Posted by: 1000fish | August 20, 2017

Homonyms, Pomfrets, and the Pier Panther

Dateline: March 25, 2017 – Heeia, Hawaii

This is a cow.

She says “Moo.”

This is a Jamie.

She says “Mu.”

A “Mu,” you see, is the Hawaiian word for bigeye emperor, and the bigeye emperor is a fish that has caused me a lot of trouble.

It all started in Kona on September 2, 2008. Marta and I were fishing on our secret ledge on a soft summer night, and all was good with the universe. I had added two species that day – a brown surgeonfish and the beautiful raccoon butterflyfish. The butterfly had been a huge relief, as Marta had actually caught the species before me. We had eaten a lovely meal at Jackie Rey’s, then headed out to the rocks for what I insincerely promised would be a short trip. Shortly before 10pm, disaster struck. Marta, who had filched my custom medium spinning stick and Stella 5000, was flipping a whole shrimp around the wash. Of course, she got a massive strike and had something run hard into the rocks. She did a good job of steering it out, and moments later, a strange and wonderful fish surfaced. Marta had captured a very big Mu.

I see this photo in my sleep. A lot.

A Mu is a rare creature, and even local experts like Jamie don’t get them very often. In the nine years since this debacle, Marta has gotten untold mileage out of those photos, which she trots out at social gatherings, usually right when I’m telling a good fish story.

I have made many trips to Hawaii since 2008, and on each one, I have made a sincere effort to catch a Mu. I have scrambled over wet rocks in the middle of the night and spent hours trying to gather shore crabs for bait, but I may as well have been trolling in the Dead Sea. Marta and Jamie think this is funny. They randomly put Marta’s Mu shots on Facebook. I am too old to be on Facebook, but my friends are not, and I get dozens of derisive emails every time those photos appear.

So when Martini and I headed to Hawaii this March, this fish was definitely on my mind – but I had plenty of other humiliation to address. Although I have not caught a spearfish, Hawaii is the place where I have not caught it the most. There are also three other species there which Marta has caught and I have not – the red coronetfish, the longtail snapper, and the highfin chub. Sure, my Hawaiian glass might be full of more than 100 species, but that’s not what keeps me up at night.

This Hawaii trip, on a spring break for Martini, was set up with four days in Kona on the Sea Strike with Captain Dale Leverone and soon-to-be Captain Jack Leverone, and then three days on Oahu with Wade and Jamie. The idea was to get Martini a big batch of Hawaiian species, and at least three world records – so he could get his mind-boggling 200th. For me, I figured I could scrape together a few species, and hopefully get a record or two. Hawaii is one of those places that’s so beautiful I’m glad to fish here no matter what the species prospects.

We arrived on a Saturday, and after a Taco Bell run, we set up at the Kona pier and started fishing. This is a great location, not as private as Keauhou, but it has produced some interesting species for me over the years. (A few details HERE.)

First fish of the trip – threadfin butterflyfish. Not a new species, but I never get over how beautiful they are.

Among the dozens of assorted reef creatures we pulled up during the evening, I got a crown squirrelfish – the first new species of the trip.

This counts as a good start in my book.

The next morning, Dale and Jack were set up and ready to go at 7am. Jack is suddenly 18 years old and is close to getting his captain’s license, and will take over the Sea Strike whenever Dale goes into a well-deserved retirement. We headed out onto a bit of a bumpy morning and put in our trolling time. You all know what didn’t happen, so let’s skip right to the bottom fishing, which featured some curious role reversals. My thing is species, but I won’t turn away a record. Martini’s thing is records, but he won’t turn down a species. But right away, I started getting records – a positively huge Pfleuger’s Goatfish (the species that was also my 100th record,) followed by a nice oblique-banded snapper, which is one of the most attractive of the deepwater snappers.

Do not adjust your monitor – it really is that big. In the Goatfish world, this is Shaquille O’Neill, and it may be better at free throws.

Martini responded by catching a Hawaiian grouper, a ridiculously rare species I had never even seen. Then he caught a rusty jobfish. We would both have gladly swapped catches – but he still probably enjoyed the look on my face.

Oh how I want to catch one of those groupers.

He caught this just to annoy me. Seriously. I’ve fished here steadily for 12 years and he gets one on his first trip?

