(Frequently asked questions)
What size boat do we need? One of the most important things needed is enough shaded seating area for everyone. Though you probably plan on getting in on some sunshine, you'll want to be able to hide from it too. Some boats offer air conditioned cabins. While this can be very nice, shaded areas with open air ventilation are sufficient for most. Some boats also have a flying bridge (upper deck) where there's even more shaded seating. Another thing to consider is that boat size and comfort (or stability) aren't necessarily the same thing. Boat balance and hull design plays a big role. Kona's ocean is usually very calm but not always. If you're worried about sea sickness, go to my sea sickness page and follow the advice there.
How long of a charter should I book? Booking a 1/2 day charter (4 hours) is giving fishing just 1/2 a chance. That's OK if you're just testing the waters but if you're serious about catching fish, a full day (8 hours) is the way to go. A compromise would be a 3/4 day (6 hour) charter. Some boats don't offer 3/4 day charters.
Can I/we join other people for a charter?
In Hawaii, these are called "share charters". Share charters are difficult to put together and as a result, few charter operations even offer them here in Kona. Share charters require a minimum number of people sharing the boat for the trip to even take place. There are only a few boats in Kona that are even able to regularly put a share charter together and (with the exception of what I'm offering) these are 1/2 day shares only, so beware of operations that offer share charters but have such a low customer rate that your share charter has little to no chance of becoming a reality!
I have come up with the only viable full day share charter option that I started in 2011 and has been quite sucessful. I cover the details of this full day share charter and I also have the busiest and best 1/2 day share charter operator in Kona listed at http://FISHinKONA.com/share.htm .
Share charters are OK for single anglers or couples on a slim budget but remember when sharing a boat, you may not be the angler bringing in "the big one" but instead have to sit there and watch someone else fight it. If that concept upsets you, then a share charter may not be the right thing for you. There could also be a personality clash but as a general rule, this doesn't happen.
Is there an advantage to booking an owner operated boat? No. This is an advertising gimmick to make you think that they can offer you something that the others can not. Very few boats here are owner operated. The majority of Kona charter boat owners don't live here so they hire a captain to run and maintain their boat. Even if the owner does or doesn't live here, that's irrelevant. They wouldn't dictate to a hired captain what he can or can not do while out on a fishing charter anyway. To indicate otherwise is simply being dishonest! There are good and bad captains on both sides of the owner/operator and hired captain fence. I'm actually not in either of these situations since I lease my boats.
Do I need a fishing license? No. Hawaii has very little in the way of fishing regulations. Only some fishing gear restrictions and size limits for a few of the shoreline reef fish. A license is required to sell fish.
Will we see whales or dolphins on our trip?
There are spinner dolphins right in front of our harbor entrance about 60% of the time. Most fishing boats just go right on past them hoping that the customers don't notice but I usually make it a point to stop and watch them for a little bit because the customers (especially the ladies) get a kick out of it. I never get tired of watching them play. There are bottlenose dolphins around sometimes and these are enemies of the fishermen because they steal your fish. There are rough tooth dolphins on "the grounds" most of the time. They sometimes steal your fish too. Spotted dolphins are the ones that follow along side of the boats and usually you will see some jumping. Even though they're dolphins we call this a porpoise school and when fishing the porpoise school, there is a high chance of catching yellowfin tuna that hang along with the school.
Humpback whales are here in the winter and start showing up around November but when they first show up, they are very shy. By February they are mating and putting on shows by breaching, tail slapping and fluke waving. By the end of April the humpbacks are mostly gone. Pilot whales are the most common whale here and found year-round but you never know when or where. We also have false killer whales, sperm whales, beaked whales, pigmy whales and some others so you never really know when you might spot them. Just keep an eye out during your trip. If you see some, tell your captain to go over for a closer look.
There are also many green sea turtles that live in our harbor so just by walking around, you're likely to see some. If someone is filleting a fish, the turtles gather and greedily eat up the scraps. That's right, green sea turtles are NOT herbivores, they are omnivores and all of us fishermen in Hawaii know it. Unfortunately, people who teach marine biology just keep teaching what they're told to.
Can I keep my fish? Many boats will say NO! Income from the sale of fish is a calculated part of the boat and crews income. There's a few of us here (like me) that don't play that game. The captains that allow you to keep fish will often even fillet it for you too (I fillet fish for my customers ). Even with this in mind though, there are some restrictions and things to consider:
You can't take your fish to a restaurant or hotel and have them cook it for you. Hawaii Dept. of Health Title 11, Subchapter 2-20b prevents food establishments from accepting food from any non-regulated sources.
You can't just cut a piece out of a big fish and expect the crew to deal with the rest of it. Cutting a piece out of a fish renders the rest of the fish unsaleable. Generally, this is only an issue with large (like over 50 lbs.) fish. I eat a lot of fish. So do my neighbors But please, don't stick your captain/crew with 45 lbs. of fillets.
