Hawaii is a spearo's paradise. If you are after an adrenaline rush, looking for trophy fish, deep spearfishing and interactions with sharks, then look no further. What does it take to spearfish Hawaii though? Professional spearo and freediving instructor Garrett Moss, looks into the similarities and differences between each island, the weather & current patterns, bathymetry, geography, tides, spearfishing techniques, gear, in-water environment and species, in this highly detailed guide to spearfishing at the most isolated island chain in the entire world.

The Islands


Going from west to east with naming the islands we have Kauai and Niihau. Moving eastward we have Oahu, then Moloka'i, Lanaii, Kaholawe, Molokini Crater, Maui and the big island of Hawaii.

Niihau & Kaukai

Niihau doesn't really have too many inhabitants  and from my understanding is you have to be invited on the island to even get to that island. Kauai is the oldest of all the Hawaiian islands, a lot of erosion has taken place there and the mountains are a little bit more straight up and down and more water flow, more precipitation, that  water around the island can get a little bit dirty, because of the runoff that you get from all the  precipitation, the rivers flowing out into the ocean. It's also a place where sharks roam around. When fresh water rivers are emptying out into the ocean, they're looking and scavenging and searching out any kind of opportunities that they might be able to find some food.


Then we have Oahu and Oahu has the famous north shore, where you have great surfing. Also there's a lot of precipitation on that northern end of Oahu and the south end of Oahu is where Honolulu is located or Waikiki and that is a more inhabited place. Oahu has the most out of the population out of any other island in the whole state of Hawaii.

Molokai & Lanai

And then moving eastward, we have Molokai, not too many people live on Molokai and you kind of got to be careful if you take a boat over there  and go spearfishing or fishing over there, you got to be careful that  you're not stepping on any toes or that you're not going to be chased out of  there or coming to any confrontation with locals. Same thing on Lanai. That island  is not very populated, it's a little bit more dry of an island and they do still receive some  precipitation and when that island does rain there's a lot of mud, it's almost like a clay  that you would find in the state of Georgia or South Carolina and that mixes in with the ocean water and sometimes it gets a little bit murky.

Kahoolawe & Molokini Crater

Then we also have Kahoolawe, which you've probably  and most people have probably never heard of that island. It was used as a test bombing island for  the US military and the allied forces all the way from World War II up until the early 90s in  desert storm and nobody's actually allowed within two nautical miles of that island. If you have a  fishing permit, every other weekend they will open it up and, you can get in, with 180 foot depth and  your vessel has to be creating a wake. So the only type of fishing that you can really do there, every  other weekend, is trolling. Then we have Molokini Crater and that is a cinder cone that comes out of  the ocean in between the islands of Kahoolawe and Maui.


And moving eastward we have the beautiful island of Maui where i live and this island has the third largest mountain in the entire world.  The summit reaching up to ten thousand feet and most of the mountain or the volcano which is  dormant and not extinct actually lies beneath the ocean's surface and then on the northwest side  of the island we have the west Maui mountains. Maui is called the valley island, because there is  a big valley in between the Maui mountains and Haleakala, the volcano and the wind gets magnified  through this mountain range into this valley and the wind is very volatile, you have to be very  careful, Maui is an extremely windy island and all it takes is for the wind to shift a couple degrees  here or there and you can find yourself in a bad situation.


Then eastward, moving southeast, we have  the big island of Hawaii. And the big island is one of the sport fishing capitals of the entire world. That island has the first and largest mountains in the world, those being Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Both  of the summits of those volcanoes sit at about 13000 feet and most of those volcanoes actually lie beneath the ocean surface. That island is the youngest out of all the Hawaiian islands  and it's actually still growing as we speak. The big island gets deep really quick and you  can get pelagic fish, you can shoot a world record blue marlin from on a shore dive, you can  shoot wahoo or ono from shore, it's a very unique place in the world and there's a lot of trophy  fish and world records landed on that island.

Weather, Wind, Current

Typically Hawaii is dominated by a trade wind that comes out of the northeast, the east or even the southeast trade wind. The windward side of these islands, being the east side of the islands, typically receive more precipitation, more rainfall than the leeward or the westward side of the islands. And the westward side of the islands is a  little bit more of like a desert climate, it's dry, so the east side of the islands with this rain,  you have more runoff, sometimes the water is going to be cloudy, so you got to really know when the rain is falling on the east side of the island. You don't want to be going to dive in murky water, like i said, that's where some of the sharks will hang out, looking for food and any opportunity of any animals or anything like that that might be running out into the ocean. At these river  mouths you're going to have more of like smooth rocks on the bottom of the ocean, almost like  smooth cobblestones, with coral growing on those. As you move to the leeward side of the island, a lot of that is going to be dry lava with not too much vegetation on it. The lava flows down into the ocean and it's a little bit more jagged, a little bit more rugged and you have coral reef  growing on that as well.