Martini then got a nice record – his 198th – on the spotted unicornfish, which was supposed to be more how things should go.

I caught my first one of these in 2006, so I was fine with this.

That evening, things got weird again. Jack took us to a back area in the harbor to fish for eels. Just as it got dark, two nice morays came out of nowhere and hit our respective baits. Mine turned out to be a record whitemouth moray, a fish I would have gladly deferred to Martini.

But that’s what he gets for catching the rusty jobfish.

Still, there was plenty to celebrate that evening, and we dined well on island cuisine and fished the pier some more. I am pretty sure we got some sleep, but I won’t swear to it.

The next morning came quickly, and before we went out to not catch a spearfish, we tried some bottom fishing. Martini, tossing a metal jig, opened up the scoring with a smalltooth jobfish that put that species into the record book.

Courtesy of Martini. My photos never turn out this well.

This was his 199th, and I sort of figured that no matter what else happened on the trip, there was a good chance I would see history made in the next day or two. I had been there when Martini got #182 to go into second place overall, and it was an amazing moment, especially when Martini got his butt soaking wet in the grass.

I just wanted species, and in between constant action on triggerfish, snappers, and big wrasses, I got a huge bite that hooked up, peeled off about 20 yards of line, and pulled off. I said some choice words, re-rigged, and dropped down two more pieces of squid.

Whatever it was must have followed us, because, almost immediately, I got crushed again. Crushed. It was a hard, head-shaking fight with plenty of runs along the bottom, and I was certain I was going to lose whatever it was in the rocks. Slowly, I got it off the bottom. and so I backed my drag off, recognizing that the rig was likely fairly beaten up. The fight still went on for a good while, and all I could guess was a big gray triggerfish. Eventually, a big, silver flank showed under the boat. I focused on fighting the fish and let Jack take care of the landing, so he got the first look at it. “It’s a #&%# Mu!” he yelled. It took everything I had not to freeze up. Everyone on the boat knew the story and what was at stake. The fish made a couple of more dives, and then Jack got it in the net. I had gotten my bigeye emperor.

Finally. Finally. And in an unexpected place.

They have an extraordinary set of teeth.

(Note from September 2019) At the time, we thought the fish was a world record, but it turned out there was a much bigger fish listed under some indecipherable common name. (The IGFA database wasn’t searchable by Latin name at the time.) This somehow made Marta and Jaime happy, but I remain overjoyed that I just caught one.

We moved on to the obligatory trolling, which featured the obligatory missed strike from what was likely a spearfish, and then we got back to the bottom creatures. Martini pulled in his first uku – also known as a green jobfish, and I managed to best my old record on the largehead scorpionfish.

Largehead. And scorpionfish.

Martini’s uku. My first one was in March of 2006 in Mozambique.

It was mathematically unlikely and morally wrong that I would have five records at the stage Martini had two, but he had the rusty jobfish and the Hawaiian grouper, both of which he had caught without spite, I think, but I still longed to switch his toothpaste with Preparation H.

Late in the day – and Dale fished some late days for us – Martini had an insane idea. He wanted to catch a pomfret. Pomfret live deep – like 1600 feet and more, which, according to Dale, is 266 fathoms at the current exchange rate. This is doable on an electric reel, but the idea of cranking one up manually sounded like a bit of a stretch. But not to Martini. And so, armed with a TLD 20 2-speed and Dale’s best guess as to where the pomfret lived, we set to it. The record on a pomfret was positively huge at 17 pounds, so I wasn’t really considering that as an option for #200. Martini had other ideas.

It takes a long, long time to drop a weight down a third of a mile, and much longer to reel it back up when there was no bite. Martini was relentless – lift up, reel down, lift up, reel down. He freshened the baits and dropped for a second time. A few minutes into the drift, the rod tip shook visibly and Martini started reeling up quickly to set the big circle hooks. The tip kept bouncing, and I guessed Martini had gotten a small pomfret. He was moving it off the bottom fairly easily, and he started coming up with the same relentless rhythm – lift up, reel down, lift up, reel down, no slack, no pauses. Even after 15 minutes of this, Martini showed no signs of wavering – if anything, he sped up. He did not ask for beverages or Advil. I did notice that the rod tip was shaking more aggressively as the fish got higher in the water column, and I was reconsidering my weight estimate. Martini stayed at it with no break, no commentary – just steady, focused, perfect reeling.

