This post is from my fishing buddy Erik who has taken me out on both his 14 ft aluminum skiff and 16 ft Livingston, and taught me how to jig two years ago. He is a very talented videographer with a huge following on Instagram (@fishoahu). We’ve also shore fished together but didn’t do nearly as well land-based. 😉
Aloha fellow lawaia,
This is the story of my first shibi.
This day I planned to go out for a half-day whipping/plugging session from our 14ft. Aluminum Lowe skiff paired with a 9.9hp Yamaha tiller. My dad (usual fishing partner) was in a training off-island and weather was calling for very calm winds so I invited my cousin’s boyfriend, Kekoa along with me. Kekoa’s only other time with us had been using small poppers on our 16ft Livingston a few weeks prior. We didn’t do so well that day so I wanted to see if I could put him on a fish.
The night before we headed out I packed my usual gear along with my new Garmin Striker Fish Finder/Chart plotter, a $10 Kage I found at the swap meet and one lure that was speaking to me. I’d been reading and seeing a lot of posts about the Shimano Head Dip lure but didn’t have one to throw. Most of my time spent throwing top-water lures has been with poppers that have cupped-faces. A 60 gram GT Fight Club floating stickbait, “Oddyssey” was thrown into my lure box along with some other poppers.
The morning of our trip, Kekoa and I met at 6am at my grandma Filomena’s oceanfront rental property, loaded up the boat and were on the water just before seven. The skies were clear and the water inside Kaneohe Bay looked like a lake. Anxious about getting Kekoa a bite, I hastily stopped at a reef where I’ve had pretty consistent bites from papios. Since the wind was non-existent and the tide was at its lowest and heading up, the drift was very slow. After a few casts with nothing chasing or hitting, I quickly decided to head out to deeper waters. My plan was to get as far and fast as we could to fish places that are typically less-fished (because of normal rough conditions) while it was still early.
Only 15 minutes into the full-throttle run I spot a school of bait-fish “snapping” at the top of the water. I motioned to Kekoa and tell him “look over there!” His eyes lit up and I tell him to put on a lure and get ready. The school looked to be maybe 15ft. circumference? and they glistened at the top of calm seas. We could see clear to the bottom of the reef and I guessed we were in about 30 ft of water. Kekoa put a yo-zuri hydro popper on his Daiwa setup and waited for me to position the boat. I pull up close to the school and Kekoa starts casting around it. I turned the motor off to drift and just observed the school a bit while Kekoa was fishing. I didn’t know what the bait fish was so I stood up in the boat and thought that I saw bluish back with yellow tails . . . Opelu?!? I’ve never heard of opelu schooling on the top like that and it definitely wasn’t nenue or awa (what I normally see) so I was puzzled. The school of bait seemed mostly unaffected by Kekoa’s popper but sometimes the school would scurry below the surface if the lure got too close. The school would always reappear at the surface after a few moments. Since Kekoa was on top-water and I could see that the bait fish weren’t getting hit by big predators I decided to try drop a damashi to catch one of the bait fish. While I’m setting up my rig I see Kekoa hooked-up. He’s fighting the fish well and it’s giving him some small runs. He gets the fish boat-side and is smiling ear-to-ear. Kekoa easily hoists the 11” omilu into the boat and we feel that the pressure to produce is now off.
After repositioning a couple times to stay near the school we managed to get really lucky and have the school nearly run into the boat. When the school got really close I hooked a small fish on my damashi. It was a medium sized la’i. Was that what that school of bait was?!? I rigged the la’i up for live-bait, Kekoa continued whipping and I decided to try out the new GTFC floating stick bait. I threw the stickbait out and watched it sail across the clear blue sky before a loud splash-down. I kept the rod-tip low and gave the lure some small sweeps. I liked the way the lure disappeared for a second and then reappeared at the surface making the water move around it. On my 3rd cast . . . BOOM! I got a big blowup on the lure. Kekoa quickly turned his head and looked at me and I realized he heard what happened. Because the wind was so light the bait fish-snapping sounded like someone nervously tapping a pen on a desk and when the fish came up to my lure it sounded like someone loudly slapping the water. The fish didn’t stick or come back for the lure so I inspected it and found a couple nicks. There were no scratches in the lure so I could only guess it was an ulua. I also looked at my daiwa coastal rod and saw that the ceramic inner part of the eye separated from the 4th guide. There was enough pressure to fit the ceramic piece back into place but I wasn’t too confident it would last the rest of the session without causing damage or knots. After that hit, our hopes grew but we were having a harder time staying around the bait pile as the sun rose. While we kept repositioning I continually checked the live-bait but nothing was happening to it.
