Maui Shore fishing guide Brian Edmisson reports the oama are running strong lately. Oama make excellent live bait for attracting the larger fish like papio and omilu.
Oama (pronounced o-wa’-ma) are juvenile goatfish that come in shore when they reach roughly 4-5″ in length in search of shrimp, worms, etc. During the summer months they can be found gathering in huge schools in the shallows off Hawaii’s beaches. Numbering in the thousands sometimes, Oama will hang out in the same general area for a weeks at a time – great news for anglers who may want to pick up a couple dozen or more.
It’s not uncommon during the summer to see throngs of Maui shore fishermen, keiki included, in knee deep water, scanning the shallows for the schools in the hopes of filling a small container with these delicate fish. If used for bait, the small fish must be kept alive, which can prove a challenge even to the most seasoned angler.
Not only do oama make good bait fish, they’re also delicious in and of themselves. While some locals may eat them raw with a bit of salt, or whole, battered and fried, it’s probably wiser to take the time to gut them and skin them. And avoid the head. This is where toxins may accumulate.
While no one has yet gotten sick from smaller oama, the larger weke (goatfish) have been known to cause illness accompanied by hallucinations.
Symptoms develop within the first 2 hours and include tingling around the mouth, sweating, weakness, hallucinations and tightness in the chest. The poison will affect some people during sleep, causing vivid nightmares. Because of this, some call the band-tailed goatfish “the nightmare weke.” Hawaiians called this same fish “weke pahulu” (chief of the ghosts).