After years of big game fishing, Capt. Mike Hennessy’s focus switched from giant billfish to monster bonefish.
With its legendary surf breaks and beautiful beaches, you’d be hard pressed to find a “top vacation spot” list on the web that didn’t include Hawaii. Beyond its beaches and surf, Hawaii’s bluewater has attracted anglers far and wide for decades and many consider these waters home to the world’s largest marlin. Simms Guide Ambassador, Mike Hennessy of Hawaii On The Fly has been guiding the islands for the past seven years and while he has spent his fair share of days in the cockpit chasing record size billfish, these days, there’s no place he’d rather be than on the flats. With each passing year, Hennessy continues to stockpile more and more evidence that in addition to marlin, the world’s largest bonefish also call Hawaii home.
You are originally from California, right? How did you end up in Hawaii?
Yeah. I guess I was about 6 years old when my dad sailed us to Hawaii. It took 16 days and we ended up living at Kaneohe Bay Oahu and literally fished and dove every day. For a kid like me, it was a dream.
As a kid, were you aware of Hawaiian bones?
Hahaha — absolutely. Like I say, we spent so much time on or in the water, we’d often find a sandbar and cookout as family. I can remember catching big bonefish on strips of hotdogs believe it or not.
In comparison to other bonefish spots, what makes Hawaii so unique?
We have these 5,000 ft. vertical volcanic cliffs that stack up above these beautiful sandy pancake flats which are surrounded by 2,000 ft. deep blue channels. Also, chasing monster bones while your kids surf and the wife is at the spa is a pretty easy sell. In terms of fishing, you really need to bring your A game and being about to double haul is essential to punching your fly through nasty trade winds. It’s also truly a year round fishery. In my opinion, there isn’t a month that’s better than another, just better tides.
Anything else important anglers should keep in mind when it comes to fishing Hawaii for monster bones?
We sight-fish 100 percent of the time and more often than not, we are sight-fishing to monster singles or doubles. Stimulating that primal feeding instinct in each bonefish is true to the core of what fly fishing is all about.
Is most of the fishing done from the boat or is there a fair bit of wading as well?
Depending on the tides, wind and the needs and wants of my clients, we usually wade fish about 30 percent of the time especially if the fish are tailing.
Why was Hawaii’s bone fishery late to hit the fly fishing world as a premiere destination?
Well, as I mentioned before, bonefish aren’t new to Hawaii but many of the most productive flats can’t be accessed by foot. Getting a skiff here opened up a ton of opportunities and then once clients started regularly started catching double digit fish, the word spread and it spread fast.
If you had to guess, what is the largest bonefish you’ve ever encountered on a Hawaiian flat?
We have hooked a few bonefish I have no problem estimating at the 16-pound mark. When you hook a fish of this size, there’s really nothing you can do but the let the fish scream off 200+ yards of backing and hope that it doesn’t break you off on the coral. Those are ones that we’ve been connected to, I have seen a half dozen fish or so that would have gone 18 and I swear, I’ve seen two that would have gone over 20.
Do your flies differ a great deal from traditional bonefish flies?
Kind of a trick question, but here it goes. I like to use the strongest hook possible but at the same time, the wire has to be thin. I don’t use any flash or big legs or pinchers, I like to keep them natural and fresh. Personally, I like using flies that imitate mantis shrimp, crabs, small gobies, octopus and worms.
How many fish do your anglers typically see on a good day?
Usually, I’d say we see over 100 bones on an average day and anglers will likely get around 50 shots at fish over 6 pounds.
Are there any special skills required for Hawaii bonefish?
You have to be stealthy to the extreme. When you wade, walk slow and then walk slower. You also really have to be able to read the fish and know when the fish eats. Even though these are some of the biggest bonefish in the world, the eat is often very subtle. But, then again when the tide is right, sometimes these fish eat so aggressively, you can actually see sand blowing out of their gills as eat your fly.
Can you sum up your guiding style?
Myself and my head guides fish to our clients abilities and adjust to their needs. We guide for our client’s success, not our own egos. No stress in our boats, no screaming, no pressure, but we also love coming tight with a double digit fish. Seriously, we have to keep it as low stress as possible because a tailing 13 pounder is enough stress on the angler by itself.
What areas of Hawaii do you primarily fish?
I fish every inch of Oahu. Oahu has over 50 flats of varying sizes and shapes. Our skiffs are on trailers because we like to chase the best conditions. For Hawaii On The Fly, it’s all about sharing the stoke with our clients.
See Mike Hennessy in action on his home waters below and stay tuned for Hawaii On The Fly Part II.
Photos and Video Courtesy Beattie Outdoor Productions