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Campus & Community

Two students from Mililani reminisce on fishing cultures and their favorite memories of fishing in Hawaii

Close-up shot of a pair of hands holding a fishing pole with rocks and ocean in the background.

According to Hawaiian tradition, when fishing one should never say the word “fish,” shared Seth Thompson, a senior from Mililani studying finance and economics. The belief is if you do, it will scare all the fish away. Instead, when going out with fishing gear in hand, Thompson said older locals will say “holoholo” or “take it easy,” and everyone will know what they mean.

Retired Kapi’olani Community College English Professor Dennis Kawaharada explains in the introduction to Moke Manu’s book, “Hawaiian Fishing Traditions,” that a lot of kapu, or taboo, has surrounded Hawaiian fishing. Some families couldn’t eat or catch certain fish if their aumakua, or ancestral god, had a fish form. According to Kawaharada, some kapus exist to prevent overfishing or fishing during the spawning season.

A man wearing a grey T-shirt holds a fishing pole with ocean and mountains in the background.

The right catch

Thompson said he has been fishing almost every week since middle school, beginning with spearfishing. While spearfishing may seem more exciting, Thompson said, it’s a lot more work. The hassle of getting in the water, then getting out and getting cleaned up wasn’t Thompson’s vibe, he shared. He said this led him to try hook and line fishing.

“I think spear fishing is one of those things where you’re really into it for a couple months, and then you go out enough times and you get tired of it, and then a year later you get into it again. Whereas normal hook and line fishing you can do it all the time and it never gets old,” said Thompson.

Everett Tracy, a junior from Mililani studying business management and marketing and Thompson’s childhood friend, shared a different opinion. “I live for spearfishing,” said Tracy. “I just like being in the water, even if we don’t catch anything or see anything. It’s just fun to be there with my homies. When you do catch something, it just feels good, ya know?” Tracy said he goes fishing everyday he can weather permitting.

Connecting and catching 

For Tracy, fishing is more than just the catch. It’s the connections he forms with those he’s with while fishing. “I think one of the best things that I’ve gotten out of my hobby of fishing is the priceless memories and bonds I’ve made with my family and friends.”

Similarly, Thompson shared his fondest fishing memory. “One day, back when I was still in high school, I spent the day fishing with my dad and brother at one of our regular spots,” Thompson said. “We would go every weekend, but this particular day was special because the conditions were perfect, and we caught a cooler full of the best fish.”

It wasn’t just the fish that made this such a memorable day for Thompson, he said, but the time spent with family. “Me and my brother still refer to that day as the ‘nice day’ and reminisce on our memories.”

Thompson explained some types of fishing are more of a solitary activity, such as whip. Whipping is when the fishermen cast their line, then reel it in, and cast again, keeping their mind on the line. Differently, other forms of fishing, like dunking, can be a social event, Thompson added. Dunking, he explained, is when the fishermen cast their line and set up their pole and leave it there. They attach bells to the pole, so they’ll hear if a fish bites, but otherwise they are free to socialize.

Thompson said, “There’s a lot of people who fish all night and they’ll have everything set up. Or even during the day people will barbecue and have all their family and friends there and just be fishing on the side.” Thompson said he enjoys both ways.

Unfortunate experiences

Tracy said his first time spearfishing he didn’t have his own buoy, a floating device to mark a fishermen’s location, so he made his own. “It was super janky, and I got tangled in the reef and almost drowned,” he said nonchalantly.

Thompson shared an embarrassing experience when fishing. He said his worst experience was when he was fishing with his favorite rod. “The fish wrapped the line around the reef right as it was getting close, and when I pulled the rod to pump the fish in, the pole snapped and broke in two,” Thompson said. “I was lucky enough to have an audience of beach goers watch it unfold, which hurt my ego even more.”

Thompson said the fishing community is usually friendly, but some are very reserved because they don’t want to give away their secrets, such as their favorite spots to fish or different kinds of bait to use. Thompson smiled when he shared he has secrets of his own but wanted to keep them for himself.

Thompson said his typical catches include oio, also known as bonefish, and ulua and papio, known as trevally. Tracy said his best experience while fishing was when he caught his first trevally. “He put up a really good fight, and it was such an adrenaline rush,” he said.

Serving it up

Before haole, or non-native Hawaiian, foods were introduced to Hawaii, there were just two main food groups, says Kawaharada. ‘Ai (vegetables such as taro and poi) and i‘a (meat), specifically seafood. Fish has always been a staple in the Hawaiian diet and is served both cooked and raw in a variety of ways to make it “ono” or delicious.

Thompson said he loves the thrill of the catch, but the fish are tasty too. Similarly, Tracy said one main reason he loves to fish is for the tacos. Tracy continued, sharing his not-so-secret recipe, “Whatever fish I’ve shot I dip in egg white and breadcrumbs or whatnot and then put it in some lemon pepper, fry it up and load it with avocados, cilantro and peppers. The avocado and lemon pepper is the key winner. You could catch a bad fish and it would still slap.”