Planning the Ultimate Hawaii Fishing Vacation

How to fish the Hawiian islands on any budget

Author: Ric Burnley

Snow-capped volcanoes, black sand beaches, and vibrant coral reefs make Hawaii the picture of paradise for millions of visitors. Below the cobalt blue water, steep cliffs, deep canyons, and sharp pinnacles draw some of the most famous saltwater species. Marlin, wahoo, dolphin, and tuna team offshore. Grouper, snapper, and mackerel hunt the reef and bonefish haunt the shallows. The abundance of sea life living close to shore offers a variety of options for any angler. We’ve recommended three choices for the ultimate Hawaiian fishing adventure, whatever your vacation budget may be.

Offshore Charter

Angler with line cast on boat

From thousand-pound marlin to triple-digit tuna, with bull dolphin and record wahoo, Hawaii is a stomping ground to the world’s most popular sportfish. The Honokohau Marina in Kona, on the Island of Hawaii, is on the lea side of the island. According to PENN Fleet Captain Shawn Rotella on the Night Runner, anglers fishing out of Kona rarely worry about the weather. “It’s beautiful almost every day,” he says. In addition to great weather, the best fishing grounds are only a short run from the marina.

Rotella’s first stop is to catch live bait on the reef. Anglers jig Sabiki rigs and pull in opelu, a small mackerel. Once the baitwell is full, Rotella runs to the edge of the reef and sets out the lines. He slow trolls live bait until he gets a good fish mark on the sonar. “I stop the boat and we drop baits to the bottom,” he says. The tactic can score giant trevally and amberjack or tasty snapper. “They’ll pull your arms off,” he says. The surface baits entice tuna, wahoo, and dolphin. After anglers get their fill of bottom fishing, Rotella will switch gears to troll lures for marlin and tuna. “Fishing multiple ways in one day is no problem,” Rotella says.

Inshore Guide

Capt Jon Jon

The Hawaiian Islands are surrounded by broad bays protected from the open ocean by shallow reefs. Outside the reef giant trevally, snapper, jacks, wahoo, and billfish haunt the deep. Inside the reef, bonefish stalk the pools and bays. To sneak into the shallowest water or patrol the outer reef, anglers launch kayaks from the beach, close to the best fishing grounds.

PENN Fleet Captain Jon Jon Tabon specializes in kayak fishing Maui’s emerald green and cobalt blue water. “Whether you want to fish the deep or shallows, there are opportunities for kayak fishing,” Tabon says. Offshore trips consist of slow trolling live bait and bottom fishing. Tabon often encounters jacks, trevally, snapper, and even wahoo and billfish. “We find great fishing within two miles of the beach,” he says. For inshore fishing, Tabon takes the kayaks to the protected waters inside the breakers. “We can launch the kayaks close to the fishing and reach water motorboats can’t access,” he says. Bonefish are the main target, with trophy fish pushing 10 pounds. Tabon specializes in fly fishing for bones, guiding anglers to stalk the shorelines and reef sight-casting to “green submarines” as he calls them. “We find great fishing from five to 100 yards from the beach,” he says.

  • Location: Maui, Hawaii
  • Captain: Jon Jon Tabon
  • Guide: Local Fishing Knowledge
  • Website:
  • Accommodations: Kihei, on the south-side of the island, is close to the fishing and less crowded.
  • Don’t miss: “The only place with a snow-capped mountain visible from bone fishing grounds.”
  • Eat, Drink, Fish: For a taste of the island’s diverse culture, check out Pacific-Rim-Asian fusion cuisine.


Angler fishing off of cliff

The Hawaiian Islands are surrounded by deep blue sea and cut with raging rivers, so fishing opportunities are easy to find. All it takes is a light rod and reel and a handful of tackle to experience world-class fishing on a budget. Whether targeting jacks and trevally from shore or bass in the lakes and rivers, any tourist can fish like a local.

PENN Territory Manager Chris Marso has traveled to Hawaii for over 15 years. One of his favorite destinations is Honolulu on Oahu. The capital of Hawaii and most populous city, Honolulu’s beaches and nightlife attract tourists and visiting anglers. “Most people charter a boat or fish with a guide,” Marso says, “but there are plenty of opportunities for fishing from shore.” In fact, Marso says any public shoreline is open for fishing. “Many locals fish the beaches or side waters,” he says. Marso recommends bringing a favorite reel and purchasing a PENN rod to match. For shore fishing Marso goes with light eight-pound test. He uses a Carolina rig with a one-ounce egg sinker and a small, No. 10 hook. “Bait the hook with a strip of octopus or a bright, curly tail lure,” he suggests. Another option is a drop shot or bottom fishing with cut bait. Marso finds a protected shoreline or rock outcropping where he can fish the rig in the current. “The fish will hold in at a specific depth, once you get them turned on the action they will be fast,” he says. Marso uses the technique to catch jacks, grey snapper and other predators. Another option is wading for oio, or bonefish. He wades the shallows looking for bonefish, then casts a Carolina rig and small hook with a strip of cut bait. Marso’s favorite way to target oio is sight fishing with a light fly rod and shrimp fly. There is plenty of information on fishing in Hawaii. Marso stresses caution when fishing the islands; the ocean is unpredictable, and the coast can be treacherous. “Before you go, do some research,” Marso says. Then, visit a local tackle shop for enough PENN gear and information to catch the fish of a lifetime.

  • Location: Honolulu, Oahu
  • PENN Territory Manager: Chris Marso
  • Accommodations: “Stay somewhere near the confluence of a freshwater river and open ocean to find the best fishing.”
  • Don’t Miss: “Take a surfing lesson. Anyone can do it!”
  • Eat, Drink, Fish: “Poi is the Hawaiian superfood; it builds muscle and memory, but it doesn’t taste very good.
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