The halalu have been in for a while and Thad invited Frank and me to join him. Thad hadn’t halalu fished in years, but went a few days prior and the bite was pretty good. Frank and I hadn’t even witnessed halalu fishing, let alone attempted to whip for them. I had been avoiding halalu fishing like the plague after hearing how crowded and tense it could be but we had hoped Thad’s spot wasn’t heavily fished during the week.
Frank and I didn’t have the requisite light gear but he acquired a small old school Shimano rear-drag spinning reel and soft telescopic 6 ft pole. I didn’t have any light spinning gear so I tried to make do with my smallest bait caster that I only used a couple of times before. I was leery about using a bait caster since they aren’t designed to throw light baits and light line, but this was all I had. I mated it with a lighter bait casting rod that I wade fish. All my bait casting rods have fast tapers made to whip heavier lures so lobbing a light weight would be challenging. Put 4lb test on it and loosened the mechanic brakes and tried casting a 3/8 weight in the back yard. With a lob cast I could get 20 to 30 ft at times so I hoped it would be good enough since the halalu were supposed to be close in. The one halalu-friendly feature of this small Calcutta 50 was the small retrieval rate of 12 inches per crank.
Layton at Charley’s Fishing Supply set me up with the hooks and soft plastic strips we needed, and gave me some basic halalu fishing pointers. He explained that I could buy a block of the strips and cut them to the size I wanted, but cutting them cleanly wasn’t an easy process. I opted for the pre-cut strips and planned to shorten them by cutting them in half with a knife. The 3 colors he picked out were the popular ones for this phase of the halalu season.
Frank and I got to the spot and Thad was already landing his second, third and fourth halalu for the day. The small school was positioned in a way where Frank and I couldn’t easily reach it without getting in the way of the small group of fishers so we spent the next hour or so just practicing our casts with our small gear. Frank was able to dial in his distance and accuracy but I was having trouble casting into the head wind. In order to get the distance I needed, I had to cast hard but the weight got hung up in the air and my reel overran. Every 4th cast or so I was having to repack my line on the spool. Not good. The school eventually swam within range and Frank and I cautiously cast our lures out.
The school was often beyond my reach but once in a while we’d be jigging in an enticing way and feel a weight at the end of our line, and then a pull. Thad warned us of the fish’s soft lips so we tried to gingerly reel the fish in. Frank landed the first one and we had a quiet celebration as the other fishers kept their game faces on and cast, jigged and retrieved. I got my first also, and noticed the other guys were using 1/2 egg weights so I went up to that size. I could cast a little better but it was still really hard to cast with distance into the wind and not bird nest.
In the meantime the other fishers were catching halalu every few minutes and Thad switched to one of his homemade flies after he landed enough for on the plastic strips to be used as live bait. With his frenetic fast jigging/slow retrieving style, he quickly became the high liner of the day. He even scrapped with a couple papio that took his halalu before his light line parted. I hooked a stronger fish, probably a slightly larger halalu, and my 2lb leader popped at the swivel.
Tying another leader with the tiny #14 hook in the wind was painfully difficult with my aging eyes! I tested my knots and broke the leader twice. And the wind blew the piece of leader out of my hands a few times. Meanwhile the strong side winds knocked my rod down and my little bait caster slammed hard. I was on the sidelines for at least half an hr and was seriously considering quitting. Frank was beginning to add halalu to the bucket and I thought of filming the action but halalu locations are so secretive I decided against that. I put on a 3/4 oz weight and got back into the action. With that weight I could reach the school but the half a strip I was using was just catching small halalu that were dumb enough to fall for my faulty presentation. Frank’s line unspooled in a tangle and he had to start all over again, in the wind. All told, he and I probably spent half the time tying lines and waiting for the school to come in front of us.
But while I was hating my inability to deal with the fine line, small hooks and inappropriate fishing gear, Frank, true to his ever-positive persona, was embracing this new fishing experience. Thad had caught enough and let us try his light spinner setup with homemade fly. I couldn’t get bit but Frank landed a fish on it.
We ended the day as the bite slowed, with Frank catching about 8, I struggled with 4, and Thad had enough where he was able to add to Frank’s catch and keep enough to feed his family and freeze some for bait. These are the halalu Frank cleaned, deep fried and sauteed. He and his wife enjoyed their dinner and they had halalu sashimi the next day.
Thad seasoned his fillets with grated ginger, green onions, lemon and shoyu. He and his wife ate some and he took a portion over to his parents as a special treat. He’ll also salt the rest of the halalu and freeze for bait to be used later. Nothing was wasted, all was enjoyed.
I’m trying to heal my bruised ego and attempt to catch halalu again. It turned out that the small reel I used was a very poor caster, even with 3/4 oz weight. I’m gonna use a larger, smoother bait caster and a top shot of 4lb test. That reel casts 1/2 oz weights on 15lb test line with ease so I should get the distance I need. It does pull in 25 inches per crank so I may have to slow my retrieve down a bit. Not sure if the drag and gearing can be forgiving enough for weak line though. Since 2lb leader got bit but was too fragile for my rough style, and 4lb leader stifled the bite, I got some 3lb leader, gold hooks and blocks of strips. The other fishers using strips had custom cut their strips so that they were thinner than the pre-cut ones and about 1.25 inches long. I’m learning that these little details matter to a fish with excellent eye sight that feeds on small micro organisms at night.
Frank and I have a lot to learn about halalu fishing etiquette and technique, and IF I continue to fish for halalu, I’ll eventually share some how-tos with you all.