Story by Stu Dawrs
Photos by Monte Costa
The squalls are stalled near the horizon a few miles to our starboard. Now and then a band of rain breaks off, runs ashore and crosses the patchwork of lava fields and forest belts on the Big Island’s upper Puna coast. With the rain comes a chill breeze, visible as a dark patch of turbulence rippling across the glassy sea. It blows past and then the calm returns.
The rain is not worrisome, just typical early fall weather for the windward side. Behind us, along Keaukaha and across Hilo Bay, the summit of Mauna Kea is clouded in, but Hilo town glows in intermittent sunlight. A southerly swell is running, perhaps six feet high from trough to crest, but we are about a half-mile offshore. At these depths there is little chance the waves will break. Just a rolling rise and fall, enough that, with fifty yards separating us, we disappear from each other’s view as each swell passes between our two kayaks.
Shawn has three poles on board. The one mounted directly behind him is for ‘öpelu, or mackerel scad, a favored baitfish for deep-water anglers. Two other poles jut from either side of the kayak at forty-five-degree angles, each trolling a five-inch-long Daiwa “crank bait”—double-hooked lures meant for mid-size pelagic fish: Things like aku and ‘ahi, ono and mahimahi, which can weigh as little as five pounds or more than two hundred. Challenging prey, especially if you’re trying to land them while sitting only a few inches off the water in a fourteen-foot boat that doesn’t weigh a whole lot more than the fish themselves.
I, on the other hand, have only one pole —all the better, because I’m no fisherman. The only reason I’m here is because Shawn Zenor is an old friend of mine, and he’s agreed to introduce me to the world of kayak fishing. I’ve already lost two ono this morning. And the only reason I suspect they were ono is because Shawn had told me that they hit hard and take off running. A few months back, just as he was about to land a decent-size ‘ahi, Shawn saw a flash of silver shoot up from the deep blue: ono. It swallowed the ‘ahi whole and then snapped through the line with its strange jaw, which clamps like a pair of serrated scissors. “That was my lucky lure, too,” Shawn says without a hint of the dramatic. This stuff just happens; you deal with it. At least my line is intact, though my lure isn’t looking so lucky—the hooks are bent, the body scarred with tooth-marks.