At 8ish we decide to go deep and try bottom fish. On the way to the bottom fishing area we spot the school and are were positioned to get a better look because the sun was at our back. I stand up and see the bait fish and then to my surprise I see an approximately 3ft long black-backed fish right in the middle of the school. I didn’t know what to make of it so I slowed down and tossed the live-bait back out to troll it with the school, hoping that the big fish would see an easy breakfast. The school was getting harder and harder to keep up with because it wasn’t staying at the surface as long and starting to go deep. We also noticed that there was more than one school of that bait fish. Nothing was happening to my live-bait after 10 minutes so I pulled it up and throttled towards the bottom fishing area. We arrive at the bottom fishing spot and I look at the fish finder and see some small stuff at 100 ft. I drop a damashi rig and Kekoa continues on topwater. I wasn’t getting anything deep but was having fun watching the new fish finder. Our drift was pushing us from deep to shallow and noticed that visibility was great to 80 feet. I wasn’t getting bit on the damashi after a couple long drifts so I went back to topwater with the GTFC Odyssey lure. We were still seeing the bait schools which gave us hope.
We were drifting into 60 feet of water when I got the bites I’d never forget. I stuck with the same retrieve that caught the interest of the previous fish. I was able to get a hookup on the third cast but the fish quickly came off. My sixth cast proved that “keep casting” pays off. I didn’t realize that I was filming during the hookup as I usually turn my camera on after I’ve hooked-up (which is why I didn’t get the blistering first run and chase-down with the boat). I realized after I watched the footage that I turned the camera on while bottom fishing because I had a fish on that got off and then forgot to stop recording. In the video after the hookup and when the fish started taking the first run you’ll see my hand go over the camera. That’s when I thought I was turning the camera on! What happened between that time and when I finally turned the camera back on was lots of excitement followed by some nervousness. When I turned the camera off during the initial run the fish dumped about 1/2 my spool very quickly. The fish headed down and then toward deeper water. I realized then that I didn’t have a small fish on and told Kekoa that I wanted to turn the motor on in case I had to really chase the fish. I started the motor and the fish was still running so I put the boat into gear and headed towards it while gaining some line back. Once I was over the fish I put the boat into neutral and Kekoa had cleared the deck and was in position to help me land whatever was at the end of my line. While watching me fight the shibi he noticed that the red blinking light on my GoPro wasn’t running like it usually is while filming. I quickly looked down to see that it was off and was so bummed that it wasn’t filming but was grateful he noticed so that I could turn it on. Anyhow, here’s the edited video of what ensued:
The video tells the majority of the story but aside from some prayers here’s some things that kept racing through my mind during the battle:
“is that ceramic eye going to pop-off on one of these runs?”
“is my drag setting too loose/tight?”
“why the hell didn’t we bring a gaff?”
Since the last part of the video was cut-off due to my sd card not having available space here’s what happened: We realized we had to secure the fish with the kage and Kekoa gripped it tightly while watching the fish’s every move. I started to slowly scoot over to the opposite side of the skiff to counter balance Kekoa’s weight and give my pole more leverage to get the fish boat side. The fish was near the top of the water on the next go around and Kekoa hit the fish square in the body. The fish splashed hard as it freed itself from the kage, Kekoa held onto the kage and the fish was free to take another run. The fish tried to swim away but I could feel that Kekoa hit the fish where it hurt. I saw blood trailing only 10 feet to where the fish was and could feel the “fight” was leaving the fish. I quickly angled my rod around for Kekoa to spear the Shibi with the securing blow and this time the fish could not swim off the kage. Kekoa moved fast to grab the tail and expertly lifted the fish into the boat. WE. WERE. . . what’s a word for ecstatic-elated-relieved-overwhelmed? Because that’s what we were. We immediately low-fived and let out some yell’s that I swear could’ve been heard from Hawaii Kai.
I never expected a catch like this and the amount of ice and size of cooler showed it. I knew that we had to make sure that the fish was taken care of so that the meat stayed fresh, so we immediately bled it and headed back in. The entire 25 minute ride back was full of talking about the battle, looking at the fish and Kekoa patting the fish and saying “Brrahh!!! what?!?!?” As if checking to see if it was real and not a dream. When we got back to my grandma’s beach house we put the fish on an old rusty spring scale and it read 34lbs. That evening I cut up the fish and invited some family over for some fresh sashimi. The fish was shared with family, friends and even my son’s teachers.
I really wish that I got Kekoa securing the fish and bringing it onto the boat on video. Our elation once that fish was on-deck cannot be described with words. If I were to try I would say that it was one of those moments where there’s an instant bond made with someone due to a life-changing event. Though this is not a 100lb ahi or 1000lb marlin it meant a lot to me to be able to land it on the gear I did. Also, my grandma Filomena passed away a few weeks prior to this catch. She was the matriarch of my dad’s side of the family and a huge reason why I get to fish from a boat with ease and as often as I do. During the fight I was thanking her and praying that she help me get it in the boat. She came through in the afterlife just like she always did on Earth.
Big thanks to Kekoa and my Grandma Filomena.