Why Are Hawaii’s Freshwater Fish Records So Darn Small?

Hawaii is famous for producing numerous and sizable saltwater fish, but the state also contains many freshwater fishing spots. However, for a state with warm average temperatures, the size of the its record fish found throughout America is downright pathetic.

First, the disclaimer. Hawaii’s state record channel catfish, a 43 pound 13 ounce monster taken in 1974 from Lake Wilson, ranks tenth nationally. However, Hawaii’s state record largemouth, a nine pound 9.4 ounce fish taken in 1992 from Waita Reservoir, only tops the state record largemouths of  South Dakota (9 lbs 3 oz); Montana (8 lbs 13 oz); North Dakota (8 lbs 7 oz) and Wyoming (7 lbs 14 oz).

Hawaii’s smallmouth bass record, which recently increased from less than four pounds four ounces to one-third ounce less than five pounds (4.98 lbs)still ranks dead last among states that actually have a smallmouth bass record.

The state reccord for rainbow trout is five pounds ten ounces and only the state of Mississippi has a smaller state record rainbow (2.96 lbs).

However, it is Hawaii’s state record bluegill that really stands out. At only eight ounces in weight, it is easily the smallest of any state that has bluegills (Alaska doesn’t have bluegills). In fact, every other state bluegill record is at least 2.9 times heavier than Hawaii’s state record bluegill. To put it another way, Alabama, with a cooler climate than Hawaii, has a state record bluegill of four pounds 12 ounces – nine and a half times as heavy.

Thinking that Hawaii’s relatively new state recordx tilapia, which weighed four pounds three ounces might be more in line with the tilapia records of other states, I found that, once again, Hawaii’s record tilapia didn’t measure up to the records for southern states such as Florida (9 lbs 6 oz); Texas (8 lbs 4 oz); Arizona (7 lbs 15 oz) and California (6 lbs). However, the tilapia records for Idaho (4 lbs 7 oz) and Arkansas (2 lbs 7 oz) were somewhat smaller than the more southern states.

Try as I might, I couldn’t come up with sufficient reasons for Hawaii’s inability to produce outsized freshwater fish. I realized that because of Hawaii’s very warm water, the fish might have fairly short lifespans. I also thought that because of Hawaii’s heavy rainfall, the water might be relatively nutrient free. I decided to call Hawaii and speak to a freshwater biologist.

The lady I spoke to was both gracious and helpful. She told me that the food chain was very weak and that in most waters, fish such as largemouth bass were unable to compete on an even basis with the far more prolific peacock bass present in most of the same waters.

Fish generally live faster and have shorter lifespans in warmer water – factors that are almost always offset by faster growth. In more northern waters, fish such as largemouth bass have to reach a minimum size (usually around two to two and a half inches) to make it through their first winter. But in Hawaii’s case, the infertile waters do not allow for faster growth due to high metabolism, but the lack of seasonal change allows slow-growing newly hatched bass to grow more slowly and still survive because they do not have to endure harsh winters.

So the slow growth rate and short lifespans combine to limit the maximum size of most freshwater fish species in the state. In other words, the small maximum sizes of many of Hawaii’s freshwater fish is due to an almost “perfect storm” of limiting factors. That said, Hawaii has some enjoyable freshwater fishing, but if you want to catch real lunkers, you should try Hawaii’s wonderful saltwater fishing.

About Pete Heley

Writes and self-publishes Oregon and Washington fishing books.

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