The clear, rushing rivers winding through Hawaii’s lush green valleys and canyons offer prime fly fishing opportunities for anglers. I’ve had the pleasure of exploring many of the islands’ rivers in search of trout, bass, and other fish eager to strike a well-presented fly.
Through trial and error, I’ve discovered which rivers give you the best shot at hooking fish. But not all rivers are created equal when it comes to fly fishing. Selecting the right location is crucial for success.
Choosing the Best Fly Fishing Rivers
When selecting top fly fishing rivers, there are a few key factors I consider:
Abundant Hatches Attract Fish
An excellent fly fishing river needs to have the bugs and aquatic life trout feed on. Hawaii’s rivers have hatches of Diptera caddisflies, mayflies, stoneflies, and midges that fish key in on. The more bountiful the hatch, the more fish it draws in. I look for rivers known to have major hatches.
A Healthy Trout Population
Wild rainbow and brown trout thrive in certain Hawaii rivers, while others are routinely stocked. I target rivers in prime trout habitat and those the state stocks multiple times a year. Places like Koke’e State Park on Kauai receive over 15,000 rainbow trout annually. More trout means more targets for your fly.
The Right Stream Size and Structure
Ideal fly fishing rivers have pools, riffles, and runs for trout habitat. Bigger rivers allow you to cast longer lines and drift flies more naturally. But smaller streams and creeks can yield trophy trout too. It depends on the structure and food sources. I assess size, features, and typical flows.
Accessibility and Permits
Some exceptional trout fishing rivers might be difficult to access or require special use permits. It’s important to research regulations in the area first. All freshwater fishing in Hawaii requires a license. I factor accessibility and permit needs into choosing locations.
My Top 4 Rivers for Fly Fishing in Hawaii
After researching and fishing many of Hawaii’s rivers, I’ve come to favor certain spots as the cream of the crop for fly fishing opportunities. Here are my top picks:
1. Wailuku River – Maui
The lengthy Wailuku River is one of Maui’s fly fishing gems. It holds bass, native catfish, and introduced populations of largemouth bass, bluegill, and tilapia eager to take streamers, nymphs, and dry flies. The upper reaches tend to be more rewarding for fly rodders. I recommend the areas around Happy Valley, Waikapu, and Waihee for bountiful action on panfish, bass, and catfish with few other anglers in sight.
2. Waipio Stream – Oahu
Waipio Stream on Oahu winds through rich estuary habitat before meeting the ocean. The varying environments it passes through give fly casters shots at different species. I’ve taken trout, largemouth bass, panfish, and even bonefish on flies in Waipio Stream. It offers both wild trout higher up and stocked trout in the lower reaches. Various access points provide lots of fishing variety. But only lighter weight fly tackle works well in the small winding stream.
3. Waimea River – Kauai
For numbers and size of trout, it’s hard to compete with the phenomenal wild rainbow fishery in the Waimea River on Kauai’s west side. From its headwaters down to the mouth, the Waimea churns through prime trout habitat. And the state stocks over 15,000 trout annually in the entire Koke’e region. Those fish eventually make it down to the Waimea too. From remote rugged pools to more easily accessed areas, it serves up trout after trout for fly rodders.
4. Wailuku River – Hawaii Island
Hawaii Island’s version of the Wailuku River stretches from the slopes of Mauna Kea through historic Hilo town on its way to the ocean. A portion of the river even flows underground! Known for big rainbow trout specimens up to 10 pounds, the Wailuku holds plenty of feisty stocked trout for fly fishing. When the trout disappear into hidden underground sections, smallmouth bass, native catfish, and excited peacock bass take over as targets.
More Questions About Fly Fishing Hawaii’s Rivers
To wrap things up, here are answers to a few frequently asked questions I get about tackling Hawaii’s rivers to fly fish. You can read more about river fishing for beginners here.
What flies work best on Hawaii’s trout rivers?
Attractor patterns like Humpies, Royal Wulffs, stimulator flies, and hopper patterns get strikes. For subsurface drifts, Pheasant Tail nymphs, Hare’s Ear nymphs, and Prince nymphs produce. And large streamers tempt the lunker trout. I switch flies until I find what’s working.
Do I need any special tackle or gear?
A 9 foot 5 weight fly rod with floating line handles most Hawaii trout fishing situations. Sink tip line helps get streamers down to the bigger fish. Pack climbing rope to reach remote backcountry pools if venturing deep into steep valleys. And wear durable boots that stick to slippery rocks.
When’s the best time to fly fish for trout?
Early mornings and evenings tend to be most productive in Hawaii’s warmer rivers. The brighter overhead sun of mid-day sends trout seeking cover. Fishing after recent stocking days can be particularly rewarding too since trout haven’t learned to be as wary yet.
Do I need a permit to fish Hawaii’s rivers?
Yes, all freshwater fishing in Hawaii requires a license. Some areas also have special stamps or permits needed to access pristine watershed regions. Do your homework so you don’t get cited for fishing some exceptional waters without the proper authorization.
Well, hopefully this breakdown gets you excited about planning a fly fishing trip to Hawaiian rivers near you soon. With a little preparation and insider knowledge on the best spots, you’ll be hooking up with beautiful rainbow trout in no time.