We were not surprised that a pomfret showed up at the end of the line, but we were surprised at the size. It was big – perilously close to the record – but we wouldn’t know for sure until we could weigh it on dry land as per IGFA regulations.

But would it break the record?

We headed for port immediately, but adding to the drama was the fact that I had forgotten my 30# Boga grip, so we would need to weigh it with two 15# Bogas and then DO MATH. If anyone’s smartass kid ever asks when they will use math in real life, point them to this blog. There was addition, subtraction, fractions, and even lowest common denominators, and a world record was at stake. After some tense moments of calculation, during which we both had to show our work, we arrived at the same number – 17.75 pounds. Martini had his 200th record as in individual angler. One other person has ever accomplished this – Martini’s father Marty – and he was a lot older than 25 when he did it. Oh, to be that young and that good at something.

Martini was remarkably calm about this, right until I turned around. Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, this was when the gravity of the situation sunk in on him, and he let out a guttural bellow of triumph that is still, as far as we know, echoing around Mauna Keana, and inside my skull, because it scared me out of my wits.

Still, stuff like this doesn’t happen very often, and it has been a privilege to just be there. Of course, if I wasn’t a klutz, he would have gotten his 200th on the moray, but all was forgiven once I bought the celebratory beers. It didn’t help that the bar had a mounted spearfish.

Martini thought this was very funny.

The evening saw us back at Kona town pier, where I had one of the best three minute spans of my fishing career. Sure, I’ve caught almost everything that lives near that pier, but I still keep seeing stuff I haven’t. Notable among these is the longnose butterflyfish – the lau wiliwili nukunuku oi oi –  which is Hawaiian for “We don’t have enough consonants.” I was dropping a small sabiki, catching loads of wrasses and filefish, when one of these somehow managed to get on the hook.

I was beside myself with joy, to the great bewilderment of tourists and locals alike.

Moments later, I cast the rig again, and immediately landed a spotted boxfish.

Species 1660.

This was the best three minutes anyone has had since Cousin Chuck’s honeymoon. Later in the evening, I reeled in a Hawaiian squirrelfish – the fourth new one of the day, and third from the pier.

I’m running out of squirrelfish.

The third day on the water was a very long one. We intended to do a regular day trip, take a nap, then go out all night after thresher shark and whatever else would bite. The day portion of the trip, although completely lacking in spearfish, was good fun. We focused most of our effort on deeper water – 900-1000 feet – and in between some hard-pulling almaco jacks and snappers, I caught one of the more bizarre creatures I have ever gotten – a boarfish.

Ironically, they’re interesting.

Look closely. It’s not an amberjack.

Martini did well on species, running up a few of the regular deep-water suspects like ruby snapper.

Martini’s was bigger.

The overnight portion of the trip was a gamble – we would be looking for some big game “home runs.” Just as every trip to Vegas doesn’t work out, neither did this one, but at least no one ended up arrested or pregnant. (Although Martini ate most of a live squid right in front of me.) We did a bit of reef fishing on the way home at the sun rose, and oddly, I broke my own record on Maori wrasse. This made me feel marginally better.

When this is the only (family-friendly) photo from 12 hours of fishing, you know it was challenging. Dale and Jack did their best, but the Fish Gods always have the last word.

After breakfast at Taco Bell, a much-needed nap, and then lunch at Taco Bell, we did some shoreline fishing south of Kona. While I didn’t get anything new, this is still one of the most beautiful places in the world and I always love coming here.

Of course, now I can catch them at will.

Martini ran up a few new species, including peppered and undulate morays.

The undulate – one of the grouchier morays.

This is why we do not put this in our pants.

Then it was time to face one of the unpleasant realities of visiting the Hawaiian islands – Jamie Hamamoto. We had more or less made nice last year, and at the very least, I was really looking forward to seeing Wade. Martini and I caught the short flight to Honolulu, rented a car, and headed over to Heeia pier. (A fabled location mentioned most recently in THIS BLOG.)

