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6. Hawaii 5-0
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Amberjacks and Ahi on the Kona Coast
By Jon Schwartz 2007 www.bluewaterjon.com

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All right look, this story is about me fishing for giant amberjack in Hawaii. My friend the outdoors writer Paul Lebowitz always tells me to just write like I talk, so that's what I am doing for this story. It's kind of an updated version of a story I wrote called “Hawaii 5-0” that can be found on Jas Morton's site, KayakSportFishing.com, with the difference being that the events in this story are true, and the other one was mostly made up. Just kidding- the diff is that this story was written some years later after I had learned a lot more.

I go to the Big Island because huge fish lurk there, because you can go 100 feet from shore and you look at your fish finder, and you're in 300 feet of water. Go out another 200 feet and your fish finder blanks out- too deep to measure! So you don't need to go out far to land huge fish, you just need to be lucky, have the right gear, some determination, and a lack of regard for your personal safety. Tiger sharks can get real thick - so have a shark shield!

Anyway, I'd been there before a whole bunch, most recently to film my action adventure DVD Bluewater Jon and the Giant Tuna, (available at bluewaterjon.com). This time, I was there for a different purpose- to battle with the biggest sharks and amberjacks I could hook into. This was a special trip- I was hiring the island's undisputed champion bottom fishing captain, Captain Jeff Rogers, to take me and my kayak out to experience some kayak fishing mayhem.

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The plan was to drop me off, and then I'd drop baits down and hold on for dear life. My special custom gear would play a big role in my success; it included super short custom 80-100 lb all roller rods made for me by Martin Yo, as well as a pair of super thick wetsuit shorts that I could cram the butt of the rod into without hurting myself, since rod harnesses don't work on kayaks. Oh yeah- a shark shield and a spear- that's it!

Now Jeff Rogers is a real character. It takes one to know one, and I'll vouch for him and then some. I've never met anyone so into fishing. He's also a great guy. Before I even got there we became fast friends, talking out the details of our adventure on the phone, so that we'd be prepared for almost any eventuality. Yes, it was possible that I was going to bring up a big tiger shark. After all, I'd be dropping down baits many anglers would consider trophy fish. The tigers would not only be after the baits I'd be dropping down, they'd be after any amberjacks I hooked and fought to the surface. Go to Jeff's website- http://fishinkona.com/, and you might see pictures of amberjacks that were eaten on the way up. Like Jeff, I don't turn my nose up at bottom fish- other than tunas, bottom fish like amberjacks and giant trevallies/ulua put up the hardest fights of any fish out there, and that's all I'm after, the fight.

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So I get out there to Hawaii, and this time I'm there to get some photos for a magazine. I was able to get some pro photographers to tag along, who would be shooting above and below the waterline. Jeff was only able to take me out for two days, and that was because he was doing me a favor and fishing on his days off- he's that good, that booked up.

The first day I was out there, I hired another small boat (not Jeff) to follow me around with the photographers. We caught some bait on the way out to the buoys several miles offshore, they dropped me off, and I paddled around with these huge live baits trailing behind me- right where huge marlin and tuna are most likely to stroke- but I had no luck.

During this first day, I kept warning the cameramen that Hawaii has lots of tigers, and that they needed to be aware, since they might be diving in to take pics. Well, they only took me half seriously. With 30 minutes left in the day, I tried one last desperate attempt to hook something in the harbor. Don't snicker though- I've caught fish over 60 pounds in the harbor! The guys are in the boat chatting with me about 10 yards away, when all of a sudden their faces turn white and the boat driver says “OK JON, I WANT YOU OUT OF THE WATER NOW! TIGER SHARK!” I never saw it, but those 3 did. It cruised within 5 feet of me, never breaking the surface.

About five minutes after this, guess who passes by in a boat, but Captain Jeff, and he's grinning from ear to ear. Turns out his client landed a 120 pound amberjack that day. My only concern was that the lucky streak had ended; I couldn't wait till the next day.

We meet Jeff at the boat at 7:00, and head out through the harbor. At this point, I am feeling strangely calm, for a guy that's about to wrestle with some huge fish in shark alley. I'm not saying I'm a macho guy, cus I'm not. I avoid a lot of activities because I think they are too dangerous, like motorcycling and skiing. But I had been obsessed with this moment for months, trying to prepare my body and mind for this very day, and here I am, calm as a cucumber. I thought it was kind of odd that I wasn't even slightly pumped up, so I went below and tried to psych myself up. This is it! This is the big time! I said to myself as I pictured monstrous beasts frothing at my side, gnashing their terrible teeth. I flexed my meager muscles, mad dogged myself in the mirror, Grrrrrd!! like a tiger, and stuck my lower jaw out until my primal human ancestral instincts took root. Hair sprouted and thickened on the back of my hands, and my knuckles started dragging on the bathroom mat. Properly psyched up, I go upstairs with Jeff and the cameramen, and …….Jeff sees a pod of dolphins in the harbor.

