Dateline: June 12, 2016 – Oahu, Hawaii
This is the face of evil.
Oh yes it is.
How else can you explain someone smiling when they have just shattered my four day-old bonefish record? I know it doesn’t look like the face of evil, but remember that we’re talking about Jaime Hamamoto here. For those of you who have not been introduced to the Hamamoto family, here is some light reading to get you up to speed:
In summary, Wade and I have been fishing buddies pretty much forever. Wade has a daughter, Jaime. Long ago, Jaime was small. But they fed her, and now she is 19. For as long as I can remember, Jaime has been a ridiculously skilled angler, and even when she was six, she was nonchalantly catching stuff I had never even seen – especially the rare and wonderful lagoon triggerfish. She gave others the impression that she wanted to help me catch these fish, which Marta always thought was really touching. But I wasn’t fooled by the cute and helpful exterior. I always thought that Jaime seethed with competitive rage and was secretly trying to sabotage me. Most of you, of course, saw it my way.
It had been a couple of years since I had fished with Wade and Jaime, so it was time. I consider them family, especially because Jaime is evil and she would fit right in. So I ended up in Honolulu, waiting outside baggage claim and wondering what rotten stunt Jaime would pull this time.
Like when she caught a razorfish right in front of me. It took me years to catch one of these.
Wade had a species in mind the moment I got my luggage unpacked and the rods put together. They picked me up and we headed to a beach east of Waikiki, and as we pulled up, I could see a dark patch just off the shore. This was our target – a school of orange-spot sardines. I set up a sabiki and cast, and moments later, the job was done. We had a species on the books.
That’s Diamondhead in the background. I’ve been to Oahu a few dozen times but never visited there. Remember, I went fishing in Paris years before I visited the Louvre.
We were then off for the other side of the island, where there are several piers that always seem to produce something interesting. On the way there, I had Wade stop at a ditch – but not just any old ditch, a ditch recommended by fellow species hunter Kenneth Tse. And it was in this ditch that I dragged up a small fish I thought was a mosquitofish but actually turned out to be a swordtail.
This was great, except that it called my original western mosquitofish catch from Oahu into question. A few blogs from now, you will see that I just went and caught a confirmed western mosquitofish in California and stopped any possible debate.
Jaime, however, has no trouble catching them.
At least the scenery was amazing.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon at Heeia pier, an old favorite that has produced at least a dozen species for me over the years. These are pleasant hours – except when Jaime reminds me that she has caught several lagoon triggers here. (SEE how she mocks, derides, ad belittles me? Imagine how much harder this would be if I was sensitive.) Still, it seemed like we were catching something every minute, and there was pizza to look forward to for dinner.
We got at least a dozen surgeonfish – these things pull hard on light tackle. Well, technically, they pull hard on any tackle, but they don’t go as far on the heavier stuff.
Toward the end of the session, my mini-sabikis paid off when I got a small palenose parrotfish – the third species of the day.
It’s small, so you shouldn’t be Scarid.
Day two commenced at a ridiculously early hour – it was debatable whether we got there early in the morning or late the previous night. Apart from wanting to start at first light, we also had to consider that this location has about three parking spots, and we wanted to secure one of these coveted spaces. And so it was that we were stumbling around in the dark, trudging out to a rocky point where Jaime had set a number of records on fish I hadn’t seen outside of books. Dawn broke a bit drizzly, but of course, the rainbows ended right on Jaime’s head.
Yes, the rainbows seem to follow her around.
We set up with a big rod in the surf, and then we all walked out onto the reef and cast assorted cut baits into the wash. Wade scored first with a nice chub.
Knowing Wade, he ate it on the way to the cooler.
The reef fish started to show in numbers, and we spent most of the morning fighting or unhooking fish.
Christmas wrasse – each one is a gift.
A huma huma nuka nuka apuaa.
By 10:30, I had already caught over 40 fish – great fun even if they were familiar species. I had just cast a thumbnail-sized piece of shrimp on a #6 circle hook when I got a subtle bite. I let the fish swim the slack out the line and load the rod, and then I just started reeling. It was only then I realized I had something very big – after a hard pump, the fish took off for Maui, and I was left chasing it along the beach. Luckily, it headed away from the heavy reef, but it was still strong enough where I knew I would have trouble if it changed its mind. The fight went on for close to 10 minutes, but I could finally see a flash of electric turquoise in the water. I figured it had to be a parrot, and a large one. Jaime raced over and positioned herself to help land the fish, and after a few more tense minutes, she grabbed the leader and we had the fish. But it wasn’t a parrot. It was a surge wrasse, and a positively huge one. I got on the IGFA app, and this fish, at 3.25#, easily beat the old record.
