Midway for a Day
|By Mike House, Sportfish Hawaii
As Aloha Airlines flight 475 touched down safely on the runway and slowed to taxi speed, the plane suddenly veered a little bit right, then back to the left. A moment later, the captain hit the brakes hard, bringing the 737 to a fairly abrupt, but well-controlled halt. Alone in total darkness on a runway somewhere in the Pacific, the passengers looked at each other with a somewhat puzzled look, wondering if we were at the gate or if there was some type of problem.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," came the reassuring voice over the public address. "Just sit tight for a moment, were still not at the terminal yet. There are a couple of birds on the runway that we have to wait for." To this, the enthusiastic crowd began to chuckle with an obliging tone, almost as if this evasive maneuver was part of the show wed been a part of for several hours. But as a Laysan Albatross loped across the runway and came into view in the landing light on the left side of the aircraft, the chuckles soon turned into shouts of unabated laughter. George, as all the Albatross are affectionately named on Midway, had welcomed us to his home, but immediately let us know who was boss.
||Such is the daily routine on Midway, where
some two million birds rule the roost and claim absolute right of way over humans at every
intersection, walkway, lawn, and even the runway. Our tour, reserved for guests of Midway
Phoenix Corporation, Aloha Airlines, and Destination: Midway, began with the US Fish and
Wildlife Service presenting a video about our pending trip to this famous atoll in the
Pacific. The footage in the made-for-TV documentary was spectacular and exceptionally well
produced, yet it only showed a mere fragment of what we should expect when we arrived.
The courteous Aloha Airlines and Midway Phoenix staff then checked us in, loaded us onto the historic flight, and after we arrived at the Midway terminal following the quick game of "Dodge the Gooney," we were greeted like royalty. The plane was locked up and the keys went with the pilot, as everyone on board this special flight was to experience Midway for a day.
|Our bags were taken directly to our
comfortable rooms, and we were all invited to a reception at the recently constructed,
open beam, light and airy Captain Brooks tavern.
Bearing in mind this passenger load more than tripled the population of the island for the day, it was easy to see the look of horror that came over the bartenders faces as we invaded their normally placid workplace. Nobody complained about the line as the friendly tenders worked feverishly; Midways magical environment held everyone in its trance, eliminated all stress and time no longer mattered.
I took the opportunity to visit Midway seriously. Of the twenty-three hours the group was on the island, I was awake for about twenty of them. After strolling along Pavillion Beach, a.k.a. North Beach, well after midnight, listening to the calls of the wild and gazing out at the wide and fluffy, yet empty dunes, I knew I couldnt allow this magical moment pass by sleeping through it. I decided a solo stroll through town center and a quick tour of the streets and paths were in order, but I soon realized there is no such thing as being solo on this island.
Not wanting to disturb the birds engaged in various activities, I was careful to stay on the streets, listening to the endless whistles, shrills, and the clacking of beaks reminiscent of the sound a directors board that identifies a scene for the camera makes. Curiously, the entire island felt like a movie set, because nothing I had ever witnessed in real life resembled this.
|Amazed by the endless fields of white heads
that filled the lawns like thick, lush carpet, I discovered during the night that
Albatross settle down considerably while the tree birds carry on the music. I wandered the
streets unaccompanied, yet not alone in this mystical haven.
A short night in the sack ended abruptly at a quarter to six, but filled with adrenaline I arose easily for an early morning visit to the beach to witness the Midway sunrise. A small weather front came through the morning we were there so I didnt get to see the sun peek over the horizon, but as the dark sky gave way to the first rays of light, the Albatross were ready to greet the new day as well. As more light filled the sky, so did the endless pairs of wings. Soon, the air was filled with thousands of goonies, touring up and down the beach as though they were warming up their engines, waiting for the green light to roar across the intersection of freedom.
||With an average span of six feet, the flight
of the Laysan Albatross is in stark contrast to their lumbering gait and clumsy take-off.
Airborne, they are masters of flight, with the ability to soar effortlessly with the
breezes of the ocean. They also become quiet during flight, perhaps to conserve energy for
their busy day of fishing ahead. And, perhaps most surprisingly, the island was not filled
with their deposits. Despite such a robust population of birds inhabiting the island for
so long, Midway is clean and the smell is of salt air, a refreshing surprise.
A morning orientation after a wonderful breakfast in the Clipper House, a fine French restaurant, was followed by a bus tour around the island. We were fortunate to see a Hawaiian monk seal, one of the more endangered land mammals on the planet, in its natural environment, laying on the beach like a piece of driftwood washed ashore. Most of the beaches on Midway are off limits to humans so as to not disturb the natural setting for the seals, and perhaps as a result of this renewed mutual trust, the seals have begun bearing their pups on Midway again for the first time in decades.
