Kaua‘i Remembered: Wailua mauka

I was a loner as a young boy; this way I didn’t get into any trouble and get spanked.

I would go down to the big pool below the house with an empty bucket, swim across the pool and climb the rocky bank on the other side and then walk upstream to the long shallow pool where I would look for gold fish.

When I spotted one that looked nice and golden I would get into the water as quietly as possible and follow the fish until he tired and go under a rock to hide. Then I would dive down and try to catch it with my hands. There were a lot of misses but I got pretty good at catching the fish. When I got one I would put it in the bucket with some water to keep it alive.

Some days all I would get was one but at other times I would get lucky and catch two or three.

When I felt that I had enough I would walk back to where I had climbed out of the big pool and go to a small lily pool that we had in the yard. Here I would let the fish go. Then something strange happened to the goldfish, they were disappearing.

By watching carefully I found that our tiger cat Sunshine was a better fisherman than I was. He was the culprit. One swipe with his paw and another gold fish bit the dust. Sunshine felt this was much easier than chasing rats and mice and better eating too.

Catching frogs was another pastime but this would be done at night. One evening, one of our young maids that we had working for us and I went out with only a kerosene lantern for light and we caught just over three dozen frogs in about an hour. This girl’s father was a rice planter, so she knew what she was doing. We caught them by grabbing them off the banks of the ditch that ran through our property. We caught them by hand so that we didn’t have to butcher them that night, but I had to clean all of them by myself the next day.

The annual run to the sea by the native goby, or o‘opu  nakea (adult goby), in early September was always eagerly awaited by the Hawaiians. Our fresh water animal life lived in the upper reaches of the streams and would migrate to the ocean’s edge to spawn, just the opposite of the salmon of North America.

After releasing their eggs and having the males fertilize them, the eggs hatched and moved into the ocean for a month. Then the larva morphed into baby o‘opu called hinana. Now they would start their journey upstream to the upper reaches of the rivers. One variety, the o‘opu no pili, had a big suction cup right under the gills, which enabled them to climb waterfalls where the o‘opu  nakea could not go. Both varieties were good eating.

The Hawaiians used a ramp type trap called ha or kahi, built of bamboo. The water would go between the bamboo stalks and the fish were left flapping on the ha.

The o‘opu  were about 12 to 14 inches long and weighed about one pound and had a large mouth. I could put my fist into the mouth of a big fish with no trouble. The fish always tasted a little muddy to me but the roe was delicious fried in butter.

The sad tale of the o‘opu was the diverting of the rivers into an irrigation system to irrigate the cane fields, and later the introduction of tilapia.

 The tilapia congregated at the mouths of the rivers and ate the hinana. The introduction of the large-mouthed bass and the tucunare haven’t helped and the same with man himself.

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