The Morning Catch

For many cooped up at home during the pandemic, fishing is an excuse to get out of the house and out of one’s head.

TEXT BY
Eric Stinton
IMAGES BY
Lila Lee

There are good reasons to go fishing early in the morning. Fish are more eager to eat after waking up, for starters. There are also fewer people around, an important corollary of those bleary hours just after dawn. The chance to take home some fresh food has always drawn people to the ocean, but the allure of an empty beach and open air has sparked a renewed interest in shoreline fishing during the pandemic. There is no better time than daybreak to be surrounded by fish and away from people.

Along the coasts of Waikīkī and Ala Moana, shore anglers cast for halalū, a small, silvery mackerel used primarily as bait but also enjoyed as a salty snack. When schooling as a large group, halalū resemble a dark cloud moving just beneath the surface. It can be an ominous sight, but not everything is as it seems. Take the pandemic, for example, when many have used their newfound downtime to slow down, change course, or pick up a new skill, like learning to fish.

Liminal moments are the best, most productive opportunities for fishing. When the morning tides shift from low to high, water rushes into tidepools and reefs, creating tidal currents that stir up sediment and attract small fish, which in turn attract bigger fish from deeper waters. Tides and moon phases, surface conditions and submarine seasonality—these are the languages newcomers must learn to successfully haggle with fish, those notoriously hard bargainers.

Yet many shore anglers don’t care how much fish they catch at this hour, or if they catch any fish at all. Just being there—and not elsewhere—is enough. The allure of dawn patrol fishing is both functional and philosophical, pragmatic and poetic.

Successfully reeling in a fish comes with obvious material benefits. Head east from O‘ahu’s southern shores and you’ll find experienced anglers in Kailua casting for pāpio and ‘ō‘io, trevallies and bonefish weighing 10 pounds or more. These are feasts that easily justify waking up in the darkness of early morning.

But even unsuccessful fishing has its rewards: the crisp clarity of waves lapping against the shore; the atmospheric superposition of colors, how black sky above descends into blue, then pink, then a golden yawn on the horizon. The appeal of early morning is the quiet conversation with the vast: the eternal crawl of clouds, the endless undulations of the sea and its invisible cosmic tethers. Fishing is a chance to get out of our houses, and out of our heads.

If you ask shoreline casters why they choose to spend their mornings this way, they probably won’t tell you any of that. They tend to be people of few words, especially before sunrise. But if you observe them long enough, they might move beyond sparse, practical conversation and reveal something more profound. It may not seem like much at first, but listen carefully to their relieved exhales, look closely at their acceptance of the elements on their faces. You’ll see it—the benefits of fishing go beyond that of a leisurely pastime.

Fishing is a meditation on patience and struggle, an existential balm for the chaos and uncertainty of a life both in transit and in transition. Casting a line out from Waikīkī and Ala Moana may yield enough halalū to bait larger fish elsewhere, or to pack away some side snacks for later on. Or maybe, it’ll yield nothing but a brief glimpse of our nearby star subsuming the light of countless distant stars.

No matter the outcome, fishing offers the chance to swim in simple yet profound depths, not unlike the ones from which the morning catch arrives.

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The state’s Nā Ala Hele trail and access program manages 77.5 miles of trails on O‘ahu.

Along the coasts of Waikīkī and Ala Moana, shore anglers of all ages cast for halalū, a small, silvery mackerel used primarily as bait but also enjoyed as a salty snack.

Fishing is a meditation on patience and struggle, an existential balm for the chaos and uncertainty of a life both in transit and in transition.

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