Hui Wa'a Kaukahi

Bending Poles and Dancing Fish:

Miloli'i to Kikiaola Harbor (Kaua'i)

By Jane Skanderup

Map of Kauai Island, showing area of story

Paddling out of the channel at Miloli'i and poking our way around Makaha Point, we could see sandy Nohili Point in the distance, the first landmark to Major's Bay where we would stay the night. At the start the winds stiffened up behind our backs and it was looking to be a great kite run, a nice little surprise for a 15-mile day. But soon enough we were in the lee with a soft westerly lofting in our faces. Alan had just met up with Jeff and me after checking out the cave near Polihale, when zing! Hana Pa'a!! Jeff grabbed his pole and reeled that baby close by the boat,"Hana pa'a!" pole bending down as the fish made a deep dive. It's behaving like an ahi, I thought, until finally he pulled up a good size papio." Forget the canned goods tonight," Alan said with a grin.

With dinner in the gear bag, and the promise of a resupply of refreshments at Major's dangling happily ahead of us, we paddled on beside the long sandy beach -of Barking Sands. Ni'ihau and Ka'ula Rock rose up ahead of us, a one to two foot following sea was gently rocking us forward, when Hana Pa'a!!

Jeff had hooked up to another good size pole bender, and while he was reeling and coaxing him in, Alan and I were thinking the same thing - here he goes again, that Jeff, with his seventh hook-up of the trip, like fish were just waiting for his lucky lure to pass by. But midway in this struggle, Jeff gave out a great yell, "Ahhh!!" the line went limp, and the mysterious fish got away.

After awhile we passed the gentle bend of Nohili Point, and Mana Point greeted us a few miles into the distance. The sun was shining high; it was a beautiful day, and Hana Pa'a!!! It was Alan this time, and he reeled and reeled that bending rod. "It feels like a rock," he said, and working that fish toward his boat, he finally brought up an 'omilu (a kind of papio). Since Jeff had already caught dinner, Alan freed the lure and back into the seas went the hearty swimmer.

On we go, past more sandy dunes and now breaking reef off of this Western-most shore of Kauai. The water was clear green-blue, not very deep, and all kinds of rocks and holes pocketed the ocean floor. We paddled by several sea turtles so busy lazing around they didn't see us, and suddenly Hana Pa'a!!

"Maybe I caught up on a turtle," I said to Alan. Or was it? My rod took a nosedive toward the stem with such a stubborness I was sure I caught reef. So I reeled in line getting pulled back to what I thought was a stuck lure, but once on top of it the line started shifting from down deep. "Maybe I caught up on a turtle," I said to Alan. Then we both saw a silver flash, it is a fish!! I could see brown stripes too, before it took off around my boat, circling the stem, around the other side of the boat, bending the rod tip down, down. I missed one pass at his gills and he took off in a mad screech of water, screaming line.

Reeling and reeling in line, and after a couple more circles around my boat, I finally got him close by the port side, scooped him in the gills and landed him in the cockpit with the best sounding thud I ever heard. "Kagami," Jeff cried out as he paddled up, "but no feather on his back," I yelled. In the water Alan had thought maybe it was an opah from its bulging shape. Up comes Jeff closer, and excitedly pronounces,

"Ulua!!! It's an ulua!!"

This was a big fish, way more than we could eat, but we decided to keep him to give away. We didn't know what kind of camping scene we would encounter that night, and some diplomatic tools might come in handy (as they had before on this trip). So into Jeff s gear bag he went, giving a few hair-raising thumps to Jeff along the way.