The current plays a big factor in going out and spearfishing in the  Hawaiian islands. We have some deep water channels between each island and large amounts  of water is squeezed between tight places here in between the islands and it gets magnified and  it can do some pretty incredible things. You can have whirlpools, waves stand up pretty high  and it could be a very volatile place to be in the ocean. So knowing what the current's  doing is very very important. The current is largely affected by the phases of  the moon, so knowing the moon is great not only with the current, but also knowing the phases of  the moon to know where the fish are going to be, what times of the day and what times of  the night that they're hunting as well.  

Moving from the current we're going to go on to the wind. As i said Hawaii is predominantly faced with a northeast or east or even a southeast  trade wind. Sometimes in the winter we have low pressure cold fronts that originate off of Alaska, Russia and Japan and they move their way eastward, over the Hawaiian islands and then eventually onto the continental US, North America and Central America, pushing from California to Florida  and that's when you get the snow. We get it first here in Hawaii. Those cold fronts sometimes  can make a kona wind blow. A kona wind is a south to a southwest directed wind and usually  that'll happen before a cold front in the winter time. Then after a cold  front we'll have a stiff northeast trade wind. And the summer time is usually just dominated by trade winds.  

The direction of the wind is an important  factor and knowing where is going to be in the lee of the wind or where you're going  to find shelter from the wind. As i said the big island has Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, the two biggest  mountains in the world and if you're in the lee of those mountains and the wind's blowing in the  right direction, say as in Kona, you're going to have light winds pretty much almost every day of  the year, unless you have a Kona wind blowing and that would make the wind on shore for that side  of the island. But typically Kona is going to be nice light winds and it gets deep very quick there,  so that's a really great place for pelagic hunting. Over here on Maui it's kind of the same effect  but Haleakala is a smaller mountain, a smaller volcano, so it's a little bit more volatile than Kona, it's not consistently as calm in the lee on this side of the island, on the west side of  the island in the wind shadow.

You got to be  really in tune with what direction the wind is blowing in degrees. So if the wind's got a little bit of north in it, typically the wind's  going to push through the west Maui mountains and the valley and between the west Maui mountains and Haleakala, and the wind line can come down and you see a line of white water out in the ocean,  you better take cover because it can come in very quick and you can have a nice, slick, calm, oil, glass  warning, turning into a five foot wind chop within a matter of two minutes. So you gotta keep your eye  on the wind in Hawaii and the other islands as well. If you're on the west side of the island,  you're in the lee most of the time. The east side of the islands are a little bit  more exposed to the wind, so you've got to be on it.  

Aquatic Life

The water is typically crystal clear, blue, beautiful, open ocean pacific water, with the temperature in the summertime ranging  around 80 degrees fahrenheit and in the winter time and the late winter into the early spring, it can get down into the low 70s, i've seen it 70 degrees here before. The visibility is great,  like i said, a lot of days we're having 150 foot of vis, even more so than that sometimes. And if you have a hundred foot of vis, that's a typical day that's not the greatest day ever, but that's  pretty normal here in Hawaii.  

We have some nice warm blue water for the  most part and a three millimeter wetsuit is usually most suitable sometimes in the wintertime. If the water gets a little chilly and the air is a little chilly you might want to throw a  five millimeter top on, but for the most part it's going to be nice warm blue water.

There's  a lot of bonuses to spearfishing in Hawaii, we have a huge variety of aquatic life, ranging from pelagic manta rays, reef mantas, spotted eagle rays, we have all kinds of whales  going from sperm whales, to humpback whales, to false killer whales. We have a lot of different  types of dolphins, we have spinner dolphins, ragged tooth dolphins, bottlenose dolphins. We have  a lot of awesome transocean birds such as gannets, eva, or otherwise known as frigates that  you can experience while being out on the  water here.


We have a thriving ecosystem, very healthy, a lot of live coral on the reef, so you got to be really weary of when  you are diving down to the reef that you don't get stuck by any urchins, which we call vonna here. We have a lot of eels, different types of subspecies of moray eels, so you got  to be careful that you don't get bit by an eel by sticking your hand into a rock trying to  find a spiny lobster or laying on a coral reef you might you might land on an eel. When you are coming in for a landing on the reef, make sure that you try not to touch  the reef, as much as possible, because it's very fragile and vulnerable and it takes a long time  to grow back. But also you want to do that to to keep an eye out for anything that might be  detrimental to you, like the urchins or the eels.


