Honolua Bay

Beneath the pineapple fields of Northwestern Maui and nestled inside a sea of palm trees lies a small sandy beach, a rustic boat ramp, lush, green foliage as far as the eye can see, and a calm bay with a shimmering sunset view overlooking the Pailolo Channel and the Eastern Shore of Molokai. The sand on the beach is grayish and powdery, almost more dirty than sandy, and the boat ramp, at a mere six feet wide and all chopped into rubble, is capable of launching perhaps a small inflatable on a high tide. No mariner would want to try and launch anything larger, and unless they had the key to the gate and/or could move all the parked cars out of the way, it would be impossible to even try.

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Every new day at Honolua Bay, catamarans from Kapalua and Kaanapali filled with sun worshippers and fish-lookers come to the bay, providing sights, gear and lunch to those who join them. Listening to the shouts of surprise and delight shoot through the snorkels of first time visitors makes one wonder how many colors of coral and tropical fish could possibly exist in such a small bay, and a quick survey from smiling faces as they arise from the water confirms there’s just too many to count. Curiosity always seems to increase when responses are so consistent, and the urge to take a peek to confirm these reports is overwhelming. Blues, greens, yellows, reds, magentas, and countless shades of each fill the underwater wonderland, provoking questions as to why anyone would ever want to leave.
Fishing in the Pailolo Channel between Molokai and Maui is sketchy at best, with a three pound Kawakawa often being the biggest reward for a day’s efforts. Yes, fish are caught here, and when the open school Mahimahi are around it can be like shooting fish in a barrel, but this channel is not the place where people think of when they dream of fishing in Hawaii. And thoughts of hundreds of snorkelers surrounding the boat makes one question the claim of restful sleep, and thus, juxtaposing the images of scenic beauty with partially submerged rubber clad human looky-loos and spending time and money in a bay where the fishing out front is average hardly seems like the ticket to a great sportfishing vacation. So what makes this bay worthy of mention?
Honolua Bay is special because of it’s beauty and it’s proximity to what many say are most productive fishing grounds in Hawaii: the North Shore of Molokai. When serious anglers look to work Molokai on an extended trip, there are days when staying the night on that island aren’t practical, restful, or even safe. Honolua evens the score and flattens the surface when the trades are blowing, and all those catamaran bound vacationers-turned-marine biologists are gone by four o’clock. The result is a peaceful end to a day of great fishing, and many believe Honolua truly is paradise found on Earth.

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Dusk at Honolua Bay looking towards Molokai

With only eight miles to traverse the channel to the Northeastern corner of Molokai, an unbelievably restful night’s sleep in one of the most beautiful and safe anchorages in Hawaii always leads to an early start at one of the world’s great fisheries. Since anchoring and snorkeling are at opposite ends of the time spectrum, Honolua Bay has never had a problem facilitating everyone’s needs. Further, since sportfishing is done at times when the bay would be otherwise occupied, Honolua is a logical choice for spending nights resting from a day’s activity in pursuit of giant Marlin. It’s calm bay and lush beauty are unparalelled, and it’s location gives anglers the utmost in options when considering the next day’s game plan.

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Early morning at Honolua Bay with Molokai to the right

Within a couple of hours from Honolua, anglers can be fishing the thousand fathom line off Molokai or Maui which has produced some enormous fish, both in tournaments (such as the world’s only double grander in the Lahaina Jackpot) chartering, or going Holoholo (out for fun). Recall the 1,207 pound giant that was angled by Honolulu fisherman Al Bento, and the stories from many anglers who have raised, struck, fought, and landed massive fish while staring at the awesome cliffs of the North Shore. Once an angler has fished these magnificent grounds, it gets under the skin. It pulls, tugs, and gnaws at even the coolest angler, raising the urge to fish these deeps again and again.
Many have often wondered why, if the North Shore of Molokai is such a great fishery, more boats don’t fish up there on a regular basis. The answer is simple: it’s out of reach for most day trips regardless of the weather, and the coastline surrounding it is extremely rugged. Furthermore, Honolua Bay is a Marine Life Conservation District (MLCD) designated by the State of Hawaii (similar to Hanauma Bay on Oahu), and there is no breakwater or harbor facilities. Accordingly, boats wishing to fish Molokai’s and Maui’s North side and spend their evenings at Honolua must have the ability to carry water and supplies and be completely self-sufficient for a few days. Like most boating in Hawaii, day trips limit the ability of anglers to get to these places, but the good news is that many believe the reduced pressure on the area leads to significantly more raised fish.

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Relaxing on an air matress with Molokai in the background

Isolation, natural beauty, and a world-class Billfishery: we think that’s what a fishing adventure is all about.

Going to Honolua Bay

Chartering a boat from either Oahu or Maui is an equally acceptable choice, because the extra time it takes to get to the fishing grounds from Oahu is offset by the higher charter rates on Maui. The Maui boats are about an hour away from the bay, while the Oahu boats are about a day’s run. However, the Oahu boats are almost as close to the prime fishing grounds as the Maui guys, so the idea from Oahu is to work the fishing area on the first day, tuck into Honolua for the night, and hit it again the next day or two using this beautiful refuge as a base camp. Maui boats can do the same thing, but in a shorter period of time, so overall, the cost of a three day trip from Oahu which gives more ground coverage will end up about the same as a two day run from Maui. Take your pick.

In all conditions except strong Westerly swells, Honolua is a safe refuge with a flat calm sea and a nice sandy bottom which provides a good grip for the anchor. Even when the wind blows around the corner and the seas in the channel pick up, Honolua remains calm and forgiving. There is almost no surge for most of the year, and the sunsets are incredible.

Anglers wishing to spend a night or more in this bay should be sure to bring the snorkel gear, as it is truly a remarkable place to see all kinds of tropical fish in their natural environment. In fact, while spending a night in Honolua, Kathy of Sportfish Hawaii was snorkeling around and actually saw an Ono swimming around in the refuge. Had the striped tiger been outside the line, rest assured he would have joined us for dinner that night!

Once you are convinced as we are that the North shores of Molokai and Maui are grounds that need heavy exploration, consider Honolua Bay as a place to spend at least one of your nights. The few extra miles from the grounds on the North Shore of Molokai may mean a slight loss of fishing time while travelling, but the good night’s sleep should be enough of a trade off to warrant it.

The best time of year to spend the night at Honolua is any day there is no Southerly or Westerly storms, which usually occur in the winter.

As with most of the anchorages around Hawaii, we recommend you go with local skippers who know the grounds. We have spent many nights in these wonderful places, but we learned the specifics from those who preceded us making the experience so much more enjoyable.

Click here to read about the North Shore of Molokai

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