Species four, world record one. It was officially a great trip, and we were only halfway done.
Steve marches the surge wrasse back to the surge, where it was safely released.
We fished well into the afternoon, then decided to break for lunch and to try some other spots. In a stream in a public park back in Honolulu, we fished for an assortment of interesting micros, and I ended up with a new species – the convict cichlid.
The must have these in Australia.
Then, speaking of lunch, we saw the red and white truck.
The red and white truck.
This is the best food truck EVER, because it sells malasadas, which are like doughnuts but much, much better.
These are locally made, farm to table malasadas. They are AWESOME. And they are HEALTHY. (If you do anagrams, the work “salad” is in there.)
We tried a couple of harbors in the evening, but the early start meant that poor Jaime was exhausted. Of course, Wade and I, prime examples of healthy living habits, were ready for more, but we felt it was best to let Jaime get some sleep. We had another big day in front of us – and I had no idea it was going to be as big as it turned out to be.
Our first errand that morning was to catch a red devil – a Central American cichlid that has been transplanted here but has eluded me for years. Jaime had a “can’t miss” spot – an arboretum on the north side of the island.
This was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a serious fishing location. They open it for a couple of hours on the weekends, mostly for kids to fish for tilapia with their grandparents. Thus, when I showed up looking like a semi-serious fisherman, it attracted loads of attention, including quite a bit of notice from one of the volunteer docents, who had clearly retired here after she spent a lot of time protesting something. I am sure someone (in Berkeley) thinks she is a very nice lady, but she just KNEW something was wrong and pestered us from the minute we parked until we were halfway down the hill to the lake. (“Why are you here?” “What is that equipment for?” “What is the logo on your hat?”) When we pointed out that we were allowed to fish under the posted rules, she shifted gears and badgered us about walking on the properly marked paths. Even though she wouldn’t answer me, judging by the amount of time she put into this, no, she did not have anything better to do.
Jaime strays from the marked path.
There were all kinds of birds, but best of all, there were piglets. Piglets are cute.
The fishing was undramatic. As soon as I opened the bread bag, about a dozen orange shapes swam over and waited to be fed. I caught one, photographed it extensively, and added it to the list.
The red devil. A big thanks to Dr. Alfredo Carvalho for confirming the ID on this one.
Our next stop just HAD to be the research pier. I couldn’t stay away, because this is the only place I had ever seen a lagoon triggerfish. I have certainly done much better in other locations, but that one sighting, years ago, has kept me coming back. Wade was his usual positive self, and told me it was only a matter of time until I stumbled in to one. Jaime then clarified that it might be a large amount of time. I asked her to keep her unkind comments to herself. She reminded me that she had caught a huge bonefish nearby.
She always has this photo handy, on screensavers, keychains, t-shirts, mousepads, fridge magnets, etc.
We set up midway down the pier and I pitched out one bait near the reef and worked another near the pilings. I had gotten a couple of wrasses when I saw a flash of color out of the corner of my eye. It was a big lagoon trigger and it was heading right for Wade’s bait. It stopped and picked up the shrimp. Wade hesitated a split second and set the hook, and the fish was on, streaking for the reef. A heartbeat later, with no discussion, nothing but a knowing look, Wade did something inconceivably kind. He handed me the rod. There was a moment of drama while we borrowed a net so I wouldn’t have to dive in and retrieve it with my teeth, and finally, unbelievably, I had caught my lagoon triggerfish.
I remember having trouble taking this photo – my hand was shaking.
To be clear, this would not have counted for an IGFA record – but I certainly counted it as a species. Of course, it would have been better as a solo act, but pride is not a concern here. And before anyone gets all purist about this, read the next paragraph.
