In Hawaii, the term “sport fishing” is frequently used in the same context as “trolling”, “deep sea fishing” and “big game fishing”.
Maui sport fishing / trolling is typically done by dragging artificial lures at, or just below the surface as the boat cruises along at roughly 8 to 10 knots. This seems pretty fast to first-timers but trust me, the pelagic species that are caught off Maui are after fast-moving prey. Some boats also make use of various combinations of live bait – often caught on the way out – dead bait, and strip bait.
Trolling speeds vary depending on weather/sea conditions and the bait being used. The fishing rods are placed in rod holders and the lines set at varying distances behind the boat held apart by outriggers to avoid tangling.
Fish commonly caught on a Maui sport fishing charter include mahi mahi (dorado), ono (wahoo), ahi (yellowfin tuna), striped and blue marlin. There are also a number of smaller tuna, and billfish the boats commonly land. These fish swim quickly – some over 30 mph. They all hit essentially the same lures so there is very little ‘targeting” of species out here. Of course, captains do have their preferences!
Odds of hooking up to one of these larger game fish are lower than catching bottom fish, but the potential rewards are spectacular. Whether you decide to share a boat with others, or are lucky enough to charter a boat privately, an offshore trolling trip gives you a chance at that “fish of a lifetime”.
Maui sport fishing: a typical day
Most Maui sport fishing trips leave from Lahaina harbor, a few boats leave from Ma’alaea harbor. Following your departure from the dock, the crew will familiarize you with the safety features of the vessel, and explain what their day’s plan of action will be. The crew will set the lines first. Most will run 6 lines in varying configurations. Sometimes they will only run 4-5 lines – that will depend on weather conditions, and the lures the crew decides to run.
In the case of shared charters, the crew will go over their particular policies for determining fishing ‘order’ (i.e., who gets to reel in the first fish). This varies from boat to boat, and from captain to captain.
MURPHY’S LAW (The Share Boat Corollary):
The least desirable of your fishing buddies will catch the big one of the day!
On longer Maui sport fishing charters, the vessels will sometimes head towards a FAD (fish aggregation device) / buoy. Some of these locations can take over 2 hours to get to, so trying to reach them on a 4 hour trip is not really feasible. The boats will troll on their way to the buoys, and once they arrive they’ll slow down and work the area making repeated passes. If they’re lucky enough to chance upon a “bird pile”, a pod of actively feeding dolphin, or floating debris they’ll work that spot first. For the record, fishing near dolphin can be a pain in the butt. Dolphin have the uncanny ability to strip the fish off your hooks (both bait fish and hooked game fish).
When captains discover a spot they want to work, some will switch from artificial lures to live bait, if they’re lucky enough to have caught some earlier. Not all boats use live bait. In fact, the majority don’t do it as a daily practice. With a few exceptions, the boats that regularly fish with live bait stay out for 8 hours or more, head farther offshore, and leave in the middle of the night. Baitfish are more easily caught in the dark, so moon phase can play a roll in the availability of live bait.