Oahu's Windward Shore

The Koolau mountain range, which runs the full length of the windward side of Oahu, is an example of volcanic activity gone right when it comes to functionality and sheer, majestic beauty. From Makapuu to Kahuku, the windward shore lays her beam to the tradewinds like an idle boat, directing wind pressure up sheer cliffs and providing this island paradise with an abundance of water to sustain life for locals and visitors alike. It’s also something everyone should witness from both land and the sea, because of it’s spectacular array of angling production and beauty.

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The Cliffs of the Windward Side

There are a myriad of little islands and islets along this shore, some no larger than a stone’s throw from one side to the other, some with beaches, and others with sharp drop-offs that congregate fish. At Makapuu point, the lighthouse stands as a symbol of paradise found to sailors crossing the mighty Pacific, yet it looms ominously, warning those same sailors to keep their distance. The cliffs are sheer and rugged, with three thousand miles of ocean swells crashing into the rocks with unabated force. It is here that many would-be sailors, fishermen, shorecasters, lobster hunters and Opihi pickers alike have suffered untimely fates in search of their fare, despite its inviting appearance. The water is deep, but the wash is powerful, and anglers should give wide berth while rounding this point. In fact, a little further out is the Makapuu wave buoy, and a pass or two by it often yields a few predators lurking in the depths.
After trolling along past the point, the scenery starts getting good. Hang gliders can often be seen over the bodysurfing beach at Makapuu, hovering effortlessly like an Iwa bird inspecting the bait below. Turtle and Rabbit islands stand nearby, possibly as reminders of why the lighthouse is there, adding to the swirl and wash of the ocean. The cliffs along the Eastern end of the shore are lush and green, with thick, jungle-like foliage at the base. The white sandy beaches are clean, pure, and uncrowded. The sky is deep blue and, if seen on the right day, clashes in sharp contrast with the razorlike peaks of the Pali (cliffs).The Pali, by the way, serves as a true reminder about peace and freedom. When stared upon from sea it’s an awe-inspiring view of steep land formations from the volcanic era, yet when seen up close, the aura of King Kamehameha’s vision to unify the islands speaks loudly of the burial grounds below for those who resisted him.

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Makapuu Lighthouse

Down the coast is Waimanalo Bay, with its couple of miles of empty white beaches begging to be footprinted for the first time. Of course, angling for big game means trolling or baiting a few miles out and the reef serves as a barrier to any craft even wishing to enter, but the fluid ambient color conjures images of running and playing on the soft powder like a child seeing snow for the first time.

If a fish or a few haven’t hit the lines by Waimanalo, offshore Lanikai and Kailua usually serve as suitable grounds to harvest something large and feisty. Closer in is the Ono ledge at about forty fathoms, while a few miles out at five hundred fathoms and the "T" FAD (Fish Aggregation Device) is Marlin country. The view is still marvelous along this point, as the cliffs continue along in their grandeur perpendicular to the winds, rising to some three thousand feet straight up from the flats below.

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The Windward Side and Kaneohe Bay from the Pali Lookout

Kaneohe Bay, a curious geological anomaly, is the next landmark of note, which is situated just past the Moku Manu islands off the Mokapu Peninsula. These two seemingly tiny rocks making up the Moku Manu keep growing and growing the closer one gets, and also serve as a landmark for many local fishermen working their way back into shore for the night’s refuge. There are two entrances into Kaneohe bay; the main channel and the Sampan channel. The Sampan channel is closer to the East end of the windward shore, near the Moku Manu rocks. With depths as shallow as eight feet in places, this sandy bottom channel can be a problem for deep draft sailboats, but depth isn’t the problem for fishing vessels. More important to note is the channel markers, because boats straying out of this narrow and questionably marked channel will need to make use of their radios in short order.
At the end of the Sampan channel lies a junction, where vessels can go to the left into the turning basin part of the bay and visit the Kaneohe Yacht Club, or they can veer right, working carefully between the main channel and the coral heads, and tie up at the world famous sandbar for an afternoon, evening, and/or night of relaxation. The water leading up to the sand bar is very deep, and the bank suddenly rises up out of the water as steeply as the Pali beyond. The anchoring technique for some is to inch up to the bar until the nose of the boat touches the sand, then have a crew member jump off the bow holding the anchor and line. The crew then walks the anchor forward a hundred feet or so, sets the hook into the sand, walks back to the boat, climbs aboard, then the skipper eases the boat off the bar a few feet. Flat calm waters and an unspoiled view of nature’s finest work make this accessible-by-boat-only playground worthy of a night or two. It also serves as a good starting and ending point for a second or third day’s fishing on the Windward side.

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High Tide at The Sandbar

Continuing on along the main channel of Kaneohe Bay, turns and straights abound as an attempt to navigate out to the open sea is made. Local knowledge is certainly helpful here, especially at night, but once Mokolii (Chinaman’s Hat) is safely abeam of the boat, the fishing can continue. The water drops off pretty quickly, and once again anglers have the option of staying at forty fathoms or working out to the deeper waters.

A left turn above the main channel will reveal Kahana Bay with breathtaking Kahana Valley in behind. More tall, sheer cliffs accumulate rainfall into the valley below, creating a lush, fertile plain that once was a complete micro community of agriculture and aquaculture. Ancient Hawaiians were able to completely support themselves in this valley, and with the abundance of life that can be seen all around, it is easy to understand why. What is more difficult to understand, however, is why anyone would want to leave.

Beyond Kahana lies Hauula, Laie and Kahuku, which is at the Northernmost tip of Oahu. Laie is the home of the Polynesian Cultural Center, Brigham Young University Hawaii, and the Mormon Temple. These can all be seen from the water as close as a mile or so and the beauty of the Koolau mountains continues along this entire stretch of coastline. The FAD to fish off Laie is "LL," which is just past the thousand fathom line about ten miles offshore. Because of its remote proximity and lower fishing effort, "LL" is one of the more productive FADS on Oahu. The entire windward shore has only a few boat launches for the trailer fleet, while the boats coming from the Honolulu side have a long way to go.

Fish the Windward coast of Oahu. It’s breathtaking beauty, great fish production, and a great time all rolled into a neat ocean-meets-mountain package.

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A spearfish for New Year's Day dinner

Going To The Windward Side

Like most of the North and East shores of the Hawaiian Islands, discretion should be exercised when considering the Windward shore as an overnight or extended trip destination. Going up the Eastern shore in the Molokai Channel is rough in bad weather, and when the corner is turned at Makapuu, the seas end up on the beam, meaning you either sway side to side or head upwind and out further in a sailboat tacking fashion. Also, while Kaneohe Bay provides all the shelter you’d need for a trip when the weather is not cooperative, an extremely windy night at the sandbar can make for a little uneasy of a sleep because of it’s open view of the ocean. If you fished this side and got surprised by higher than expected winds, we’d suggest going down to the Kaneohe Yacht Club for a tie-up, or dropping a hook in behind some of the hills.

All that said, the Windward shore is beautiful during the summer and during periods of Kona (Southerly) or light conditions anytime else. The cliffs are a sight to behold, and the fishing can at times be much better than on the South shore. Anglers considering this side of the island should book a three or four day trip for maximum fishing and scenic pleasure, but an overnighter will do nicely as well.

Fishing is good year round for Marlin, Mahi Mahi, Ahi and Ono, although like anywhere else, there are some periods here and there when things get slow. We’d suggest speaking with the skipper or us about availability of fish and the conditions prior to heading for the Windward side, but once the decision is made, you’ll be in for a treat.


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