All the Way to Midway: Angling in a War Zone

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June 1942: Seven months after its attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Navy tried to ambush the American fleet at Midway. It backfired disastrously. After one of the greatest air and naval battles in history, the American forces won a crucial victory that turned the tide of the war against Japan.

I step onto the tarmac of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge from the Aloha Airlines 737. It is just after dark and the warm air is alive with the plaintive calls of 400,000 breeding pairs of Laysan albatross.

I cock my head toward a distant tree line. Was that the war cry of a long-dead Marine calling to his brother Leatherneck? Perhaps. Yes, perhaps it was.

I have come to Midway, nearly 1,200 miles north-northwest of Honolulu and far from my home in the Colorado Rockies in search of the mighty ulua, the name Hawaiians give the giant trevally.

This barbaric game fish is one very few fly fishers have ever encountered, and even fewer have defeated with the long rod.

Armed to the Teeth
With me is my mentor and old friend Dave Petzal, executive editor of Field & Stream. Dave took me up on my offer to visit this historic chunk of sand and coral and see if the stories could possibly be true—stories of gargantuan fish that head-butt sharks, destroy tackle, and humiliate anglers with near impunity.

As two old military men with a keen respect for a past, we're also here for the history. Naturally, we're armed to the teeth.

Dave brought his treasured collection of Winston fly rods and Abel reels. I packed an arsenal of seasoned (read: abused) tackle from Ross Reels, Orvis, Fly Logic, J.C. Rods, Abel, Phos Reels, and St. Croix.

But the mighty giant trevally isn't the only game in town. These waters also crawl with wahoo, yellowfin tuna, little tunny, bluefin trevally, amberjack, mahi mahi, and thick-lipped trevally. And we were pleasantly surprised by species like grouper and the Japanese yellowtail.

Walking toward the bus waiting to take us to the lodge, I was confident our tackle, skills, and experience would easily allow us to prevail over the majority of giant trevallys we would encounter. I was one-third correct—at least our tackle was equal to the task.

Article © Bob Newman, 2000

Bob Newman is the author of North American Fly Fishing, and his many articles have appeared in Field and Stream and Salt Water Sportsman, to name a few. Bob began fly fishing at age ten, and has taught catch-and-release techniques at L.L.Bean.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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