Three grinning faces reflected off the seas, our eyes scanning the breaking reef stretching out past Mana Point ahead, Ni'ihau off to our side now, and paddling along when Hana Pa'a!! My rod again! I could feel a light little doozy on the end of the line, and up came a trumpet fish. Getting the lure out of that slippery, twisty guy was more trouble than the ulua! Paddling once again, and after a bit. Whoa!! Hana Pa'a!! Alan caught up to a live one, an 'aha skipping this way and that, charging at him, leaping, dancing, all around his boat. It looked like trying to hang onto a firecracker going off on the end of the line, and amidst much whoops and hollers from Jeff and I, Alan was reeling him in, he had him coming in, then in one final furious leaping twist the aha swung loose off the lure. Curses! But what a great show was that!!

We started up again, heading out over sets of oncoming swells now as we came up to Mana Point with its fringing reef stretching out. I tried to glimpse the landing that Chuck recommended to us on the far side of the bay, as Major's itself supposedly has a steep shore break. Paddling out, paddling out, and then Hana Pa'a!! Alan's rod was bent down but good this time, and he got dragged inside by a monster fish, must have been because he reeled and reeled 'till he could reel no more - the fish was sunk down deep beside his boat like a stone,"He reeled and reeled 'till he could reel no more" dragging the pole tip down in a full arch, Alan grasping the rod with both hands. He started to blow into the surf zone, and Jeff had just leashed up to his boat to tow him out, when Snap! went the line. A few shouts and curses later, they scurried away from the break, and we left the lost sea monster behind, lure and all. Oh, but what a good fight!

After a long day with a combined seven hook-ups - and five of those just in that three-mile stretch between Nohili and Mana points - we were ready to call it a day. Our first landing site proved to be too close to military property; Alan had made a reconnaissance mission down the beach a ways and now we huddled to make a decision: camp on the beach and only on the beach, or paddle back a quarter of a mile to the public beach, but land in what looked to be a messy break. Our landing had been a bit tricky: a breaking wave over submerged reef that spilled into a deep sandy trough, sending a backwash wave spurting over the reef. But really, no big deal, so we pounded back through the white water and on into the bay. The landing at Major's was much easier than imagined, just a dollop of a break over the reef to the inside trough. We scrambled the laden boats up a good 100 yards past the high tide mark, and set about cleaning fish and waiting for our resupply.

Jane and Jeff with their fine catchesSurgeon Jeff quickly set to work on the two treasures under the long shadows of the late afternoon sun. We gave away fish and more fish, got some tako salad in return and a serendipitous ride into town for resupply, and then got unexpectedly resupplied again by a very dedicated "Kauai" Keith. By nightfall, three happy paddlers sat under the full moon amidst much laughter and smiles, with ulua and papio sashimi dipped in Alan's magic wasabi sauce. We all went blissfully to sleep with full tummies.

Friday dawned bright and hot. Humping the loaded boats down to the water caused Alan to proclaim that at least four paddlers are necessary to land at Major's - it was more of a workout than paddling! Then into the cool water for our last day, our ninth day out. It was a brisk six-mile hop into Kikiaola Harbor, with a long breaking reef at the end to make sure we were awake. Alan's very kind friend Bill was there to meet us as planned, and kayaks and gear overtook his Ford Explorer. At Young Brothers, Nawiliwili harbor, it was again heave-ho time to get the loaded boats strapped up in the container bound for Honolulu, and then off we went for our "first taste of civilization:" a great lunch at JJ's Broiler, by the shorefront at Nawiliwili Bay.

We slowly made our way back up to the Kauai Kailani in Kapa'a, where it had all started more than a week ago. After a wonderfully hot shower, three weary but very content paddlers made straight for the lanai, broke out the refreshments, and gazed out at the blue ocean until sleep overcame us one by one.

Editor's note: In late 2008, Jane Skanderup unexpectedly - to say the least - passed away at her apartment in Lima, Peru, where she worked as a program director and Spanish-language specialist for Pacific Forum CSIS. She was 51. An avid kayaker and redoubtable participant on many outer-island paddles, her Can-Do attitude and great sense of humor will be sorely missed by those she paddled with. Aloha Oe, Jane.

© 1999 Hui Wa'a Kaukahi