||110 lbs 7 oz
||Ka'u, Big Island
After the hardcore days of fishing nonstop as much as we could, life set in and the trips got fewer and fewer. Each time Scottie and I would run into each other, it would be the same story: Never fish forever; only work nowadays.
We agreed we would fish the S. Tokunaga Store Ulua Challenge together this year. It finally landed on the full moon, and our spot was prime for those conditions. No excuses, it had to happen!
Months of prepping and excitement went into our big trip. The best baits, best moon, best tides and best attitudes proved no match for our end resultzero. We were lucky enough to land a 19.8-lb omilu and place third, but we were there for our ulua, our big boy ulua. We thanked the powers that be for our safe trip and our prize omilu but also told our spot we would be back to redeem ourselves. There was no way we could handle a defeat like that, not after the effort we put into it.
That trip reignited the fire. We started fishing steadily again, separately, but both of us were able to finally put one on the rocks. Yes! We still had it. We were getting worried we had lost it.
Two months had passed since our big defeat. The full moon was on its way again. It was time, time for redemption. I made the call to Scottie. The night we needed to be there was during the week. I asked, Are we too old to pull an all-nighter and go right to work the next morning? The answer was absolutely not. It was on. The plan was set.
We met up in the late afternoon and lightly loaded my Polaris Ranger to cut down the drive time. The plan was to work the tide changes hard and be out before sunrise. We figured 20 lbs of fresh tako should be more than enough for one night, so we didnt bother digging through the freezer for anything else. As I opened my freezer to grab some shrimp, my only frozen tako fell out on my foot. I stuffed it back in, and it fell right back out. I figured it must be a sign, tossed it off the stairs into the back of the Ranger, and we were on our way.
We got over the hill to our spot right before sunset. Scottie calmly said out loud, I told you wed be back. That we were, back for redemption.
We were fired up. We rigged the poles, and before we knew it all six were ready to slide. We tried to catch a live bait, to no avail. While we waited for the moon to rise over the pali, we set out a tako buffet.
Scottie was up first. He hooked a big boy. It ran over, under, left, right. It fought hard for 20 minutes. It was man against beast. I was already at the water with the gaff when Scotties frayed line could not take anymore. His fish was stuck for a while and then that section of line snapped right at gaff.
I was heartbroken. It was massive, and it was right there about to be landed. Scottie, on the other hand and to my surprise, was pumped. Thats what we were there for, he reminded me, to battle big boys. His motivation got me out of my wig-out. We regrouped, and as I was texting the story to our friend, Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz! It was my turn.
My fish was the same story: another big boy was making me work for it. The fish did the same exact thing: left, right, over, under, stuck.
No! we yelled. After five minutes of slacking the line, the fish came free and we saw color. It was a monster!
Scottie was at the water with gaff in hand as I boosted the fish in to him. Halfway to the gaff, the line snagged a coral head and the fish got pinned right in front of us. It was so close but so far away. I did not have my dive gear because I had packed lightly. Diving 15 feet underwater in the dark without a mask to try to free the fish did not seem like a good idea.
We tried everything over the next hour, hoping to free the fish. We both agreed it could be a 100-pounder. There was no doubt it was 80 or 90 lbs. Some thing had to be done.
I was seriously considering jumping in when Scottie had another strike. He made short work of a 30-pounder and told it to free daddy before throwing it on top of our stuck monster, hoping to somehow miraculously scare it in the opposite direction of the angle from which it was stuck. That 30-pounder came back to life and rocketed into the depths so fast we both just looked at each other in shock. There was a good reason for that.
The tiger shark was easily 10 to 12 feet long, the biggest thing I'd ever seen in the ocean, right in crystal-clear water. We were dead silent as it ended our stuck fish problem in one bite. We were in awe as we watched it calmly swim right in front of us with the ulua in his mouth. No one said a word. I had the bright idea to think I was going to jerk the fish out of its mouth. This did nothing but let the shark find out it was hooked. That shark took me all the way from full spool to the knot in an instant. I was hanging on for my life. Before I realized what was happening, I got whiplashed in the face from my snapped 80-lb test.
