Meet Mike Hennessy, a Hawaiin guide who tends to jump around on the species list. He even crosses the cultural border into some deepsea guided trips; however, his specialty seems to be landing 12-16 pound bones that run the flats of Hawaii. We are excited to add Mike to our ongoing blog series “Behind the Guides” presented by Costa Sunglasses.
Flylords: Describe yourself.
Mike Hennessy: My name is Captain Mike Hennessy, and I’m basically a fly fishing guide. I cross the cultural boundaries of the fishing world… I do offshore fishing and tournament captain fishing for giant marlin and tunas, but I also love to fly fish. Anything from small rainbow trout to the biggest bonefish in the world. I also guide in places like Hawaii and Christmas Island chasing GTs and triggerfish. So pretty much everything. If it swims, I’m going for it. And I think that’s kind of who I am.
Flylords: What does your schedule look like in a year?
Mike Hennessy: I would say I’m quite nomadic. My daughter is on the World Surfing Tour, so I travel around the world with her. When I’m not doing that, I’m either in Fiji chasing tuna and marlin at Namotu Island, or I’m on Cabo San Lucas fishing the big marlin tournaments. I then shoot over sometimes and chase roosterfish with Lance Peterson, that’s super fun. But really, my job is in Christmas Island hosting trips for Front Range Anglers. I like to go there about six, seven weeks a year and do multi-species training and hanging out with people there. I enjoy helping them pursue their dreams in a saltwater fishery that they may not be used to.
I probably do that still about two months a year mixed up. I was doing it 250 days a year seven days a week for the last 12 years, but I’ve kind of broke off a little bit. My two head guides are now taking over full-time for Hawaii and the fly company. I just go in sometimes and try to catch that 12, 14 pounder when I can.
Flylords: What are your favorite species when abroad?
One of my favorites to this day is the Hawaiian bonefish because of how technical and large they are. I think the Hawaiian bonefish is the most challenging of everything. I’m kind of at the point in my career where I want to do the most challenging thing there is to do for my soul.
Flylords: How have you seen the fishery in Hawaii change over the last 12 years?
Mike Hennessy: I would say one thing that has changed would be the fish have gotten smarter like they do in every fishery. Another major change is that they’re bigger and there’s more of them now. Thanks to the two or three different guide services, we have really made a big push on conservation and make efforts in helping the Department of Land and National Resources (DLNR). We educate on catch and release and are proactive in stopping the gillnetting. There’s a bunch of illegal gillnetting going on in the early days. I think we’ve really curbed that as a team. Basically, it’s a culture of Hawaii to keep the fishery awesome.
My main partner, Kenny, has been solid with doing that with different guides from other islands as well. So it’s kind of become a whole Hawaii movement to protect such a cool resource. The bonefish don’t really have any natural predators there, besides sharks, maybe some giant trevally, so we just kind of let them do their thing, and it just gets better and better.
Flylords: What is the biggest bonefish you’ve caught in Hawaii?
Mike Hennessy: Well, the biggest one a client caught was 16-1/2 pounds, but that was on a spinning rod. It was funny because the guy had never fished before and he thought they were all that big. Personally, my biggest is 13.8 pounds and then my head guy Kenny also caught that exact same fish 13.8 pounder six months later. It was missing a scale, so we could tell it was the same. Anywhere from the 12 to 16-pound range is pretty rare, but we have seen them weigh above that. You just can’t stop ’em, because of all the coral. So even if you hook ’em, catching them becomes a whole different issue. It’s epic just to see it unfold.
Flylords: What makes Hawaii a unique fishery for these fish?
Mike Hennessy: That’s one of the million-dollar questions, “Why do they get so big in Hawaii?” I think they get that big everywhere, to tell you the truth. The reason I think we have more chances and more shots at big ones is because of the environment. The environment meaning, there are not that many flats. Everything in fishing, whether it’s marlin or bonefish or anything, it’s all about compression. When you have fewer flats, you’re gonna have more times where those bigger fish are gonna come onto those flats. They can’t spread out and start hunting another flat… In Hawaii, there’s very few due to the big volcano we live on.
When fish get over about 16 pounds, they actually change their diet and start eating in deeper waters. Everywhere in the world, it’s the same way, they just can’t survive on eating shrimp alone. Luckily in Hawaii, we have such a big bait source. The big meta shrimp are on the flats and they get up to four inches quite often. So there’s enough food for the really big ones to come and since it’s compression at the same time, you have more shots at big fish. That’s the real magic of Hawaii.