As we worked our way through dozens of parrotfish, wrasses, and butterflyfish, there was a noise from under the pier. It sounded an awful lot like a snarling large feline, although odds are it was just creaky piping. We looked at each other. It snarled again. We both said “Pier panther,” and immediately, another joke that will be funny to exactly no one else had entered our private if indecipherable lexicon of hilarity. And every time the noise happened, we said “Pier panther” and laughed and laughed. We were tired. Don’t judge.

Wade and Jamie showed up just in time for dinner, which was truly awful because they didn’t let me choose the restaurant, which would have been Denny’s if I had not been outvoted. Instead we went to some Godawful local dive, which was called “Zippy’s” but should have been called “Island Horrors.” I’m not sure Jamie enjoyed the food so much as the look on my face.

Martini ate whatever that is in the bowl. Terrifying.

We spent the next two days visiting some of the familiar and beloved Oahu spots we have fished over the years – Heeia, the west side, even the soul-crushing research pier. We couldn’t get to some of my favorite North Shore spots like “the aquarium” and “the reserve” because of high waves, but you won’t catch me complaining about getting to fish anywhere on Oahu.

I didn’t have much species mojo during this portion of the trip, but it was great to see the Hamamotos and it was great to see Martini check off a bunch of species – he nailed an astonishing 38 in the week.

Martini wades a suspicious-smelling creek to get jewel and convict cichlids.

That evening, he added a Hawaiian conger to his list.

What was no so great was the food. Martini is adventurous on cuisine. I am not. I would be perfectly content to eat at Pizza Bob’s the rest of my life, but Pizza Bob’s is regretfully closed and we were doomed to lunch at Iggy’s Tropical Terror Diner and some sort of Korean Barbecue that may not have even been a restaurant.

The menu.

This is the only thing I can do with chopsticks.

Our final day was a whirlwind tour of Oahu. This place is bigger than it looks on a map, and we had quite a bit of car time as we started at the west side, where we saw an amazing sunrise and Jamie caught a bunch of stuff while we sat there not catching a bunch of stuff.

Somewhere on the leeward side of Oahu.

Jamie reels in yet another bluefin trevally.

We hit a few more locations, and decided to close out the day at reliable old Heeia pier. We got quite a variety of local critters and passed a pleasant afternoon.

I tell her not to talk with her mouth open.

I had to talk Wade out of taking this home to eat. He claims he knows how to clean them, but this is the same man who has had a case of ciguatera and an oilfish overdose. (Both of which landed him in the tub for a weekend.)

Among many others, Martini got a coronetfish. Thank goodness it wasn’t red.

We fished well after dark, because I was trying to avoid dinner. The pipes started snarling again, which Martini and I thought was extremely funny. Wade gave us a quizzical glance and said “Watch out for the pier panther,” so we all laughed hysterically, except for Jamie, who suggested that we were idiots.


Aloha oe.



  1. Sitting here on a pissy wet Monday morning in Ireland.. laughing at your prose and being seriously jealous at your fish.. already waiting on your next instalment Stevr

    On 20 Aug 2017 22:50, “1000fish’s Blog – Steve Wozniak’s hunt for fish species” wrote:

    > 1000fish posted: “Dateline: March 25, 2017 – Heeia, Hawaii This is a cow. > She says “Moo.” This is a Jamie. She says “Mu.” A “Mu,” you see, is the > Hawaiian word for bigeye emperor, and the bigeye emperor is a fish that has > caused me a lot of trouble. ” >

    • Hello Dave!

      Sorry to hear the Irish weather is miserable, but it’s not like we didn’t see that coming. I still need to get back to Galway when it isn’t blowing 60 mph out at the pier.



  2. […] that’s a small Mu – bigeye emperor. Now that I finally got one in Hawaii, it seems I can catch them […]

  3. […] As far as I knew, it was Martini’s record I would be breaking, so at least it would stay in the family. (Details in “Homonyms, Pomfrets, and the Pier Panther.”) […]

  4. […] so I was quite surprised to see it was a huge spotted unicornfish. At seven and a half, it beat Martini’s 2017 fish by three pounds. That would be number 173. Nine to […]

  5. […] a dock that has given me dozens of species over the years, and is home to the infamous “Pier Panther.” I didn’t get anything new, but I am always delighted by the variety at this […]

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