I’ve added these Kona Hawaii fishing frequently asked questions (FAQ) in an attempt to provide you with the best information possible If you charter with me, one of my referrals or book with someone else, it’s my hope that you find a boat & crew to suit your liking and your needs. Information is a good thing!”
What size boat do we need?
There are only about 60 active fishing charter boats in Kona ranging from 21 to 53 feet. Of these, there are less than 10 of us that fish on any kind of a regular basis. You’ll soon be painfully aware of that fact when you attempt to contact several of the Kona fishing boats by phone or email only to get nothing for an answer. When choosing a boat, one of the most important things needed is enough shaded seating area for everyone. Though you probably plan on getting in on some sunshine, you’ll want to be able to hide from it too. Some boats offer air conditioned cabins. While this can be very nice, shaded areas with open air ventilation is sufficient for most. Most boats also have a flying bridge (upper deck) where there’s even more shaded seating. This is where most people like to spend the day because of the great view and the cool breeze. Some boats have seating for everyone on the bridge but other boats (like the popular 35′ Bertram) have only two seats on the bridge and the captain takes up one of them. Another thing to consider is that boat size and comfort (or stability) aren’t necessarily the same thing. Boat balance and hull design plays a big role. Kona’s ocean is usually very calm but not always. If you’re worried about sea sickness, go to my sea sickness page and follow the advice there.
What about bad weather?
There are 13 “climate zones” and the Big Island of Hawaii has 11 of them. For instance, Hilo, on the East side of the island is the rainiest city in the U.S. while the Kona airport on the West side only gets 6 inches a year. It rains on the mountain above Kona town almost every day of the year so weather reports claiming rain in Kona are usually referring to what we call “up slope showers”. Out on the ocean, getting rained on is a rare event.
The East side of the island is battered by high “trade winds” often while Kona usually has very light winds. Rough seas and high winds can occur on the West side but not very often. High surf conditions are caused by swells but out on the ocean, these swells are called “rollers” and you hardly notice them.
Charters are rarely cancelled because of sea conditions but if it is, we can try to reschedule but we may also be all booked up.
How long of a charter should I book?
Booking a 1/2 day charter (4 hours) is giving Kona fishing just 1/2 a chance. I don’t even offer 1/2 day trips because they are usually a waste of time and money for both of us. A 3/4 day is usually enough time to catch. If you’re serious about catching fish, a full day (8 hours) is the way to go.
Can I / we join other people for a charter?
In Hawaii, these are called “share charters”. Share charters are difficult to put together and as a result, few charter operations even offer them here in Kona. Share charters require a minimum number of people sharing the boat for the trip to even take place. There are only a few boats in Kona that are even able to regularly put a share charter together and (with the exception of what I’m offering) these are 1/2 day shares only, so beware of operations that offer share charters but have such a low customer rate that your share charter has little to no chance of becoming a reality!
I have come up with the only viable full day share charter option that I started in 2011 and has been quite successful. I cover the details of this full day share charter at https://fishinhawaii.com/shared-charters-group .
Share charters are OK for single anglers or couples on a slim budget but remember when sharing a boat, you may not be the angler bringing in “the big one” but instead have to sit there and watch someone else fight it. If that concept upsets you, then a share charter may not be the right thing for you. There could also be a personality clash but as a general rule, this doesn’t happen.
Is there an advantage to booking an owner operated boat?
No. This is an advertising gimmick to make you think that they can offer you something that the others can not. Very few boats here are owner operated. The majority of Kona charter boat owners don’t live here so they hire a captain to run and maintain their boat. Even if the owner does or doesn’t live here, that’s irrelevant. They wouldn’t dictate to a hired captain what he can or can not do while out on a fishing charter anyway. To indicate otherwise is simply being dishonest! There are good and bad captains on both sides of the owner/operator and hired captain fence. I’m actually not in either of these situations since I lease my boats.
Do I need a fishing license?
No. Hawaii has very little in the way of fishing regulations. Only some fishing gear restrictions and size limits for a few of the shoreline reef fish. A license is required to sell fish.
Will we see whales or dolphins on our trip?
There are spinner dolphins right in front of our harbor entrance about 60% of the time. Most fishing boats just go right on past them hoping that the customers don’t notice but I usually make it a point to stop and watch them for a little bit because the customers (especially the ladies) get a kick out of it. I never get tired of watching them play. There are bottlenose dolphins around sometimes and these are enemies of the fishermen because they steal your fish. There are rough tooth dolphins on “the grounds” most of the time. They sometimes steal your fish too. Spotted dolphins are the ones that follow along side of the boats and usually you will see some jumping. Even though they’re dolphins we call this a porpoise school and when fishing the porpoise school, there is a high chance of catching yellowfin tuna that hang along with the school.
Humpback whales are here in the winter and start showing up around November but when they first show up, they are very shy. By February they are mating and putting on shows by breaching, tail slapping and fluke waving. By the end of April the humpbacks are mostly gone. Pilot whales are the most common whale here and found year-round but you never know when or where. We also have false killer whales, sperm whales, beaked whales, pigmy whales and some others so you never really know when you might spot them. Just keep an eye out during your trip. If you see some, tell your captain to go over for a closer look.
There are also many green sea turtles that live in our harbor so just by walking around, you’re likely to see some. If someone is filleting a fish, the turtles gather and greedily eat up the scraps. That’s right, green sea turtles are NOT herbivores, they are omnivores and all of us fishermen in Hawaii know it. Unfortunately, people who teach marine biology just keep teaching what they’re told to.
Can I keep my fish?
