It is said that the Hawaiian Islands were created when Maui, an ancient Polynesian god, went fishing and used a magical hook to pull them out of the ocean.
It is little wonder that fishing is featured in many of the legends and proverbs of these verdant Pacific islands. After all, fishing held a central role for the ancient Hawaiians and seafood consistently served as the main protein in their diet.
Ocean resources were so important, in fact, that a system called ahupua’a was established to ensure that each district had access to the sea and its fisheries. Fishermen, taking to the waves in hand-made canoes, professed to be spiritually connected to the sea; as providers of food, they were valued assets for every community. A fortunate Hawaiian fisherman, said the historian Kamakau, “was like a lucky woman who attracts men by the fragrance of her skin.”
Isaac Brumaghiam has rediscovered the richness of his Hawaiian heritage after creating a kayak fishing club called Aquahunters. Like ancient fishermen and mariners before him, he can often be found pushing off from the safety of shore and plying the waters in a small, self-propelled vessel in search of giant fish.
Isaac’s passion for offshore kayak fishing began when he started paddling in canoe regattas and, around the same time, developed an affinity for shore fishing. In time, he meshed the two together, and it was only later that he realized he had inadvertently rediscovered something very similar to the canoe fishing perfected by his ancestors.
“I never used to be very involved in my heritage,” said Isaac, “but I’ve always been proud to be part of it. My father taught me about the aloha spirit, which means being truthful and kind to everyone you meet, and paddling opened up a window to the ocean. I became more proud to be able to read the ocean like my ancestors, which is knowledge I want to pass on to my children. Kayak fishing brought me even deeper into my culture and gave me a chance to reconnect with it.”
When Isaac started kayak fishing, he tried to educate himself on all the types of fish he could catch, and he used what he learned from shoreline fishing. Before that, he had mostly been “whipping” on the back side of the reef. Doing so, he caught plenty of good eating fish, which he was always happy to bring home to his grandmother, but he wanted to take the sport to another level.
“I didn’t know it was possible to fish offshore from a kayak until I watched a video by a man named Dennis in California,” he said. “He caught a mahimahi by kayak. It was just one video and I watched it many times. I decided, with the encouragement of my friends, to get into kayak fishing and start a small club.”
Isaac, now 36 years old, started Aquahunters in 2004. Born on the Big Island, Isaac now lives on the west side of Oahu and has been living in Waianae for four years. After its humble beginnings, Aquahunters has grown into an organization encompassing all of Hawaii. According to Isaac, the club has close to 200 diehard members who are on the water every chance they get. The club’s online forum has over a thousand members.
“We’ve built a community that is super strong,” said Isaac. “Most of our member always want to learn more and they can’t get enough of it. One big element of our success is the Makahiki. We started it as a statewide tournament for kayak fishing. It’s an 8-month-long tournament, kayak fishing only. We have anglers from Maui, Oahu, the Big Island, Hawaii, and more. We have a banquet every year with an awards ceremony, and plenty of food and beer. It’s great to get together and swap stories.”
Issac’s largest fish caught by kayak so far, which can be seen in the video above, was an Ahi (yellowfin tuna) that weighed 103 pounds. The fish ate a live opelu, which is a type of scad and a favorite baitfish in Hawaii. “It was a major battle,” said Isaac. “I had caught a 68-pound striped marlin and had lost a few bigger marlin, which helped prepare me for a big fight. Understanding what it takes to tire out a big fish and how to endure is important. With any fish, you’ve got to let them run. I knew I was not going to winch the huge fish up in 15 minutes. When I finally got the Ahi close and could see the leader, a lot of things were going through my mind. There’s a job to do here, I told myself. I had to focus. I had to stay patient. I brought him up in a circle and, when he finally came close enough, I got him.”
The fish hit near a buoy located about three and a half miles offshore. “I was out with a friend who also got a nice fish that day,” said Isaac. When asked if he was ever worried about not getting back to land, he said, “We try to pay attention to the wind and sun and current, and I was confident I could get back safely. We try to do it pure through Aquahunters, which means we paddle from shore, traditionally, and paddle in. But hey, I have electronics, a fishfinder, cell phone and all that. I know Hawaiians didn’t use those things, but I think they wouldn’t have turned them down.”
Occasionally, the Aquahunters receive complaints from other kayak fishermen because they sometimes keep the fish they’ve caught, but Isaac is quick to point out that no fish is ever killed simply for a trophy. “We don’t waste anything,” said Isaac. “In our culture, it’s bad luck to waste fish. Some people frown on us killing fish, but these fish feed our families. We share it with our communities.”
Isaac says he loves watching his friends fish from kayaks, especially people who don’t get to do it much or are trying it for the first time. He also finds solace in simply being on the ocean. “For me, the most fabulous things I’ve seen out there are pods of dolphins jumping and showing off right in front of my kayak, and big whales with their babies coming up right under me, which is scary as heck but beautiful. It’s times like those that I realize I’m really here and really alive.”
Isaac plans to continue promoting the sport of kayak fishing throughout Hawaii, and he hopes other people will try it out. “We take it seriously,” he concluded. “We don’t have a big boat, and that means we’re everything. We’re the boat, the captain, the crew, the motor, and more. It’s a tough sport, and it can be dangerous, but there’s an adrenaline rush that’s hard to beat.”
Learn more about Isaac and the club at AquaHunters.com.