Hunting onos in Hawaii is an art. An ono is a perfectly tuned hunting machine. They can move through the water effortlessly without kicking or creating much energy and vibration in the water. They are sneaky in the way they can show up and disappear within a blink of an eye. How does one go after these guys? Garrett Moss, explains.
Onos are pelagic fish and can cross oceans. However, onos usually stay within a reasonable distance from the shore. Being one of the fastest fish in the ocean an ono is capable of reaching top speeds of over 60 mph, and they can do it very quickly. Onos are inquisitive fish and are usually curious to check anything out of the ordinary in their habitat. They are usually on the search for food and will take advantage of any opportunity to nourish themselves.
Onos have a variety of behaviors throughout the seasons each year. There may be times that the fish will congregate on certain sides of the islands to mate and breed. During these phases, onos usually travel in packs and will hunt together. When this occurs they become more brave and reckless because they feel they have strength in numbers. As a spearo, if you happen to find yourself in a school of ono like this you will more than likely be able to get close enough to pull a shot off if you know what to do in that certain situation. There are other times of the year when there is an abundance of ono traveling and hunting solo. Usually if an ono is traveling by itself like this it will be more apprehensive to approach within range of being shot. With the changing of the seasons, onos around Hawaii will vary in size.
I live on Maui and is known to be a challenging island to spearfish because it is very windy here. There are two mountain ranges with a huge valley in between and the dominant trade winds usually blow through the valley in turn magnifying the wind. In order to have successful days on the water you have to be extremely in touch with the weather and wind forecast and you have to be able to observe cloud development over certain areas. Also there are a couple wind farms on the island and these help to decipher how hard the wind is blowing and in which direction it’s coming from.
Maui is in the middle of the Hawaiian island chain and doesn’t get relatively deep here on most sides of the island. This is because the other islands including Maui have made the ocean floor shallower due to volcanic activity. The beauty in this as a spearo is the ability to hunt reef and pelagic fish at the same time. Most of the good hunting grounds are in the 20-40 meter depth range. There are some amazing volcanic rock formations as a result of ancient lava flows that can be located all around. In addition, there are areas that have volcanic cinder cones, some of which even come hundreds of feet out of the water like Molokini Crater located 3 miles west of Maui. There are other areas that have been smoothed out by rainfall and riverbeds flowing. These spots contain huge smoothed out boulders spread out under the surface.
Most of the year the water temperature will vary from around 73’-80’ Fahrenheit. Although this seems warm to most people, diving in these water temperatures for hours on end can lead to hypothermia so a wetsuit is definitely recommended. I use a 3mm suit during the summer and sometimes use a 5mm top during late winter into the spring as those times of the year seem to be the most chilly as far water temps are concerned.
When we experience certain phases of slack wind I try to get to places that aren’t usually accessible due to extremely dangerous ocean conditions. These types of days that I’m able to get out and explore new remote areas that aren’t usually frequented by humans are what I live for. The scenery I get to experience running a boat or jet ski around Maui and the other islands is something that I can’t put into words it’s so beautiful. There are areas that look almost gothic-like Iceland, there are some areas that are like a barren desert, and there are some spots that are lush with thick jungle and waterfalls overflowing from cliffs high above right into the ocean.
Another strategy that I implement on days with little to no wind is to go buoy hopping. I’m referring to FAD’S or fish aggregation devices that the Hawaiian government sets offshore around all the islands. The reason they do this is to help the fisherman in being able to find the fish as the buoys attract a variety of open ocean pelagic fish. When it’s a for sure thing that the ocean is going to be calm I prefer to use a jet ski to navigate to and from these buoys. A jet ski only requires a team of two in order to have a specific system in place to have a successful and pleasant day of diving. The jet ski is like having a motorcycle on the water. It is very economical and fast. Last week, I mapped out the distance that was traveled over two days of diving with no wind. We went to offshore buoys, remote sides of Maui, and also circumnavigated neighboring islands. In total, my dive partner Sheldon and I navigated over 150 miles on his jet ski. Our targeted species were ahi, ono, mahi, and uku. We were successful in finding some really nice uku and capitalized on the opportunity to bring some really nice fish home with us both days.
As I mentioned earlier, we usually hunt pelagic as well as reef fish around here and our choice of gun is typically a reel gun. I have a variety of guns that I use for specific types of diving. All of my guns are rigged with reels and I have them set up to where I can easily change them to a breakaway set up out in the ocean if needed. I also have a reel on my weight belt that I can put into use if there is some sort of malfunction with the reel on my gun. I have a tuna clip on the bottom of the handle of all my guns that give access to a quick clip-off to the belt reel if needed. In most cases, the belt reel is used as a backup of line in case I shoot a fish such as an ono.
