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Ko‘olau Loa is only a short drive from urban Honolulu—same island, oceans apart. Abraham Akau, paniolo, Kualoa Ranch
Vol. 10, No. 2
April / May 2007

  >>   The Drive-By Coast
  >>   Coop Dreams
  >>   Reel Artisans

Reel Artisans (Page 3)

Hawaiian fishermen have many kinds of lures to choose from. In Nervous Water, a small shop in O‘ahu’s Kaimuki neighborhood, you can buy hand-tied flies and the old feather lures used by the akule fishermen. Umi Kai, a Hawaiian craftsman, will make you a traditional luhe‘e, an old Hawaiian squid lure fashioned from koa, cowry, stone and bone. Mark White, a potter and ceramics maker on Kaua‘i, produces beautifully finished ceramic plugs, glazed in black and red and gold and green. He molds them from clays with high aluminum content, so they’re extraordinarily durable and come with lifetime guarantees. But, on the shelf in Brian’s Fishing Supply, they look like mysterious artifacts from a Japanese tea ceremony. I asked Brian Kimata, the owner of the store, his opinion about topwater lures. “The best ones are the Olapa lures,” he says, and gestures to a Pili-like lure on the shelf.

Allan Yashimoto makes Olapa lures out of his home on Wilhelmina Rise. His house sits on a slope so steep that the basement workshop looks out and down onto Diamond Head—surely the best view of a workshop anywhere. It’s basically a woodworker’s shop (Allan and his father built his home) with a broad, clean workbench, and lumber tidily stowed by size in overhead racks. There’s no sawdust on the floor.

Allan is a meticulous worker. He makes only a limited number of lures, and he makes them with great precision. To help me understand the process, he unloads Tupperware boxes of old lures, parts and material onto the workbench. He shows me prototypes and jigs and engineer drawings of lures. He pulls out the kinds of lures the epoxy ones replaced, the wooden pencil poppers and broomstick lures that sufficed before the Pili. And then he walks me through the construction of a lure: shaping and painting the foam core, bending the wire rigging, filling the silicone-rubber molds with the polyurethane. All the steps laid out twenty years ago by Peter Dunn-Rankin.

Allan is quick to acknowledge his debt to Peter. “His chapter on lure making was my bible,” he says. After reading Fishing the Reefs, he wrote to Peter about fishing and lure making and Peter invited him to his workshop to see how he made the Pili. Even today, Allan says Peter is the reason he still makes lures. Ever the perfectionist, Allan was disappointed in the old polyester epoxies. “It was an inferior product,” he says. “I considered getting out of the business; I couldn’t see selling my lures to people if they broke so easily. Thanks to Pete, we’re now using this polyurethane resin.” Like Peter, he bounces lures off the floor to emphasize their strength.

In some ways, Allan and Peter are a study in contrasts. Allan is sedate, reserved and contemplative. He speaks slowly and in complete paragraphs. Peter is a talker, and his mind and conversation roam back and forth over a wide range of interests. You have to pay attention to keep up with him. But both men are precise and measured and systematic. Maybe that’s the nature of great craftsmen. Maybe it’s the nature of great fishermen.

Once, after showing me photographs from some old fishing trips, Peter said, “Let’s have a sandwich.” I watched as he organized the slices of multigrain bread on a butcher’s block in the center of his kitchen. He evenly coated one side of each sandwich with mayonnaise, and then carefully spread ham salad on the other side so that it reached precisely to the edge of the crust on all four sides. He added three identical slices of avocado and two leaves of romaine to each sandwich, centered them on celadon plates, and served them with fresh-squeezed limeade. Like any number of ulua before me, I thought to myself, “That looks delicious.” HH