We Tried It: Fishing Farms Hawai‘i in Wahiawā
We rented rods, caught our lunch and had it cooked it up for us at a Wahiawā farm.
Hawai‘i may be surrounded by the ocean and sea life. But, if you don’t have a fisherman in the family, it can be challenging to get the gear and find a good place to cast a line. Then there’s the task of teaching your antsy kids patience as you wait hours for a nibble.
Here’s an alternative. Fishing Farms Hawai‘i (previously Ali‘i Agriculture Farms) offers families a chance to rent poles, go fishing and eat their fresh catch for about the price of a movie and lunch. It’s a great way to get outdoors, learn a skill and have a tasty, healthy meal together.
It is in Wahiawā, in the center of O‘ahu and about a 20-minute drive from the North Shore. The area is unique in Hawai‘i in that it has an abundance of fresh water in Lake Wilson and nearby reservoirs, which were used for decades of pineapple farming. Owner See Ba Thee, known as “T.C.,” bought a former pineapple field in 2009 and started growing sod. He built three ponds stocked with fish and used the manure for the grass. Soon, his friends asked if they could bring their children to catch the tilapia, catfish and grass carp. Next, boy scout and church groups began visiting and they had so much fun he opened his fishing business. Thee has also added a clear-water pool where families can catch large prawns. He is originally from Malaysia and says urban prawn fishing is a very popular activity for couples and families in Asia.
We went to Fishing Farms Hawai‘i on a Sunday morning with nothing more than the clothes on our backs and the hope of catching lunch. You’re greeted by a quaint green wooden fishing shack flanked by potted plants and barrels holding old-school bamboo fishing rods. The three ponds, each of which is nearly the size of an Olympic pool, are just behind and to the left. On the other side, a food truck and covered picnic tables wait for you to enjoy your catch.
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First, stop by the shack to rent rods. Each costs $15 and comes with a home-made dough bait infused with a “secret” ingredient that Thee says fish can’t resist. We picked up a bucket and poles for the four of us—Mom, Dad, and 5- and 3-year-old boys—and headed out. Thee only opens one pond at a time so he can rotate through the fish. Even with about 40 people around it, it didn’t feel crowded as the boys eagerly cast their lines.
As a child, I fished for guppies and crayfish with little nets in the streams around Mānoa, Makiki and Kānewai, but that’s where my experience with fishing ends. My husband went deep-sea fishing once during his bachelor party and accidentally caught the same shark three times! So, I wasn’t sure we’d be the cool fishing instructors our boys were hoping for. Luckily, it turned out that there wasn’t very much to learn. We let the lines sink up to the plastic bobbers, jiggled them a little and in a few minutes my husband and 5-year-old were yelling and reeling in a large tilapia. Pulling it out was simple. Getting it off the hook was harder. We tried to grab the slippery fish but couldn’t get a good grip. We yelped as it came unhooked and flip-flopped all over the ground. My husband was finally able to toss it into the bucket, earning high fives all around. We were giddy with excitement from our first wild and messy but successful catch.
I was put on bait duty, rolling marble-size balls of dough and sticking them onto the boys’ hooks. The fish expertly nibbled several off without getting snared. This was a little frustrating for our older son as we could see the tilapia swimming around and feel them tugging lightly but couldn’t get them to bite the hooks. All around us, every few minutes, we could hear families cheering as they pulled in another fish.
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My husband helped both our boys and a few minutes later he and our younger son were pulling in another large tilapia. Fortunately, another family nearby offered us a spare pair of gloves, so he was able to quickly unhook it. Our older son then caught and released several small fish. Thee gave us some advice, telling us to go to the far end of the pond and make sure the hooks sink all the way so the bottom feeders will see it. Our 5-year-old quickly took off, leaving the rest of us scrambling to grab the gear and follow him.
The suggestion paid off. In a few minutes, we pulled in a catfish. In about an hour, our haul included a 1-pound and a 1 1/2-pound tilapia and the 1-pound catfish. We were ready to eat.
You can buy the fish for $4 a pound and take it home. But, for an additional cost, Thee will cook it up right there. The preparation was part of the fun for my oldest. He watched the cooks remove the scales, gut and season our catch. The catfish was deep fried and served with shoyu and calamansi. This was our oldest son’s favorite dish, both because it was tasty and because he was so proud he caught it. Our younger son loved the tilapia which was deep fried and served with a sweet chili sauce. We had the third tilapia steamed “Chinese style” and garnished with cilantro, ginger, green onion, shoyu and fried garlic. Each dish was served with rice and furikake.
The only fish our boys will normally eat are salmon sushi, salmon poke and fish sticks. So, we were amazed to watch them fight over and finish off 3 pounds of tilapia and catfish! Do watch out for bones. For the less adventurous, the food truck also sells Spam musubi, hot dogs and chicken nuggets.
Our experience and meal for four cost about $70. It’s a little more than our usual North Shore shrimp truck lunch bill, but our boys have been begging to go back.
A morning of outdoor family fun, learning a skill and eating a healthy lunch—I think we’ll be making the drive back to Wahiawā soon.
Our Top 6 Tips
- Rent one fishing rod for each child and share with the adults. We ended up helping the boys anyway and didn’t use the poles we rented for ourselves.
- Bring gloves! The fish are very slippery, spiky and can be difficult to grab for novices.
- Don’t dress up. The pond is surrounded by Wahiawā’s signature red dirt so wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. You might want to pack a change of clothes for small children.
- Wear sunscreen and a hat. It can get hot and there is no shade so bring protection from the sun and a water bottle. Foldable chairs are also a good idea.
- Visit in the morning. Thee says the fish are most active between 10 and 11 a.m.
- Go before you go.There are no bathrooms, just an outhouse. It is clean and well kept but, as any outhouse would be, it is smelly.
- Fishing Farms Hawai‘i, 71-680 Whitmore Ave., Wahiawā
- $15 per rod and bait, $3 for each non-fishing person, $4 a pound to purchase fish to take home and cook. You can also pay extra to have the fish cleaned. $6 per fish, fried and served with spices, rice and furikake. $7 per fish, steamed and served with spices, rice and furikake.
- For prawns, you pay per hour and keep everything you catch during that time. Rates range from $25 for the first hour to $80 for four hours.
- Free and on site
- Fishing is available 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. The food truck is open on weekends and some holidays.
- (808) 690-0558