As i mentioned the island the island of Hawaii, the big island, or other islands like Kauai or Oahu the water gets deep really quick there, so there's a wide variety of open ocean fish and mammals that you can experience out  on those islands. Whereas Maui here like i mentioned, it's a little bit more shallow, not getting past around 500 to 600 feet deep, so we have a great humpback whale sanctuary  here, all the whales come here for  mating and to give birth. So they're born and raised here in Maui and then they  go up to Alaska to feed for six months, get  their blubber layers really thick and prepare for their trip back down here to Hawaii where  they don't eat. The only humpback  whales that are eating here are the calves that  are nursing off of their mother. We have the the largest concentration of humpback whales, in  the northern hemisphere, in the pacific ocean. The winter months are really really great  to experience humpback whales, you can hear them singing under the water, sometimes they  get close enough to to rattle your chest and it's just a great experience,  while you're out here spearfishing.


We also have a wide variety of sharks, some are open ocean  sharks more so, then we have trans ocean sharks and resident sharks as well that  reside on the reefs. So some of the species of the sharks on the wreath that you're gonna find  are sandbar sharks ,we'll have some hammer heads, a lot of tiger sharks and most of the tiger  sharks that we have out here are quite large and inquisitive. We also have white tip reef sharks,  there's galapagos sharks, gray reef sharks and then more so out in the open ocean we'll have silky  sharks, oceanic white tips, sometimes we'll also get a great white and some of these great whites  that we get out here are massive. We also have some  whale sharks as well, there's quite a few whale  sharks spotted out in the Hawaiian islands year round. So that's really a pleasure  to be able to see all of this wildlife  that we have here in these beautiful conditions, on the most isolated island chain in the world.  

Fish To Hunt

We have a wide variety of species of fish that are preferred to be hunted out here and starting off on the reef, my favorites, i usually aim for three different types of fish,  one being an uku which is a gray snapper or a  green job fish. Those are delicious, they're awesome, it's a snapper and they are very  difficult to hunt. They're very intelligent and it takes a lot of strategy and time to develop  the techniques to get these fish to come in. You got to have good aim with your gun, you got  to have your gear dialed in, to make sure that you're confident when you place a shot on an  uku.

Also one of my favorite species to hunt is a yellow spot trevally. Any trevally under 10 pounds  in Hawaii is referred to as a papio. A lot of times you'll hear people  say yellow spot papio, most of the ones that i try to target are over 10 pounds and those  would be referred to as a yellow spot trevally. Awesome fish, a little bit more oily and great  sashimi, so is the uku. All the fish that i target are going to be sashimi grade fish, i'm super picky  and i really like my sushi. So the yellow spot trevally is one, a blue fin trevally also referred  to as an omilu in Hawaii is great, and a giant trevally, otherwise known as ulua is a targeted  species. I've only shot one of those, i'm not really trevally ulua, sometimes i'll target the bluefin  trevally, but about out of all the trevallys, the yellow spot trevally has the best table fare.

Also  we have a big-eyed emperor fish which is referred to as a mu in Hawaii. Those fish are probably  the most intelligent species that i've ever hunted. Their teeth actually are set back almost like  humans to where they have canines up front and in the back they have molars and their main  diet is going to be urchins, so they can crunch up the urchins with the teeth that they have.  A lot of times when you shoot a mu and you harvest it, you'll see urchin spines all stuck  in their lips, it's pretty incredible how these  fish eat and how they live with all the  urchins stuck in their lips.

Pelagic Fish

Now moving towards the pelagic realm, we have ono, otherwise known  as wahoo around the world, we have yellowfin tuna, which if it's typically if it's under 100  pounds it's referred to as a shebe and anything over a hundred pounds is referred to as an ahi.  We have yellowfin, we also have big eyed tuna and we also have skipjack, which is an aku, we  have kava kava which is a bonita. The bonita are actually  pretty good here, they're really really good sashimi and aku's good sashimi, a little bit more  blood in that meat but still great table fare with those types of those types of fish. We have  rainbow runner, referred to as kamanu, we have mahi mahi or otherwise referred to as dorado or  dolphin fish in different parts of the world.   