He decides to offer chase and let the cameramen get some neat shots, all the while telling me with a peaceful smile, “Hey Jon, next time you go out there, and you want the dolphins to come play with you, bring out a leaf from a so and so tree and slap it in the water nest to your kayak- they'll come right up and play..” and I'm like the Hulk at moment zero, I'm off the charts testosterone and 300% mannish beast, thinking, GRRRRRRR! I am in full warrior mode! I'm ready for the mother of all battles, let's get outa here!, but since I was so grateful to Jeff for taking me out, and I didn't want to seem anxious or selfish, I zipped my face. Truth was it only took up like 2 minutes but it seemed like forever. Plus, as much as we had already hit it off, I had known him in person for all of 20 minutes, and he was my ride back. I didn't want to offend the guy that might have to come between me and a shark!

We got out to the grounds, and Jeff drops me off with a baited rod. The fish are down 450 feet on some ledge structure, and it took me about three solid minutes of waiting for that 12 ounce sinker and bait to hit bottom. Once it did, I made a few turns on the reel, and waited all of about 5 seconds, and BAMMM! - I'm ON! I've talked about this before, how strange a sensation it is to be on a kayak, one minute sitting there casually, and another minute, you are hooked up to a freight train- there's no easing into it.

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You have to be ready to apply enough drag pressure to keep the fish off the rocks, but at the same time, leave enough play in the line so that if the fish takes off on a run, you don't get pulled over- kinda dangerous with fish this size. To make the situation even more precarious, I was fishing with straight 80 pound braided line, which doesn't give at all. The lack of stretch helps you feel what's going on down there, but at the same time, it transfers the energy of every bump and run the fish takes with 100% efficiency.

What ensued was just what I wanted- a horrific battle full of struggle and pain. I couldn't tell whether it was a shark or an amberjack.. If it was a shark, the plan was that we would see how it was behaving when I raised it to the surface; if it was going ballistic or acting in a threatening manner, I would let it out and paddle over to Jeff, and he would release it at boat side. If it was calm, I would keep it close to me, we'd get some neat pictures above and below water, and then I would do the same thing, let Jeff release it. It made sense this way- the best way to ensure the well being of the shark, and me, was for Jeff to handle it. He'd be able to take the hook out of the shark or cut the leader as close as possible.

I'm on the fish, grunting and panting and frothing at the mouth, engaged in a hellacious test of wills, and starting to gain line, one crank at a time. Twice the fish almost pulls me off my kayak by taking blistering, unexpected runs that pin my heavy duty rod against the rail of my yak. Keep in mind that this ain't no normal kayak rod- this rod is so strong that it is usually used only with a harness or a fighting chair, because it only bends under a tremendous amount of pressure. Looking back on the fight, it reminds me of a passage in Tiny Bennett's classic book, The Art of Angling, when he wrote,” The line peels off a smoking reel, until the angler despairs of ever coming to grips with the fish.”

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After what seemed like forever, the big fish shows itself about 30 feet below me; it's a huge amberjack! - and the photographers jump in and start taking pics. As soon as I see how big it is, I am delirious with excitement - I'd only seen one this big in pictures!- and I am hooting and hollering. I try to get the fish on my lap and it was so heavy I almost flipped.

The fellas snap away with their cams and then I paddle over to Jeff so that he can take it aboard, gently release the air from his bloated swim bladder, and put him back in the water where I can take the hook out and release him.

I gave the fish a huge push, and he starts his descent back into the abyss from whence he came. The water was so clear that the photographer was able to take pics of him for the first 60 feet of his descent, and then he's out of sight.

The day turns out to be better than I had hoped; I catch and release 5 nice fish, including three amberjack, an ulua, and an almaco jack, which is a species of jack that Captain Jeff has been credited for discovering in Hawaiian waters. We only weighed the second biggest amberjack, which came out to 52 pounds on the boat scale. The first one was so much bigger than the 52 pounder that Jeff, the islands foremost expert on the species, conservatively estimates it at “seventy plus” pounds.

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Two days later, Jeff takes me out to the same spot. We were really pumped to get a big shark. The first fish that I hook turns out to be something huge- what we were all waiting for- and I am starting to break out in a nervous grin. The way Jeff is looking at me is different too- he seems to be readying himself for a “situation”. It was fighting differently than the other fish, with more shakes and horizontal runs, and at 30 minutes into the fight, I'm starting to think I might just get it to the surface. I grow impatient, forgetting that I'm using the braided line, and start to try and horse the massive fish up. The strategy seems to work, but when the fish starts on a terrific run, the line abruptly snaps, and I am left broken hearted. Jeff and the crew on the boat were also disappointed. I couldn't believe that line that strong actually broke. Next time, I'm using a steel chain!

This last day was quite a bit of fun in another way though- I did raise a lot of big fish, up to 50 pounds, and all of them had tags in them- in other words, they had been caught before, and prior to release, a tag had been inserted into them with a special code that helps the next person who catches them track their movements. And guess what? Each one of these tags were Jeff's- he had caught them all before! So every time I raised one up, I read off the tag info to Jeff, and I measured the fish's length and girth so that Jeff could record it in his log for the State's tag and release program. It was really neat to be working with Jeff on this- he is basically Hawaii's leader in tag and release bottom fishing. Not only that- Jeff has so much knowledge about technique and tackle, not to mention an uncanny sense of where to fish- that is really was a pleasure to be with him, in his environment, learning from the master.

Ultimately, though, both Jeff and I are looking forward to a rematch- when I can again pit myself against the beasts of the reefs. Only this time, we both hope that I can raise that monster shark and snap some pics before releasing him!

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