|We also saw the flighty red-tailed tropic bird in amongst the Laysan and Blackfooted Albatross, and our special treat for the day was a close-up view of the short-tailed Albatross - the "golden gooney" - one of the rarest and most endangered species of bird in the world. Afterward, it was back to the Clipper House for a fantastic lunch consisting of beef tenderloin, potatoes, asparagus and a salad that was grown in the islands own hydro-ponic garden. I later asked if the service and food were so impressive because of the nature of our trip, but I was assured more than once that the French wait staff and chef were standard issue and all guests receive the royal treatment.|
||The Clipper House and Captain Brooks tavern are the two curious anomalies at Midway. Most of the buildings are of pre-war and war era design and construction, but these two structures, built of modern design, stand adjacent to one another at opposite ends of a wooden catwalk; only a few yards yet almost a hundred years away from the first buildings of the island, the Trans-Pacific telegraph buildings. Though out of place if erected in the town center, both the Clipper House and the tavern stand nicely blended into the trees overlooking Pavilion Beach, and their presence serve as a welcome reassurance of the presence of civilization for the traveling adventurer.|
|Great Offshore Fishing
Midway is famous not only for its bird population and the historic battle during World War II, but it is truly a fishing experience as well. Six species of Billfish can be caught offshore here (Blue, Black and Striped Marlin, Spearfish, Sailfish and Broadbill Swordfish), along with Mahimahi, Ono, Ahi, Aku, Kaku, and the occasional Kahala and Ulua. Marlin production is good to great during the season, too, and it is just a matter of time before the coveted Grander is captured. Many skippers also believe the next IGFA Blue Marlin record will come from Midway as well.
Some fishing critics have suggested the offshore fishing on the atoll hasnt been as good as advertised, but its important to keep things in perspective. First, Midway is a wildlife refuge and US Fish and Wildlife has greatly limited human access to the waters, meaning fishing pressure is practically non-existent. With only two boats operating offshore, the season at about seven months, and having only been open for three seasons, the Midway offshore boats have foraged these waters for a total of less than 1,000 boat days of effort. Even the known producing areas in Kona, Maui, Oahu and Kauai would have trouble producing large numbers of big fish with this lack of fishing effort, so the key to measuring the quality of Midways offshore fishery is to measure the numbers of Marlin raised, struck, and released on a boat for boat basis. And when you compare it on that basis, other fisheries around the world would be hard-pressed to measure up.
Midway's Captain Chris Sheeder won the AFTCO Tag Flag Award for the most Blue & Black marlin released by any single captain in the Pacific last year -- topping even Kona's best! And Captain Lincoln Ahlo was right behind him with nearly as many fish. Sheeder also released one estimated grander last year, maybe two, and Ahlo released the largest black in Hawaii last year estimated at 800-900 pounds. Suffice it to say the only doubters about the quality of Midway's offshore fishery are those who haven't fished there yet.
Inshore Fishing Even Better
Inside the protected areas of the lagoon created by a natural reef that fully encompasses the three islands, anglers can spend their days flyfishing, casting, and jigging for several types of inshore species. The most ferocious and coveted fish of the lagoon is the Ulua or Giant Trevally, while the Uku (Gray Snapper) also makes for some interesting battles. Moi and a flurry of other reef-dwelling species can also be caught, and of all the Hawaiian islands, Midway is the only one that offers anglers all these smaller species of fish in abundance along with the protection of a reef that keeps the seas down to comfortable fishing levels in all but the worst conditions.
Glacier Bay 26 ready for action in the lagoon
||After spending an afternoon with Midways
fishing manager Bill Boagey (pronounced Bo-GAY) and inspecting the tackle, gear, and the
boats, it became abundantly clear that Midway Sportfishing is serious and committed to
providing the traveling angler with a first-class experience. Seventeen world records have
been tallied with the IGFA so far, and with a list of tackle longer than at most sporting
goods stores available for anglers, trips can be customized for any need, want, desire, or
dream. And from onshore day trips at Bulky Dump or Rusty Bucket to overnighters to the
nearby Nero and Ladd seamounts, every single piece of tackle strictly adheres to IGFA
standards so anyone with a dream has a good shot at seeing his or her name in the record
Flyfishing gear is also provided for those wishing to go that route without having to travel with their gear, and for anglers who would like to try flyfishing for the first time, lessons will be available as well. Midway is the perfect environment to try out this type of fishing that is taking the world by storm.
Parents of younger children can also seize the opportunity to fish Midway. With the IGFA opening new classes of records to younger age groups in the past couple of years, the book is virtually wide open for all sorts of line classes and age groups. Anyone who has ever dreamed of seeing their name next to a world record should look to Midway, home of almost twenty records in just three years.
Though Midway is only about 1,200 acres, roughly the size of Kalaupapa Peninsula on the North shore of Molokai, twenty-three hours on the island just wasnt enough to see it all. I missed the boat tour to the Eastern island, and I only had about an hour to shore fish off of Bulky Dump. Though we chummed and managed to get a 50-60 pound Ulua in the area along with a Galapagos shark, we werent able to get it to bite. But just seeing the fish in the water within a few minutes of being there told me Midways fishery was special. Finally, as the clock peeled me away from the fishing platform, I reluctantly jumped on my rental bike and headed back to the hotel, gathered my things, and prepared to fly back home.
|As I ate dinner with one of the rangers in
the "galley," a cafeteria-style restaurant that normally serves lunch for
visitors, I kept thinking about my return trip and what might happen if I
"accidentally" missed the plane. Apparently, many of the employees of both US
Fish and Wildlife and Midway Phoenix have heard that before, because when I asked what the
consequences would be, they simply replied, "No problem! We'd love to have you
another week until the next flight comes
you just have to pay for the
Midway has been a life-altering place for many people, visitors, employees, and military alike. For those veterans who served in the battle of Midway, perhaps their experience wasnt so positive, but for anyone who ventures to the atoll now that the Navy has restored it as close to natural as possible, it will be a moving experience. Whether a visitor fishes, dives, does an eco-tour, or spends a day thinking about the next time there will be a chance to visit the island, Midway, the tiny atoll in the Pacific teeming with wildlife, will be an experience that wont be forgotten.