Flylords: Tell me how you compare surfing and fly fishing?
Mike Hennessy: You can compare them in that you’re reading nature. You start predicting different waves coming at certain times and incoming tides. It’s almost the exact same with bonefish. I can say, “You guys watch over by these mangroves at 10:00, on that incoming tide, the 10 pounders are going to come over that ledge.” Well, its’ kind of the same with surfing. You learn to read nature, you learn to read weather reports, and you can kind of base your immediate future on paying attention to nature. I think that’s what fly fishing and surfing have in common.
Flylords: Which one do you think is more difficult?
Mike Hennessy: The more time you spend on anything, the less difficult it gets. A lot of people call it the rule of 10,000 hours. So, if you put 10,000 hours into surfing, it’s gonna seem pretty easy, and same with bonefishing. I think that’s why you get guides, it’s because you’re actually feeding on my 40,000 hours. If you only have 500 hours, it might bring you to the 3,000 mark and you now have a chance. But you definitely don’t have a chance paddling a pipeline on three hours of surfing. So it’s all about putting your time in.
Flylords: If you had one tip for people to catch a bonefish, what would it be?
Mike Hennessy: To slow down. That’s it.
If you slow down everything you do, walk slower, cast slower, set the hook slower, tie your flies slower, tie your leaders on slower – Just slow down, and it makes everything else seem a lot easier, and you’re gonna catch a lot more fish.
Flylords: If you had one fly to use for bonefish, what would it be?
Mike Hennessy: Well, of course, it’d be one of the ones that I tie, but there’s one that’s called an Itchy Scratchy. It’s amazing, but I would say my Crab Two is pretty insane. That’s two flies, not one, so this is the trick, you have to have a crab fly and you have to have a shrimp fly for bonefish. It’s like a hatch for trout, they’re eating something, or they’re eating something else. They switch from crab to shrimp quite often and then you can get more technical and go to colors.
Flylords: What are your favorite Costa shades?
Mike Hennessy: The Corbina with green lenses. That one’s incredible. With others, you have to maybe change lenses. For cloudy, you gotta go lighter lens, and if it’s super bright you can go a little darker. However, this lens seems to cover all the bases!
Flylords: If somebody is preparing for a bonefish trip, what’s something that they can prepare for before they go out?
Mike Hennessy: I think it’s just like when you first go trout fishing, you start learning to look through the water to see the fish, instead of looking at the water. I notice even when I go trout fishing, I don’t see much fish at the first few hours and then I start learning to know where to look. I think people practicing that is very important. Also to stay looking in the water. People start wandering, looking at rainbows and clouds and things… You gotta stay in the zone, almost like a robot. You must stay looking through the water, where you think the fish are gonna be. The more you do it, the more you start realizing where you’re supposed to be looking, and you’re not wasting energy fishing or looking in the wrong spot.
Also, practicing to cast. You don’t really have to have a super double hull, but you need to practice your timing casting into the wind, and a little bit side wind, because of everyone practices downwind. Downwind makes them look good.
Flylords: Does your daughter fish at all?
Mike Hennessy: Brisa fishes a little bit. She used to love to come out to the Honolulu for bonefish. Actually, her favorite thing was spotting the tailing fish. There are these old World War II tires from the old tanks and stuff, that she’d stand up on when she was about eight years old. From there, she could spot across toward the Mangroves for the tailers and she’d go, “Dad, there’s one tailing over there!” And we’d sneak over there together and I’d hook in and she’d reel it in. Which is actually hard for kids, because on fly reels, the handle spins around at 8,000 miles an hour.
It’s was neat because one of our spots in Hawaii we can surf and then literally where the wave stops, the bonefish start. We can surf and then fish on the same reef. It was pretty cool.
Flylords: Who started bonefishing in Hawaii?
Mike Hennessy: Well, my original partner, Dave Hill, he got a little aluminum Jon boat from Montana and made a two by four culling platform and he shipped it to Hawaii. He then just started palling around with a stick and that’s how we did it in the first couple of years. There were a few other guys that did it walking around and it just kind of evolved. We always knew they were there. Jimmy Buffett caught about a 15 pounders in 1975, there’s a picture of him with the float plane on the sand bar that’s pretty amazing, but he kept it secret.
My dad and I used to catch them there. In 1978 I caught my first one fishing off the back of a sailboat on that same sand bar. We’ve been catching fish there forever, the fly thing didn’t really catch on really until the mid-2000s or something.
Photos by Flylords Photographer, Jesse Packwood.