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OG ulua fishing

Seeker rods has a had a rod in their lineup for a long time called the “ulua.”  It’s a jig stick, so it’s long, and stiff, and made for hucking an iron a long way, and then fighting a fish that’s aggressive enough to bite a hunk of metal.

While I knew about the rod, I didn’t know what the word ulua was in reference to.  Later on I discovered that ulua is the Hawaiian word for what is otherwise known as a giant trevally or GT.

In Hawaii, there is a longstanding tradition of fishing for this formidable species.  It’s done from the shore, often on rocky outcroppings.  While you are fighting these fish, you could be battling the waves as well.  It’s obsessive, dangerous and rewarding as hell when you finally win.

About a week ago, I came across a picture in Instagram.  The picture showed a proud angler with his ulua and told the story of a long struggle to finally best this beast of a fish.  I had to know more.  This is the story of Tali Kuliha’apai and how he finally fulfilled his quest.

Give us some background, how did you get started Tali?  Tell us what it means to be a Hawaiian ulua fisherman.

ulua4Well, ulua fishing in Hawaii…more specifically shore casting for uluas, especially on Oahu, has a religious following…mostly because they are very rare here.  Some people fish for years, even a lifetime without catching this fish.  I’ve been a fisherman all my life, but only recently started fishing for uluas about a year and a half ago (3 to 4 times a week).

I’ve always known about the ulua because I’ve caught papio (baby ulua, ulua is over 10lbs).  Once they get that size, they are a lot smarter and harder to land.

I first got into it when I was younger.  Me, my dad, and my 2 brothers used to catch live bait  to catch papios.  I caught about a 3 lber and it was a fight of a lifetime when I was younger.  That papio is what sparked my interest.  It wasn’t until about 2 years ago though, that I got obsessed with the fish.  I tried to learn everything about it…their habitat, favorite foods and the best moon phases and other conditions to fish for them.  Everything I learned, I hoped would increase my chances of getting one.

Tell us a little about the kind of gear that you use…the setup, bait, lures etc.

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Ulua that fell for a Mark White popper

There are all kinds of ways of catching this fish…from popping with Mark White lures, to bait casting  or “sliding bait.”  I would say the most popular way used is bait casting.  I personally caught mine bait casting using 150# Ande rubline/leader line, to 50# Ande mainline, an 8oz. weight, and a size 20 to 30 circle hook (He said the sizing is different there in the islands.  It’s equivalent to 4/0 to 7/0).

I caught my ulua on an Avet leverdrag LX, with a 13 foot medium Nitro rod…which is my smallest setup that I fish for uluas on.  There are many baits that uluas hit…live bait being the best.  I used a fresh moray eel (also known also puhi).

Sometimes you just get lucky with your catch.  Other times you just know…something about the day, the way the conditions setup, the availability of the right bait, something that you see on the water that tips you off…was there something different about the day you caught your ulua?

The difference about this trip compared to others is that I had just caught the bait the same day, so it was as fresh as it gets.  I had gotten a couple big strikes before on fresh eel, but never hooked up fully.  I knew though, with this kind of bait, it was only a matter of time.  I had to try again.  Also, we planned this trip following the moon phase which was new moon or dark moon and followed the tide change.  I caught mine about 6:30pm in the evening.  The tide had just started going down, and lined up perfectly for the sunset bite.

Got it.  So basically, everything lined up.  You had the right bait.  The moonphase was right.  The tidal conditions were right etc.  Tell us about the fish.

When I caught this fish it took off with my bait pulling drag from first strike.  I was about 20 steps away from my pole, but got to it in what literally felt like 2 seconds…sprinting and running through bushes and sand.  I reached the pole and clicked my leverdrag into full tension (I have my Avet set to half drag for the initial strike.  Full strike on this reel is 20 lbs. of drag!) and the fight began.  It immediately took out 75 to 100 yards of line on its first run and rocked me.  I pulled on it for about 5 minutes, trying to free it from getting stuck.  When it finally started coming slowly unstuck, I boosted it hard for about a minute.  Then it made another run of about 75 to 100 yards again, taking me past my splice where my 50# Ande monofilament and 80# spectra met.

It was running left to right when it rocked me once again.  Luckily, I was able to ease it out and I started gaining line on it.  At this point, me and and my fishing buddy, Stratten Santiago, had a small crowd gathered around us.  All the non-believers thought it was a shark.  I’ve caught a lot of sharks though and they don’t fight like this one did.

About 50 yards offshore, Stratten saw it in a breaking wave and screamed “ULUA!!!”  The fish had turned sideways on me and was using the current to its advantage (like when you hook a big dodo).  When the next swell came, I pumped it in as hard hard as I could…using the wave to help me gain line.  That’s when that I saw how big it was.  I screamed at the top of my lungs, “Stratt, grab it and be careful of my line!”  Luckily, a diver had just came out of the water.  We used the spear from his speargun to secure the fish and bring it ashore.  There it was my first ulua!  Official weight was taken the next day at Hanapa’a Fishing Supply…64.1 lbs.!

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Awesome man!  Now that you finally got your first one, what does it mean to you and what’s next?

This fish means alot to me..mostly it means my sanity!  Lol.  I fished for my ulua religiously, multiple times a week, at all different hours of the day and night, for a year and a half  before I caught this one.  I still can’t quite believe I even hooked one.  This fish is probably the most significant fish I’ve ever caught.  I had fished so hard and long for it with no luck.  My next goals for ulua fishing is to catch and release one to give thanks for the one that I kept (very cool).  Now, I want to get in that 100# ulua club which very few people can say they are in.  Mostly though, I’m in it for the one-on-one fight.  These fish can scrap!!!

Thanks so much man.  I really appreciate you sharing your story with us haoles from the mainland.  Where can we continue to watch for when you hit that century mark fish?

Me and Stratt will be out there looking for it.  You can follow us on Instagram as Talimonsta and Stratt_Attack.

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