Dateline – June 19, 2010. Oahu, Hawaii.
The Hawaiian alphabet has 13 letters. Consequently, there are only so many combinations that can be made, and even with diabolical use of apostrophes, they all start to sound pretty much the same to someone who doesn’t live there. Once in a while, I will feel adventurous and try to act like I have some idea what I’m talking about. “Are we going to fish in Punaluu?” I will say. Jaime will look at me like I’m crazy. “Do you mean Punulaa, Punaluhu, or Punalu’u?” she responds. “Punalu’u” I will venture. She will then inform me that this place is on another island entirely and ask me to try again. And I will get it wrong again. “What about Pulanuu?” And she would giggle and say “No, that’s the Hawaiian for a pink snapper. You haven’t caught one of those.”
“Holy Rock” on the North Shore
And so it was that we began our first full day with a drive out to some unpronounceable place on the North Shore. The quarry – eels. You see, Hawaii has more eel species than any other place on the planet, and there are quite a few I have yet to catch. The idea here would be to poke through some tidal rock pools with chunks of squid until an eel stuck his head out and bit, then pull him out with the rod before he has a chance to react. Of course, this means doing hand-to-hand combat with a toothy creature that is a bad combination of surprised, slippery, and violent.
I lost the first one – an undulated moray of some 4 feet that pulled hard enough to bend the hook and escape. Probably for the best, as this species is one of the grouchier ones. But about an hour later, I was dangling a bit of squid over a small rock ledge that Jaime had discovered. A head poked out. I eased the bait away. The head poked out further. I slid the bait back about 2 feet, and out swam a beautiful zebra moray – red, with black and white stripes. He grabbed the squid and dashed for his hole, but I set the hook and swung him onto a flat rock, where an exuberant wrestling match took place. With a weight advantage of roughly 223 pounds, I was able to subdue the creature.
The Zebra Moray Eel
If it’s any consolation, the fish turned out to be a possible world record. Jaime acted thrilled for me, but I know she was overwrought with competitive rage. She just hid it well.
I just realized this is in the shape of a”J”
We then worked our way north along the beautiful coastline, passing white sand beaches, scenic lagoons, and dozens of places where Jaime just had to point out she had caught some amazing fish. “Hey Steve.” she would say. “I caught a lagoon triggerfish right there.” I responded “Nobody likes a smartass, Jaime.”
We ended up at Haleiwa harbor. (Not be be confused with Haliewa, which is on Kauai, or Haliewi, which is a skin disease.) We first had to catch some flagtails, a small, silvery fish, to use as bait. This was not as easy as it sounds, unless you are Jaime. She began catching them on a basic cane pole, whereas I was going biteless on a rather pricey rod and reel. She offered to switch. Foolishly, I switched. She began catching them on my gear and I continued to strike out. (Like you didn’t see that coming.) I did finally catch one, and it did turn out to the flagtail species I had not caught before, so that was a good use of an hour. Since my buddy Scott Kisslinger would make fun of this fish because it is small, I will include a photo of him instead.
That’s Scott on the lower right
A bit later, we spotted a snowflake moray under a rock slab. I was dabbling the bait near the rock opening, completely focused on watching for the eel’s head to reappear, when I was startled by a huge shape coming into my field of view. It was a porcupinefish – the kind of spiny puffer most often sold in souvenir stands, all blown up into an undignified fish mummy. And it was a big one. I swung the bait over toward him and let it sink. He turned away, then caught the scent and made a gentle turn and fluttered down onto the squid. I set the hook, and he took off like Tiger Woods after a bargain stripper. Twice he had me wrapped around a piling, and twice I yanked him back. This went on for a while, but I finally began gaining line.
He finally came to the surface near the shore, and I was faced with another question – how the heck do I pick this thing up? It’s full of sharp spikes and it bites. “Jaime?” I ventured. “Oh, no.” she said. “You’re on your own.” I finally got it with the boga, and it was indeed a beast. 8+ pounds, more than 2 pounds bigger than the existing world record. Picking it up was an adventure, as there seemed to be no safe place to touch it, and I was troubled by the obvious question – how the hell do these things mate?
The Porcupinefish – released to fight another day
We spent the evening hours poking around the harbor for eels, and managed to land a nice yellowmargin moray which also might be a world record. (Although I had caught the species before.) So that’s three in one day. Jaime acted thrilled and even gave me a high five, but I could tell she was secretly consumed with competitive angst.
So that’s three new species, three possible records, taking the count up to 983 – 17 to go.
More North Shore Scenery