Oahu's Famous North Shore

"It’s like going to another island without having to actually go," says Ron Hill, longtime Haleiwa resident and local fishing fanatic. "The people here are very amiable and the hospitality is unreal. In fact, most times when boats come in from other places, there’s somebody around to help tie up, and before you know it a lot of times there’s somebody there offering you food, a place to sleep, some provisions, or an invite to sit under the Kamani tree and talk story."

Imagining an opportunity to peruse Hawaii’s legendary fisheries is reason enough to take a trip, but the addition of working along the famous North Shore somehow validates the whole idea. Situated approximately 40 miles as the boat floats from Kewalo Basin, Haleiwa (pronounced Hal-ay eva) is the main town on Oahu’s famous North Shore. Although made famous for its namesake as a surfing mecca, fishing has been the town’s staple activity ever since humans have inhabited the area. It had to be. Because of its proximity to the rest of the island, fishing both nearshore and offshore was the was the way to feed families, a trait that remains true to this day. While some anglers will sell their catch as a supplemental (and in some cases primary) income, the principal reason people fish this side of the island is to feed their family and friends.

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Even its name reveals why the area should be viewed as a fishing town. Hale (Hal-ay) in Hawaiian is "house" or "home of" and Iwa (eeva) means the "frigate bird." In a nutshell, this is the home of the frigate bird, and as most fishermen know, the frigate is a fork-tailed, bent-wing bird with unbelievable eyesight and the uncanny ability to spot fish in the water, making them one of the anglers’ favorite sights in the sky. Every morning, squadrons of these majestic birds leave the area in search of food in the sea, helping anglers along the way, and returning home in the evening.

Haleiwa is a town of little or no public accommodations as far as sleeping goes, but everything from surf shops to clothing and apparel outlets to superb restaurants are all within walking distance of the harbor. Jameson’s by the Sea and Haleiwa Joe’s, one on each side of "the bridge" are two such examples of restaurants with local charm, great food, and superb views. And if for some reason a bed or a ride back to Honolulu had to be procured, the people would find a way to help.

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The famous bridge of Haleiwa

Fishing the North Shore is like going back in time and doing it like the ancient Hawaiians, only now we use two speed reels, high-performance rods, GPS, radar, and superpowered depthsounders to help with the quarry. But with only a few man-made landmarks along the shores and up the slopes, the mind wanders endlessly while looking at the views up and down the coastline. The water is very deep close to shore, with the 500 fathom line at only eight miles out and the 1000 fathom line only two more beyond that. There are several FADS (fish aggregation devices) along the North Shore, including X, J, and II, with CO out of Kaena Point to the West.

Just a few miles to the Northeast is beautiful Waimea Bay. Though treacherous with giant waves in winter time, Waimea is a placid, sandy bottom bight with bright sand, sharp bluffs, and lush foliage ranging far back into the valley. Although this area does not have much protection in anything but mild weather, under the right conditions this bay could very well be be most tropical setting in Hawaii, and it provides a perfect launching point for anglers wishing to circumnavigate the island on a multi-day fishing adventure. Like other places throughout the islands, fish production is often a function of fishing pressure, and since this is the last safe haven along the North Shore, very few boats fish much beyond this region with any regularity.

Generally speaking, the fish on the North Shore are more abundant but not quite as large. One of the larger fish to come in over the past few years was an 888 pound Blue Marlin in the 1998 Hana Pa’a fishing Tournament. The 1999 tournament produced a 509 pound Marlin as well, but most of the fishermen on this shore target Yellowfin (Ahi), Mahimahi, and Ono. Many Yellowfin come in at the mid 100 range, however many fish over 200 pounds are also caught. And the action for Ono can be downright ridiculous. Many times during the course of the year, mostly during tournaments, the locals will throw a dollar into a hat to bet on when the first Ono will be caught. With the fishing day starting at 6:00, the bet seldom goes beyond 630.

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1999 Hana Pa'a Fishing Tournament

Fishing the North Shore is not for the faint hearted, however. It is located along the Kauai Channel, a 60 mile stretch of open ocean that can be downright miserable, especially in the winter. The fishermen here tend to be more serious because the action tends to be better when there is a chop to the seas, which is quite frequent. Many fishermen say the reason for this is because lighter seas tend to correlate with warmer water on the surface so fish which are lurking in the depths are tougher raise when it’s calm. In addition, North Shore anglers have to make the most of their trips when they do go, because there are times when harbor is completely closed and everyone is stuck at the docks.

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Haleiwa Harbor entrance on a calm summer day

But despite some of the minor drawbacks, the North Shore is a great fishery, and many anglers return year after year because of the fishing, the people and the camaraderie. For example, Roy Takatsuke of the 18 ft. Boston Whaler Beverley comes from Kauai each year to fish the Hana Pa’a tournament. In 1999 he arrived alone because he wanted to partake in the event despite having heart surgery only months before.

The North Shore also boasts a lot of families who have fished these waters for generations. Some families have been around for so many years and have passed the techniques along to their children for so long that Haleiwa residence themselves consider most of these fishermen somewhat famous. Names such as the Ho’okalas, the Gonsalves, the Marks, the Silvas, the Ibatas, the Murakamis, the Sennetts, and the Orillos roll off the toungues of anybody who asks about such families, because these are the people who know where the fish are and know also how to find them, catch them, and preserve them.

While the harbor itself holds some 75 or so boats full-time, they can easily accommodate a few additional boats for overnight trips during most times of the year as long as some advance notice is given to the harbor master. Once inside the harbor, the water is calm, and the setting is such that a barbecue complete with food, drink and a few friends to talk story with is about all one needs to feel like they’re away from it all.
Going to the North Shore to Fish

We highly recommend selecting a skipper with plenty of experience along this coastline before going. The skipper needs to know the places to hide in case the weather picks up, and there are certain specific areas which are more productive for fishing than others. Tapping into this local knowledge is not only safe, but the fishing experience can be significantly better rather than learning from trial and error.

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Haleiwa Harbor with space for visiting boats

Once the boat is tied up in Haleiwa, there are numerous options to consider. While eating at one of the several various restaurants is an excellent choice, bartering with part of your catch might prove to be the most valuable currency of all. North Shore residents have been known to give people rides and stay in their homes in return for a small fish caught that day, but often times by simply offering part of the catch as a gesture of friendliness is a great way to spark up a great conversation off the back of the boat.

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Calm in the summer, the breakwater takes a pounding from the large winter swells

If considering anchoring down the road in Waimea, be sure to check the local weather conditions and surf, plus the local regulations in force at the time. Anchoring is limited based on the type of boat hand in length of stay, and your skipper should make an inquiry to be harbor master to be certain local laws are upheld.

August September and October are usually the best months to consider an overnight or or multi-day trip in this region, but the early summer months are also the good choices


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