There aren't any places here that freeze and pack fish for the general public. The best way to get fish back home is to take it back as "checked-in" baggage. Use a soft ice chest and some frozen ice packs. Regular ice is not allowed in your baggage. A small amount of dry ice can be used but ice packs are best. K-Mart and Wall-Mart have both items real cheap. You should try to take your fish back with you fresh. Don't freeze it! Freezing fish takes away texture and taste. White meat fish will easily stay fresh for a week.
What if I want to have my fish mounted? There are only a few places in the U.S. that do this. Most of them are in Florida. Little or none of the actual fish goes in to making a mount. They're commonly made of fiberglass. Sometimes actual fins or in the case of marlin, the actual bill can be used. Bill mounts (actual bill required) are also common. Your captain/crew will have a price list and all the paperwork required to have these made.
What about Tag &
Release? Some fish are commonly tagged and released while
others are commonly kept, sold or eaten. The fish that is the most controversial
when it comes to the decision to keep or release is marlin. Once upon a time, Kona was a "kill all" fishery and marlin were routinely killed for sashimi, poke or smoked but most are now being released. According
to the National Marine Fisheries Service, Pacific blue marlin, black marlin and
striped marlin stocks in the Pacific are doing OK and are not being harvested
beyond their sustainable yield so don't be alarmed if someone kills and eats 'em.
Each captain has his own policy so if you have a problem killing a billfish, make sure you know what the policy is BEFORE you book the charter. Some release all billfish and some are "kill all" fishermen. My policy is that I let most of the blue marlin go but I keep some (especially if they come up dead or mortally wounded) to be smoked. I keep the small striped marlin for the dinner table, spearfish are kept (also good eating ) or released at the request of the customer and I release all
amberjack, almaco jack, giant trevally, sharks and sometimes even tuna.
Update; The Billfish Conservation Act of 2012 has made it illegal to sell billfish (except broadbill) in the United States.
Billfish have always been part of our culture and heritage in Hawaii so we were exempted from the law. If you want to buy some marlin or spearfish to eat, Hawaii is the only place in the US that you can do that. I highly recommend the marlin poke (raw, marinated). Big grocery stores here have fresh seafood counters and will give you a piece to try for free. Spearfish is served in restaurants under the name "hebe" and is as good as mahi mahi or ono. Striped marlin that have very pink or orange meat is my 2nd favorite fish to eat.
Update; The Billfish Conservation Act of 2012 has made it illegal to sell billfish (except broadbill) in the United States.
What are my chances of catching fish? I made a fishing season calendar. The data came from a couple of local fishing books and reports from the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council but, the one thing you should know is that fish don't know how to read calendars. Like party guests, they don't always show up when they should and sometimes they still hang around when they're supposed to leave. Most Kona charters will only troll lures or live bait. With this style, the average Kona charter only has a yearly catch success rate of about 50%. The best Kona captains will alter their style and target species to give you the best chance of a successful fishing day. I've maintained the highest catch rate of any captain in Kona every year since 1997 by using a variety of fishing methods. Many that few will even try! If I'm already booked up, I refer captains/boats that have a higher than average catch rate.
Should I wait 'til I get to Kona to book a charter? If you're looking for one of the 1/2 day share charters, it might be OK unless it's the busy summer season or you need a particular day. These share charters are usually put together just days in advanced but for private charters and my full day share program, it's not a good idea. The best boats are also the busiest and may already be booked up on the day(s) you want to fish. Booking agents and activity desks only book the few boats that are listed with them. They'll usually try to steer you toward the boats that give them the biggest commission. Just for reference, I'm only listed with one charter desk in Kona and I'm usually already booked up when they call.
Some tourists figure that they'll just cruise the docks and pick out a boat. Be prepared. I once heard a guy compare it to walking through a used car lot where each car had it's own salesman. The problem is, most of the good boats aren't on the lot. They're out fishing or will already be booked up.
What's up with not bringing bananas? Ancient Hawaiian folklore stated that bringing bananas out fishing would bring bad luck. I have caught fish even though there's been bananas on the boat. I've also had some of the strangest BAD luck things happen while out fishing only to find out later that there were bananas on the boat. Better safe than sorry. Leave 'em at home.
What's the rule on tipping? Well, there is no "rule" but tipping the captain/crew is customary in Hawaii. Like all captains/crews here, I've had tips that made my eyes pop out (WOW, thanks!) and I've had tips that were insulting (are you sure you can spare this?) even though the people obviously had a good time. If you enjoyed your trip, you should show it. 10% is a good place to start.
How do I know if I'm getting a reputable captain and a safe boat? This is a hard one to answer. It's sad, but there are some very incompetent captains operating here, poorly maintained boats and ancient, poorly maintained fishing gear. You may even be surprised that when you show up to your charter boat that you're not getting the captain you thought you were. This is where references, reputable charter desks, referrals and agents with local knowledge come in to play. They can quickly root out captains and boats that would make them look bad. Finding out if the agent is "reputable" can be tough too. There are a couple of them on the Internet that I just shake my head and wonder who their next unsuspecting sucker will be. I can only vouch for myself by directing you to what others say about me in my Guest Book . Whether you book with me or I refer another boat, my reputation is on the line. Be assured I will only refer the best Kona has to offer.