We also have fish from other  parts of the world that you don't necessarily normally will see here like a hamachi or a yellowtail jack or they call them  kingfish in places like New Zealand. So we have  those sometimes as well but for the most part you're going to be looking in Hawaii for ono, ahi  and mahi for pelagic fish. Also not limited to that we also have bill fish in the mix, so there's  blue marlin, black marlin, striped marlin, we have sailfish, pacific sailfish, which gets really large  and we have spear fish as well, we have swordfish but for the most part you're not going to want  to spear a swordfish, those get kind of sketchy,  even just catching on those on rod and reel. That pretty much covers the variety of species of fish and like i said, i like a lot  of my fish we prepared raw in sushi rolls or sashimi.


A popular dish in Hawaii is poke, so you  can find all different kinds of variations and recipes for poke. Poke balls deep fried is  great, any kind of a fish deep fried is always  awesome and any fish that i feel like you can  eat as sashimi, i feel like it's best to cook it almost like a filet mignon or a tenderloin  for beef. Cook it hot and fast on a skillet. I like to cook mine medium rare to medium and then  as the days move forward you might want to get the fish a little bit more well done, but in the  first few days i really suggest cooking the fish hot and fast. You could do it deep fried, you  could cook it in butter, you can cook it in oil but hot and fast is really the  name of the game as far as i'm concerned.

Spearfishing Gear & Techniques

Now i'm going to discuss some of the gear and equipment that we use and some of the strategies and techniques that are used for spearfishing within the hawaiian islands. Every island is unique in its own  way, there's a lot of similarities but also a lot of differences. So the bathymetry, the geography of  all the islands and even the differences and the changes that you get within each island on  different sides of each island, can play a big role on whether or not you're going  to be successful in your spearfishing.  

Where i live on the south side of Maui, which is actually the southwest side of Maui, it stays pretty shallow, relatively speaking, not getting more than, i would say at the most, 500 feet deep. What we're doing here is almost a  hybrid style of hunting. We're hunting on deep reef but in water that's also deep  enough to accommodate pelagic fish. We're using reel guns, so there's a reel on our  gun that's attached to a monofilament shooting line and a spear, and that spear can  either have a flopper on it, i use a double flopper to where there's two staggered floppers on  there for double the protection to prevent a fish from sliding off. Or  you can use a slip tip, the flopper shafts are a little bit more suitable for hunting  down on the reef, just in case if you shoot a fish and the shaft hits a rock you're not  going to damage the slip tip and make that incapable of further use. So the flopper shafts  are great for the reef whereas the slip tips a little bit more suitable for for open water,  you don't want to really be shooting a slip tip into any rocks or anything like that, they can get  quite expensive, so you don't want to damage that.  

Also we use a belt on our reel or a reel on our  belt as well just in case  the line on our reel on our gun is all used up, we  can go ahead and attach our gun to the reel on our belt and have a little bit more protection and a  little bit more time to buy. Just in case you shoot a big ono or a big wahoo or something like  that. On, say, like the big island, where it gets deep quick, it's more suitable in  that area to use a breakaway setup. A breakaway setup, you don't really necessarily use a reel on  the gun, you have your shaft and more than times a knot, a slip tip, is going to be the best type  of shaft to use in that blue deep water that the big island has. And then you're going to have a  float line or a bungee connected to that shaft and float at the other end of it. So that's your  drive train. When you shoot a fish with that type of a setup, it all breaks away from the gun and the  fish will go more times than not with that deeper water, the fish is going to sound or dive deep and  hopefully your buoy and your drive train is strong enough to support the weight and the strength  of the pull of that fish and the hopefully the buoy will come back up to the surface and you're  able to land your fish in that matter. Also it's nice to have a bungee, so you can go ahead  and try to pull your fish up quick to get it prevent it from getting bit by any sharks or  being attacked or eaten or taxed by any sharks.

Pole Spears

One of the things that's kind  of been ingrained in the Hawaiian culture and it's a little bit more primitive  than using a gun with a trigger on it, with a trigger mechanism, a lot of times people will use pole spears or they are referred to more times than not here as a three prong. So a pole spear can have a three prong where you have three prongs and when you shoot a fish they  open up almost acting as a barb to keep the fish on the pole spear. Or you can use a slip tip on  the end of the pole spear or a flopper, even maybe a double flopper at the end of that pole spear. And  more times than not without with that type of weapon, you're going to have to get a lot closer to  the fish of what you're hunting, in order to have a successful shot and to land a successful shot  on the fish, with the chance of landing it. That's a little bit more  primitive, a little bit more difficult than using a spear gun that's propelled with bands  and a trigger mechanism.

