Fishing in He’eia Fishpond

DSC03978A few weekends ago we took Connor fishing at the Heeia Fishpond.  It was very exciting because this was his very first time fishing.  I had never been to the He’eia Fishpond before either so it was a new experience for me as well.  DSC04117The He’eia fishpond is owned by Kamehameha Schools and maintained and run by the non-profit organization Paepae o He’eia.  The fishpond is generally closed to the public and they have signs like this all over the place.DSC04000For the record, no, we did not break into the fishpond.  Paepae o He’eia holds La Holoholo events  about 8 or 9 days a year that allow the public visit and keep any predatory fish they are able to catch from the fishpond.  Tickets to the La Holoholo events are $10 per fishing pole and the event lasts from 8 am to 2:30 pm.  Paepae o He’eia only sells a total of 60 tickets for each event, so Ev and his co-worker (and our friend from school), Wayne, were really lucky to snag 4 tickets each.
DSC03996When we first arrived we checked in and were given a brief tour and cultural lesson about the fishpond.  The He’eia fishpond is an 88 acre brackish water Hawaiian Fishpond in He’eia, Hawaii.  Historians estimate that there were nearly 400 fishponds spread through the Hawaiian Islands in ancient Hawaii but most have been destroyed and there are only about 40 left in Hawaii.  The fishpond were that it was built between 600-800 years ago and the wall is one of the longest fishponds in Hawaii measuring 1.3 miles.DSC04001Initially, when Ev first suggested taking Connor fishing at the He’eia fishpond, I envisioned the wall being this narrow pile of unlevel rocks that Connor could easily trip on and plop right into the ocean.  It turns out, I was overreacting because the wall was massive.  The wall was at least 8 feet wide in the area that we were fishing and it was solid.  What was even more impressive was that the entire wall was built without any mortar or cement! The wall was constructed entirely out of carefully stacked lava rocks on both edges and filled in with coral.  Amazing!DSC04035The wall supposedly narrowed as you walked further down, but we didn’t end up venturing that far from the beginning of the wall and stationed ourselves at the first makaha, which were these channels through the wall with sluice gates on both ends that allowed the brackish water from the pond and salt water from the ocean to flow in and out of the fishpond.   The sluice gates were made of sticks lashed together and their main function was to allow baby fish into the pond and to keep the adult fish contained.  There were a total of seven makaha in the He’eia fishpond.  DSC04015Another benefit of this makaha was that it also had a Hale Kia’i, a guard house that protected us from the wind, sun, and rain.  I think that this was probably the most comfortable day-fishing I’ve ever done.  The wall was wide enough that we were able to cart in folding chairs, a cooler and a bunch of toys to keep Connor busy and the makaha was large enough to provide a small space for Connor to play when he got bored of fishing.
DSC04009The tide was really low when we first started fishing, which made the makaha a perfect place for Connor to “fish” because at low tide the water from the fishpond is flowing out into the ocean and tiny fish from fishpond would gather near the makaha area.  We had Connor sit at the edge of the Makaha and gave him a straight pole with some shrimp for bait.  We had fun watching Connor try to catch the small fish.  Other than allowing us to put the bait on his fishing pole, Connor wanted to fish all by himself.  Most of the time, the bait would fall of his hook and Connor was pretty much just feeding the fishes.  DSC04019However, Connor was able to pull up a few fishes.  Here is a picture of the very first fish Connor has ever caught.  It was a Mamo (Hawaiian damselfish).   You can also see the makaha and the sluice gate in the background.  Connor also caught about four kupipi (gray damselfish) that day, but of course, they were not the predatory fish that we were supposed to be catching, so we caught the fish and then released them back into the water. DSC04024Eventually, the tide changed and the water from the ocean started rushing into the  pond.  The tiny fishes left the makaha area and Connor and I stopped fishing.  After that we spend the rest of the time watching the other people fish, and Connor played in the puddles.  He was covered with mud by the end of the day, but he didn’t care.DSC04066One of friends, Mer, was the best fisherman of our group.  She took home two Kaku (barracuda).
DSC04059We thought we were going to go home empty handed but at the very last minute, Ev caught also pulled up a kaku!  I missed the whole thing because I was inside the Hale Kia’i packing up our stuff when Ev caught the fish.  I was bummed that I didn’t get to see Ev pull up the fish but also really happy that Ev caught a fish and that meant we would get to eat fresh fish for dinner. DSC04107Although our group only caught kaku, some other people were also able to catch some decent sized papio and because we were fishing on private property, Hawaii state size limits didn’t apply and they were able to take home fish even if some of them may have been undersized.  When we got to shore, there was wash area on the dock where we were able to wash off our gear and clean our fish.  We were really happy not have to scale our fish at home in our tiny apartment.  DSC04125Ev’s fish ended up being a little over a foot long and it was just enough to feed the three of us for dinner that night.  Ev fried up the kaku with some seasoned salt and we ate our fish with poi and choi sum.  DSC04130Overall, we had a lot of fun and it was a bonus that we got dinner out of the fishing event as well.  It was a super fun (and exhausting) day fishing.DSC03984