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It’s not too often that a new and truly virgin fishing destination comes on line. But that is what is happening some 1,200 miles northwest of Honolulu, Hawaii, on some tiny specks of land under the jurisdiction of the US government called Midway Atoll. One of the most remote groups of island on Earth, the atoll has been used since its discovery in 1859 as a telegraph relay station and a strategic air and naval base by the US military. It was also the focal point of a fierce and decisive World War II battle known as the Battle of Midway.
Long out of the limelight, Midway remained an important outpost of the Cold War. Remote and unvisited by anyone except servicemen, it has also become an important wildlife area, especially since 1988 when the atoll was officially designated a US National Wildlife Refuge.
Now, a new day is dawning over Midway. The US Department of Defense plans to close the Naval Air Station here by next year and phase out all operations. The decision to do that several years ago raised questions about who would provide operations and logistical support for the National Wildlife Refuge. At one point, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) considered leaving the atoll entirely, or leaving only a remote field camp in place. Neither move seemed to offer a level of management that would benefit the wildlife resources on Midway, however. So, last December, USFWS published a request for proposals seeking a private partner who would provide operational support for the refuge in return for the right to operate a revenue-producing, public-use program.
The company submitting the successful bid is called Midway Phoenix Corporation, and its parent company is Phoenix Air based in Georgia. One of the public-use opportunities available under a cooperative agreement between USFWS and Midway Phoenix is sportfishing. And that is what has edge-walkers in the international sportfishing fraternity champing at the bit. Because the atoll has been a military base for so many years, it has been off-limits to the public and not visited by sportfishermen. Due to its remoteness, it has seldom been fished by commercial interests either. The only anglers who have fished the area in years are a few individuals from the Navy base. Their effect has been negligible.
The anglers who are most excited about Midway are blue water fanatics, whose interests largely fall outside the purview of this newsletter. Suffice it to say, the marlin, wahoo, dolphinfish and tuna angling should be superb. Records may fall. Not to be overlooked here is the inshore angling which should also be superb – and do-able by fly and light tackle anglers. The species that are expected to be available include trevally and amberjack, among others.
As this issue goes to press, the first anglers are arriving on Midway. Awaiting them are two famed guides. The first is Capt. Roddy Hays of Madeira, an island off the coast of Africa. Hays has been hired as director of fishing. He has to his credit more than 200 marlin catches – 38 of which were over 1,000 pounds. The inshore honcho is Capt. Ed Hughes, a pioneer in saltwater fly fishing, as well as an Orvis-endorsed guide and fly fishing instructor. The inshore fishery will take place in the eight-square-mile lagoon that separates the three islands that make up Midway.
There is an unusual wrinkle to the inshore fly fishing at Midway. Seems the reef that surrounds the atoll has been breached and a 40 X 40-foot channel has been excavated to allow submarines to reach docking facilities. This is expected to mean that some species not normally available inshore may be on tap in the lagoon.
As for the blue water fishery, that will occur from three to 20 miles offshore around a series of seamounts that rise from the ocean floor at 2,500 fathoms all the way up to 14 fathoms. Both conventional and fly fishing tackle will be available to offshore anglers.
Midway Sport Fishing (*)(the name of the entity within Midway Phoenix Corporation that is offering the fishing) has created a seven-day package trip that incudes a 3 1/2-hour charter flight from Lihue, Kauai, in the Hawaiian Islands; accommodations in former officers’ quarters refurbished to hotel standards; meals; and all fishing services. The current program is set up to provide three days of offshore action on 38-foot custom-fitted Bertram III’s and three days of inshore light tackle/fly fishing in new Glacier Bay Catamarans.
With the exception of fish to be consumed on the island and certain world records, Midway is a catch-and-release operation. As for activities other than fishing, the island has tennis courts, a gym and a movie theater; plus, of course, there are tours available to historic sites and to remote parts of the National Wildlife Refuge to see huge flocks of ground-nesting birds.
The drawback to all this is the price tag. It’s a hefty $6,500 per week, per person based on double occupancy in rooms and boats, making it possibly the most expensive week of fishing in the world. Unless the price can be reduced and/or the fishing turns out to be extraordinary, the trip is destined to have limited appeal. Trips to Midway can be booked directly with Midway Sport Fishing; or through various agents including Frontiers (*). – Gary Kramer.