Hawaiian Sling

You can also use a Hawaiian sling, but ironically enough a Hawaiian  sling isn't very popular with spearfishing in Hawaii. You're going to find that more so in  the Bahamas and you can look that up with Andre Musgrove's how-to spearfishing guide  in the Bahamas. But the Hawaiian sling isn't really used too much around here, so you might  want to look into that with Andre's video.  


Some of the tools that we use to  lure fish in, that would otherwise just swim by us and not be interested in  what's going on in our vicinity whatsoever, are flashers. Flashers can be a variety of  different things that you can use, i'm sure that you've seen a lot of different  things used in videos on social media and whatnot. What i like to use are a strand of  six discs on ball bearing snap swivels and at the bottom of that strand of flashy  discs i like to have a buzz bomb, which is basically it's a metallic skirt, that almost looks  like a squid or an octopus or like a hula dress, reflective hula dress, that's dancing around  on the bottom of the the strand of flashers. So if you were to have a pelagic fish  such as an ono which is very typical on Maui, it would get a little bit  more interested in what's going around in the vicinity as opposed to not being interested in  just swimming away. Or possibly on the big island, if you're maybe doing a shore dive and you're  hunting mahi mahi, ono, or blue marlin, white marlin, stripe marlin, or even better ahi that maybe can bring those fish in.


Also in  conjunction with the flashers we like to use chum. What i use typically are the carcasses  from my previous kills and i like to keep the strips of the skin from the carcasses and when  i'm in the water i will scale the skin and the scales will fall down and i also like to  make nice chunks out of the skin. The skin usually sinks really slow and that stays up in the water  column, a little bit more suited for the pelagic fish that might swim by, in conjunction with the  flashers. And things like parts of the body of the carcasses that are used like the spine or the  heads or any kind of anything with bones or fins, tends to sink a little bit deeper, a little bit  quicker, and so those portions of the chum are a little bit more suited for the reef fish that  we're hunting. Some of the chum sinks slow, some of the chum sinks quick, you have all  your boundaries covered, there's chum up in the water column for pelagic fish, but also you  have the heavier chum with the bones that's sinking down for the reef fish to get  interested when you're making drops down there. On the big island sardines are great for chum, you  could also use the carcass from your previous kills as well, but sardines are are usually  really good over there. We also have a bait fish in Hawaii named opelu. Opelu are a really great  fish to use as bait if you can get them. Sometimes i use a three prong to get them, sometimes  you could use a sabiki rig to sabiki them up but if you have an opelu that's injured or  even a dead opelu, you can use that and throw that in the water towards a fish, if a pelagic fish  is swimming by, to get it interested or you can let it sink to the bottom, if you're hunting reef  fish as well, but if you are letting it sink to the bottom, hopefully it'll get there before all of  the other little vulture fish try to pick it apart. So an opelu is a great bait fish as well.

Throw Flashers

Also what we like to use are throw flashers. If you can't get a bait fish, an artificial throw flasher is great, such as an one inch pvc pipe, with some reflective or holographic tape on there, you can use a spoon, you can use a cd,  anything that you can find that's reflective and throw in the water in the direction of a  fish to maybe catch its attention, to draw its attention away from you, maybe to get the fish a  little bit more inquisitive to come within range of you being able to pull the trigger  and pulling a nice shot off on a fish.


So to summarize everything up, Hawaii is a great  place for freediving and spearfishing and all kinds of activities in the water. It's not a very  forgiving place, it's very rugged and it's very raw. It's exposed to a lot of weather and a lot of  current and a lot of wind, so you've got to be really knowledgeable on how the weather works  around the islands and you got to be up to date on the forecast and make sure that you're very  diligent with that. Out of any place in the world that i've ever traveled to spearfish, Hawaii by far is the most difficult place to spearfish. The fish are extremely intelligent,  they've been hunted for thousands of years and it's no easy feat to shoot a fish here. 

A lot of the diving requires that you dive very deep to shoot fish, i've seen a lot of people come out to Hawaii and they're humbled with the level of difficulty that it is to shoot  fish. Sometimes expert spearos from different parts of the world travel out here and i see that  they struggle with spearfishing in Hawaii. So Hawaii is not an easy place  to spearfish, but it's very rewarding. If you have a nice day on the water, there's a lot of wildlife  to experience and if you are up to date with your forecasting and knowing how the weather is, you can  get some of the best days of your life out on the water out here and experience some of nature's most beautiful things that it has to offer.  

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