Secret Runs Of Halalu And Oama

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - September 03, 2008
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Anglers on the Windward side
Anglers on the Windward side

School is back in session for much of the state, a sign summer is quickly coming to an end. But most fishermen will tell you there’s still time for other kinds of schools - they just won’t tell you where to go.

Confused by the vagueness? Well, when it comes to halalu and oama season, vagueness is precisely the point. The last thing fishermen want is for the world to know where Hawaii’s fish of summer are running.

“Even if the halalu are running, fishermen will tell you they aren’t,” laughs an avid fisherman who asked to be called Bob. “Nobody like say where the fish are biting. It gets too crowded.”

The oama is a juvenile goat fish, or baby weke. The halalu is a baby mackerel, known in the Islands as akule. In the summer, both run in massive schools in shallow water across the state. When they arrive, Hawaii’s coconut wireless goes to work.

“Just friends among friends, they call each other up: Fish is biting, come on down,” says Jim Fernandez.


“Everybody kind of tells jokes and you know, they say, oh, I called in sick today or I gotta go work late,” chuckles Wil Santos.

It’s a picture replayed every summer: Anglers lined up in waist-deep water with poles dancing in unison. Others cast reels offshore hoping to make the big score. And we’re not talking size, because when it comes to halalu or oama, it’s all about volume.

“How much per day I would say 80-90 maybe 100,” says Corbin Patterson.

Schools by the thousands usually stay in one area for several weeks, huddling together like a large football team hoping to avoid bigger predators like papio and barracuda.

“That’s what’s keeping that school in,” says Patterson. “They circle ‘em in like a sheep dog, keep ‘em in the corner, and when they get hungry they just attack the pile.”

Anglers also attack the pile, hoisting their prizes one by one. Most eat what they catch, bones and all.

“Deep-fried or Filipino-style with ginger, vinegar and lemon,” says Patterson.

“I pan-fry it in oyster sauce, salt and pepper,” says Fernandez.

Others keep their catch alive with hopes of landing something larger.

“That’s for bait, bruddah,” says Bob.


And then there are those who simply give them away. Halalu is sold at some fish markets. Depending on quality, expect to pay up to $5 a pound.

Of course, it’s nearly impossible to keep a spot secret for more than a day. Keeping your cool when others arrive is even tougher.

“Some guys will just move here, move there, follow the bite and stuff like that,” says Patterson. “The first guy catches a fish, everybody swarms to the area.”

“If you catch a fish and you have what we call a bankrupt, where you lose your lead and leader, you turn around and walk away, somebody is right in your spot,” says Fernandez. “It’s hard to get back in.”

The best advice: “Just ask nicely, people will move,” laughs Patterson.

Luckily, when it comes to halalu and oama fever, there usually is a tomorrow. But you’d better hurry, summer days are ticking away.

 

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