Despite all of the Hawaii big game fishing and blue-water diving depicted in postcards and the media, some of islands' most popular fishing involves nothing more than a hand pole with a hook and sinker or some ultra-light tackle and bit of local fishing savvy!
During the summer two small but highly popular Hawaii fish, the "oama", or juvenile goatfish, and the halalu, smaller siblings of a type of mackerel known in the islands as "akule," make their appearance at beaches and deeper near-shore waters throughout the state. And, when they do appear, so do Hawaii's local folks!
The owama (pronounced o-wa'-ma) run about seven inches and congregate in large schools in shallow water often right off the beach while the similar-sized halalu (ha-la-loo ') are generally found in deeper water such as harbors or beaches with a quicker depth drop. Appearing as schools in the thousands, these "summer fish" usually stay in the same vicinity for a few weeks causing something of an attraction as scores of anglers congregate in the shallow waters, breakwaters, piers, or beaches where the schools might be present.
When the schools are in, word goes out on the grapevine through kids, moms and dads, seniors, and just about anyone who likes fishing! Prized as bait for larger fish but even more so as delicious table fare, the oama and halalu are more than just fish, they're an island tradition.
Driving around the islands, it's not uncommon to spot groups of unrelated individuals in circles or standing abreast in thigh- or waist-deep water off the beach with short bamboo poles. These folks are fishing for oama and stand together so as to keep the school in one place with the cumulative draw of their baited hooks. It's a subdued excitement as in near silence the anglers alternately jerk their poles to lift a small fighting fish out of the water and into the small scoop nets which are hung conveniently at their sides.
If you come across a scene with a large group of people using either extended hand poles or ultra-light fishing tackle to cast and erratically reel in tiny feathered hooks or similar artificial bait, they're after the halalu. Like the groups fishing for oama, these larger crowds on the shore are fishing in a quiet so prevailing you can hear the splashing of the small fish as they're being reeled in. In these large groups you'll also find an array of styles for retrieving the lured hooks which characterizes the "pet" techniques that separate one angler from another.
Whether you have an appetite for the small fish or not, coming across either of these types of fishing scenes is a unique and interesting affair and one you'll probably only see in Hawaii. It's one of those things that go far beyond fishing. Rather, it's a slice of life that so many of us who've grown up in the islands return to year after year.
So as small as they may be, the oama and halalu play a big part of Hawaii's fishing scene and are as much or more a part of Hawaii fishing as sport fishing or diving. Indeed these small, seemingly insignificant fish are a big part of the fabric of life in these Hawaiian Islands … these two fish of summer!