Moments later, we had set up again. Wade’s rod, secure in a holder, went down right away. He held his hands up and said “it’s all yours.” Thus, I got both of my career lagoon triggers within two minutes of each other, both on Wade’s rod. This one was smaller and wouldn’t be a record, but this was the last thing on my mind. I was ecstatic. The lagoon trigger was one of those things I had wanted for years, an elusive, impossibly beautiful species that had been repeatedly caught in front of me. And now I had two.
A team effort if there ever was one.
With that, we were finally done with the research pier. We had enough time to get in a couple of hours at one of my favorite spots, not just in Hawaii, but anywhere. (And I’ve been fishing in a few places.) I call it “The Aquarium,” primarily because I can’t pronounce its Hawaiian name, but also because it is like fishing in an aquarium. It’s a coral shelf with an edge that drops into 8-10 feet of structure-filled water. We cast lightly-weighted baits near the coral heads and hold on – I’ve caught an incredible variety here, and it always seems to produce something new and fascinating.
And we pass all kinds of scenery on the way.
Wade sent me and Jaime down to the water, and he stayed up on the small sand bluff and guarded the gear. He could probably outfish both of us combined, but he is as happy helping others do well as he is catching the fish himself.
After a batch of triggerfish, jacks, and saddle wrasses – nonstop action for an hour – I reeled in a small wrasse I didn’t recognize. It turned out to be an elegant coris – my seventh species of the trip.
I would have been thrilled with four. Heck, I would have been thrilled with the lagoon trigger.
After the photo session, we kept at it – more wrasses, tangs, jacks, triggers, hawkfish, and others I am sure I’ve missed. I just took it all in – we only get so many days like this in a lifetime.
Being in this reverie, I was unprepared for the vicious hit that nearly ripped my rod out of my hands. My Stella 3000 started screaming out line against a tight drag, and I help on with the whitest of knuckles. I prepared for the inevitable breakoff – this area is loaded with sharp obstacles – but the fish stayed right on the surface and ran hard. It slowed down about 60 yards out and began wallowing on the surface – it was then I could see it was a big needlefish. This was very likely not a new species, but it was certainly a great fight, and I enjoyed it for the whole 15 minutes it took me to land it. Jaime helped me corral it into the shallows and get the Boga on it, and it was only then I got quite a surprise. This was a keel-jawed needlefish – the species I hadn’t caught. Not only was it a new species, it was also an open world record.
Eight species for the trip, and two records. Note the fleshy keel at the end of the lower jaw.
I was done for the evening – it was time for pizza.
It’s very rare in this blog that all kidding is aside, but it is for a moment. This is one of the most sacred places I have ever fished – a secret place shared with me by people who have become nothing less than family. It seems like such a short time ago Jaime was a toddler, and here she was, a grown woman, standing on the next rock over and quietly outfishing me.
There’s no real explaining how some of these fishing friendships build, where you might see someone every year or two but it always seems like you are picking up from yesterday. And how few people there are who not only love to fish as much as I do – there are plenty of those, likely including you – but also someone who is as relentless about the sport as I am; someone who will sacrifice doing almost anything else to go fishing and not view it as a sacrifice. This is Jaime’s time with her father; this is how she has grown up and this is what she will pass down to her family. (If Wade ever lets her date.) This is Wade’s gift to her – time – a gift that can’t be bought. Just as I look at the Arostegui family with admiration, I look at Wade the same way. For a lot of reasons, I didn’t spend much time with my own dad, so I am keenly aware of how important, how sacred this time is, and it makes me feel good to be around people who get it right. Every time I have spoken to Wade in the past 18 years or so, I didn’t hear about Jaime going to a Miley Cyrus concert or out partying with friends – I heard about what she wanted to catch next. Don’t get me wrong – she has plenty of friends and has run up an academic record that is simply frightening in its excellence – but this is what she lives and breathes. (As two IGFA trophies will attest.)
We cast silently, hooking up and releasing a fish now and then as the sun began to go down. I thought about how fortunate I was to be here, and also some of the things I never did in life because I was too busy chasing a species or a record. One thing that crossed my mind was never having children, although Marta seems to think this is for the common good. Was Jaime the daughter I never had? I’d have been proud. (Except I would have grounded her for being mean to her mainlander uncle.) But still, after 18 years of me misspelling her name on purpose just to annoy her because I was secretly jealous of her lagoon triggerfish, it is time to let that go, and for the 1000fish blog to formally recognize her as … Jamie.