We appreciated the craziest thing we had ever seen in the hundreds of nights we have fished these rocks. Wow!
OK. It was time to regroup and get back in the game. Reels needed to be respooled, poles recast, nerves calmed down and crushed dreams accepted. At this point the bait was almost gone. We needed to make the bait we had left count. Earlier on in the night, I had said that I had never pulled a hook before. That caused me to pull two hooks on two strikes, back to back. I was saving the hammered baits and Frankenstein-ing new slides with different parts of tako pieces to work through our bait crisis. By midnight, the bait was gone.
Scottie was yelling to me from the point as I was grabbing my second Redbull: I think you got a puhi on your pole!
Yes! That would keep us in the game. Sure enough, we pulled up a huge green head! Scottie filleted it into beautiful fresh baits. I opted for the head because it was the only green head Id seen since Id caught an 80-pounder on one 10 years ago. Scottie ran all fillets.
We went back to priming baits. We hoped the ulua wanted them just as much as they wanted the tako that had been working all night.
Everything went silent. We were reflecting on how we were given our shots and had done everything right and how it was out of our control that wed both lost our big ones. But we still were in the game.
At this point I remembered I had thrown the toe-smashing frozen tako into the Ranger. I found it and cut it into four, two- legged baits. This was not my style; I like running huge, whole tako.
I was fired up. I had four more slides to work with. I jacked up my double-slide tako pole to empty hooks and recast, slid, double slid, and brought it up again. The final cast of the night happened. We had two baits left. We slid the first one at 1:30 a.m. Puhi dings told me I was still in the game at 2 a.m.
It was cold and windy, and the action had stopped for a few hours. We started to fade. We took our sleeping bags down to the point and lay down on the rocks, trying to ignore the cold 30-mph trade winds and thoughts of having to work in a few hours. It was impossible to sleep, but we could at least rest.
At 3 a.m. I went to the Ranger for my last two-legged bait to double slide. I was all in. Five a.m. came with no action, and it was starting to get light. We walked up to the Ranger and started organizing our stuff and loading up. Thats when it happened. The wind had calmed and the sound of the bell and screaming reel 100 feet away was like it was right there next to us.
We ran out to the point yelling, Puhi fillet! assuming that was the only thing that was left on the hooks. We both were shocked to see it was my tako pole. I had slid two legs three hours prior when whole tako were not lasting a hour throughout the night.
I threw my bell and set the hook. The fish didnt stop. I was down to a quarter-spool on my Newell R546 when I finally got the fish to stop. I boosted with everything I had, but my rod tip wouldnt budge. I told Scottie I was stuck and no way this one was coming out.
Scottie has a 110-pounder under his belt that he caught at the same spot, and he had seen the same thing happen. He told me, No way youre stuck. That deep thats your 100. Give it all you got and take an inch if thats all it will give you.
I leaned back on my pole with all my weight and felt it come in a few inches. It took me five or six times of doing that to believe that I was not stuck and that I was in an epic stalemate with a giant fish. Giving everything I had on each boost only gave me two winds on the reel. This went on for half an hour. I was already hurting from my big fight a few hours earlier and the other strikes during the night and had to dig deep to stay in the game. Scottie saw that, and starting firing me up. He gave me my second wind, and I was able to finally turn the fish.
I turned into an animal from Scotties motivational yelling and brought that fish up from the depths fast. Once its head was turned, its stomach blew out and the fish popped up on the surface. Then it was just a matter of pulling it into the gaff. The ulua had lost the battle.
The yelling and screaming and hugging that followed will never be forgotten. Nothing else on the planet could recreate that for me. Anyone whos been there knows what Im talking about. I hope those who havent will get to experience it one day. I have been at it hard for 20 years and conquered the only thing I had on my bucket list. It was worth the wait.
The ulua weighed in at 110.7 lbs, almost exactly the weight of Scotties 100-plus fish that he caught at the same spot. Crazy!
As we were carrying the fish up to the fishbag, Scottie turned to me and said, We did it, Chaddy. We redeemed ourselves.
Special thanks go to Uncle Henry and Bruddah Jessie for coming through for us on the bait and making this able to happen! . . . Chad