sight fish for them.
In fresh water, the same thing is happening. The fish haven’t gone anywhere, but they may not be as aggressive as when the temps warm up later in the year.
The water is starting to warm up, so there will be more fish starting to show up. The weather is starting to transition from the rainy season to summer, and usually the days with good sight fishing conditions will increase.
The freshwater fishing is also starting to pick up as the water begins to warm. Largemouth bass can be particularly aggressive during April and May, while the peacock bass fishing starts to peak around May.
June also marks the beginning of trout fishing, with the season usually opening around mid month. There have been special restrictions at the beginning of the season, such as a lottery, so make sure to be informed on the yearly regulations.
The water is warm, and the fish have come back to the flats. This is when you’ll see the most bonefish up in the flats and probably have a chance at the most fish. The weather is also usually clearer, which means fewer clouds and higher chances of sight fishing.
Freshwater fishing is also in full swing. The water is warm and bass of all species are eating heavily. They’ll be aggressive and ready to give you a fight.
Trout fishing continues into September, and since you don’t have to worry about runoff like in many other trout locations, the fishing can be consistent throughout the summer. This can obviously change if there’s a big rainstorm, as the small creeks can still become blown out.
Fall is here and temps are cooling off. Many of the bonefish are beginning to make their way back to deeper waters that will stay warm. That being said, the fish that are left are likely to be huge. If you want a big one, and you’re willing to work with fewer chances, this can be a great time.
The freshwater fishing is also starting to cool off with the falling water temps. The fish are still around, but may become less aggressive. They’ll still take a fly if presented, but the days of the feeding frenzy are on pause.
Trout season is closed, so that won’t be an option for a trip this time of year.
Many people believe that Hawaii has the biggest bonefish in the world. This opinion alone should make any angler interested in testing their skill on the waters of the 50th state.
Fly fishing in Hawaii is still relatively new, and it doesn’t have the same popularity as it does in many other states. To me, this is a positive, as it still has the feel of exploring and learning something new. It also means that you won’t be fighting the same crowds that seem to be in many other popular fishing destinations.
Hawaii doesn’t need any help selling itself, so come for the beauty, and leave with the fish story of a lifetime!