Ono can get quite large and run a long distance very quickly even after being shot. I’ve seen onos spool my reels in just seconds. They can spool a 100-meter reel in less than 30 seconds. At that point, they have usually tired themselves out to where you can begin to put some pressure on the fish and create more drag making it difficult for the injured fish to swim. There are many shafts to choose from in spearfishing but I’ve found through years of trial and error that a slip tip on the end of a threaded shaft is by far the most trustworthy type of shaft to shoot an ono with. Single and double flopper shafts create too much drag and can easily rip through the soft flesh of an ono as it takes off. Also, I’ve experienced times that a flopper shaft can act as a propeller if the flopper is open and the fish is dragging it. The shaft spins very quickly creating drag and also twisting the shooting line which rips through the flesh of the ono. This has caused me to lose some really amazing fish that I otherwise would have landed if I were using a slip tip shaft.
I’d like to write about the most recent ono I landed which is my personal best at 38lbs. This morning in particular was all about going to the local dive spot we call the bumps. This area is the best spearfishing training ground. If a spearo can dive here and be successful with landing fish they can more than likely go anywhere in the world and do well. This area is flat ground ranging from 85-150 feet deep. Most of the bottom is sand mixed with rock and grass. The current typically flows from north to south and is what you want to see if you are hunting onos. If the current is south to north there usually aren’t onos around. This dive is a drift dive spot usually with the current as we make drops to the bottom. There are areas where there are big lava pinnacles that rise to about 30-40 feet off the bottom. These pinnacles really attract a wide variety of fish.
As my partner Sheldon and I were drifting using the custom flashers I produce and chumming with carcasses from our previous kills I was noticing a lot of flying fish just below the surface. Through the coconut wireless, I knew that there had been a lot of mahi in the area and I was keeping an eye towards the surface looking for mahi sneaking around. There is a strategy to chumming around here. I cut squares out of light weight skin from carcasses to attract fish close to the surface as skin tends to sink very slowly. I also squish chunks of chum and flake off scales from the skin to create a nice smelly oily slick in the current. I use pieces of chum with bone and fins as chum for the fish on the reef. This type of chum sinks faster and I usually drop that type of chum as I approach the pinnacles on the bottom.
As I was cutting the skin from an old uku while flying fish were surrounding us on the surface I noticed an ono as it started to materialize from the almost psychedelic electric water. The flashers and chum had done their job in bringing the fish closer and getting it inquisitive to the scene. I took the 1” pvc pipe wrapped with holographic tape “crack pipe” from my weight belt and through it about 15 meters in front of me. As the crack pipe hit the water it immediately caught the onos attention. As the ono was focused on the crack pipe sinking I exhaled half of the air from my lungs making me negatively buoyant at the surface. That gave me the ability to get under the surface without having to perform an entry and possibly spooking the fish. As I sank I gave a couple kicks towards the ono all while keeping my gun concealed and not paying any attention to the fish. By the time I got into range the crack pipe was just below me with the ono coming in hot for a closer look. I didn’t really prefer the shot I had because I like being the same depth as the fish but I was confident with my gun and I got a good shot off on the fish with my aimrite 120cm pipe gun and 7mm slip tip threaded shaft. The ono casually swam around for a few seconds and I was able to retrieve my trusty crack pipe. I knew I didn’t really hurt the fish too bad but my shot was a good holding shot. Eventually the fish took off and I swam as fast as I could in the same direction.
As the fish was peeling off line from the reel on my gun I attached the line from my belt reel to the tuna clip on the bottom of my gun. Fortunately I was able to get that situated just in time and let my gun go and continued swimming hard in the direction of the fish. I got to the point to where I needed to start putting pressure on the fish before it spooled my belt reel also so I let the fish take me for a ride and tow me around. Every time the fish sprinted I let up some pressure and then recovered as mush line as as possible in between runs. This battle went on for about 10-15 minutes and then the fish began to swim towards the bottom which signified to me that the fish was tired and ready to be caught. I pulled the fish up from the deep and it started to seem bigger and bigger the closer I got it to me. Finally, I was able to grab the tail fin, flip the fish upside down, get my hand into its gills, knife into its gill membrane and head as quickly as possible. Cutting the gill membrane releases the blood into the water and out of the fish as quickly as possible. The fish’s life is in the blood and I make sure it’s blood always stays in the ocean.
I have the utmost respect for these animals and I make sure to give thanks for each and every fish I land. I give thanks even if I only get to see one and not even get a crack at shooting it. These onos are majestic beasts and they deserve all the respect, even in death. I make sure that I treat the fish as well as I can until I use it’s carcass for chum on my next dive missions. As I got home I weighed the fish and was stoked to see that it was my personal best ono and probably the best fighting fish of my life. It was a hell of a battle that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. The fish was properly iced under 80lbs in my 125 quart Aussie box cooler for 48 hours and then cut to perfection. I sold some and kept a bunch. I kept enough on ice to last my girlfriend and I through the week and for my birthday dinner a few days later. Then I vacuum sealed the rest.