Many boats will say NO! Income from the sale of fish is a calculated part of the boat and crews income. There’s a few of us here (like me) that don’t play that game. The captains that allow you to keep fish will often even fillet it for you too (I fillet fish for my customers ). Even with this in mind though, there are some restrictions and things to consider:
You can’t take your fish to a restaurant or hotel and have them cook it for you. Hawaii Dept. of Health Title 11 Chapter 12-20b prevents food establishments from accepting food from any non-regulated sources.
Cutting a piece out of a fish renders the rest of the fish unsaleable. This can become an issue with large fish. Most people are just looking for a few fillets and I eat a lot of fish too so filleting fish is a normal part of my operation. Large fish are at the discretion of the captain to fillet or not. If you’re on a “meat hunt” you should let your captain know that in advance.
Unlike Alaska, there aren’t any places here that freeze, pack and ship fish for the general public. People generally don’t come fishing here with the mind set of packing out a bunch of frozen fish. A lot of people are just looking to eat some fish during their stay in Kona but sometimes people want to take some fresh fish back home with them. The best way to get fish back home is to take it back as “checked-in” baggage. Use a soft ice chest and some frozen ice packs. Regular ice is not allowed in your baggage. A small amount of dry ice can be used but ice packs are best. K-Mart and Wall-Mart have both items real cheap. You should try to take your fish back with you fresh. Don’t freeze it! Freezing fish takes away texture and taste. White meat fish will easily stay fresh for a week.
What if I want to have my fish mounted?
There are only a few places in the U.S. that do this. Most of them are in Florida. Little or none of the actual fish goes in to making a mount. They’re commonly made of fiberglass. Sometimes actual fins or in the case of marlin, the actual bill can be used. Bill mounts (actual bill required) are also common. Your captain/crew will have a price list and all the paperwork required to have these made.
What about Tag & Release?
Some fish are commonly tagged and released while others are commonly kept, sold or eaten. The fish that is the most controversial when it comes to the decision to keep or release is marlin. Once upon a time, Kona was a “kill all” fishery and marlin were routinely killed for sashimi, poke or smoked but most are now being released. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, Pacific blue marlin, black marlin and striped marlin stocks in the Pacific are doing OK and are not being harvested beyond their sustainable yield so don’t be alarmed if someone kills and eats ’em. Each captain has his own policy so if you have a problem killing a billfish, make sure you know what the policy is BEFORE you book the charter. Some release all billfish and some are “kill all” fishermen. My policy is that I let some of the blue marlin go but I also keep some (especially if they come up dead or mortally wounded) to be smoked. I keep the small striped marlin for sushi and sashimi. Marlin is very dense meat and doesn’t cook well at all. Spearfish are the rarest billfish in the world but they are also good eating. If we already have some food fish on board, I release the spears but if your wanting some fish for the table and that’s our first fish, then I don’t have a problem killing one. I release all amberjack, almaco jack, giant trevally, sharks.
Update; The Billfish Conservation Act of 2012 has made it illegal to sell billfish (except broadbill) in the United States.Billfish have always been part of our culture and heritage in Hawaii so we were exempted from the law. If you want to buy some marlin or spearfish to eat, Hawaii is the only place in the US that you can do that. I highly recommend the marlin poke (raw, marinated). Big grocery stores here have fresh seafood counters and will give you a piece to try for free. Spearfish is served in restaurants under the name “hebe” and is as good as mahi mahi or ono. Striped marlin that have very pink or even orange meat are my 2nd favorite fish to eat.
What are my chances of catching fish?
I made a fishing season calendar. The data came from a couple of local fishing books and reports from the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council but, the one thing you should know is that fish don’t know how to read calendars. Like party guests, they don’t always show up when they should and sometimes they still hang around when they’re supposed to leave. Most of the Kona charters only troll lures all day or occasionally will rig a live bait and troll it. With these two methods, there’s only a yearly catch success rate of about 50%. There are some charter boats that advertise that they do bottom fishing but on the day of your charter, they’ll tell you that the bottom bite isn’t good right now or that it’s not bottom fishing season. That’s because they they never intended to take you bottom fihing in the first place. I bottom fish on almost every trip and I’ve maintained the highest catch rate of any captain in Kona every year since 1997 by using a wide variety of fishing methods.
Should I wait ’til I get to Kona to book a charter?
If you’re looking for one of the 1/2 day share charters, it might be OK unless it’s the busy summer season or you need a particular day. These share charters are usually put together just days in advanced but for private charters and my full day share program, it’s not a good idea. The best boats are also the busiest and may already be booked up on the day(s) you want to fish. Booking agents and activity desks only book the few boats that are listed with them. They’ll usually try to steer you toward the boats that give them the biggest commission. Just for reference, I’m only listed with one charter desk in Kona and I’m usually already booked up when they call.
Some tourists figure that they’ll just cruise the docks and pick out a boat. Be prepared. I once heard a guy compare it to walking through a used car lot where each car had it’s own salesman. The problem is, most of the good boats aren’t on the lot. They’re out fishing or will already be booked up.
What’s up with not bringing bananas?
Ancient Hawaiian folklore stated that bringing bananas out fishing would bring bad luck. I have caught fish even though there’s been bananas on the boat. I’ve also had some of the strangest BAD luck things happen while out fishing only to find out that there were bananas on the boat. I look at it this way, if there was absolutely no truth to this, it would not have spread to every saltwater fishery around the whole word (it has). Better safe than sorry. Leave ’em at home.
What’s the rule on tipping?
Well, there is no “rule” but tipping the captain/crew is customary in Hawaii. Like all captains/crews here, I’ve had tips that made my eyes pop out (WOW, thanks!) and I’ve had tips that were insulting (are you sure you can spare this?) even though the people obviously had a good time. If you enjoyed your trip, you should show it. 10% is a good place to start.
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