Fish swim just below the surface in surging water. The big fish are highfin chubs and the smaller fish are acute halfbeaks.
A variety of reef fish – including yellow tang, goldring surgeonfish, whitebar surgeonfish, brassy chub, and ember parrotfish – forage on a shallow rocky shelf.
The yellow chub in this photo is actually a gray chub, but a few individuals, such as this one, can be yellow, white, or multicolored. This one is something of a regular at one spot on the North Kohala coast.
The orangespine unicornfish is seen in many places along the coast and always has a grumpy look. In this case, it looks like it’s upset that the chub has swum into its territory.
On a recent swim I saw these two fish passing by. They looked like chubs, but not ones I’d seen before. I snapped a quick photo, not expecting it to be great, but hoping it would help me identify the fish. I need not have worried.
After they passed, they made a series of approaches and retreats. They appeared as curious about me as I was about them, which is something of a characteristic of chubs. Eventually, they moved away and I carried on, catching up to two others I had been swimming with. I asked them if they’d seen these fish and they said no.
I was describing what they looked like when the two of them showed up again. Once more they looped around, checking out these new people before finally heading south, not to be seen again.
When I got home it was easy to identify them as rainbow chubs, also known as blue-stripe chubs, with their distinctive blue markings. What was interesting is that their home is the Eastern Pacific, from Ecuador north to California. But some can get carried over to the Central and Western Pacific. As such, they’re rare in Hawaii, so this is one of those fish I might never see again. A matter of being in the right place at the right time.
In my attempts to identify what I see in the water, I use John P. Hoover’s book The Ultimate Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fishes, Sea Turtles, Dolphins, Whales, and Seals. His website is hawaiisfishes.com.
A pair of highfin chubs catch the light as they cruise just below the surface. These large fish are quite common and are typically seen fairly close to shore and near the surface of the water.
This fish is a gray chub, so why is it yellow? That’s a question with no good answer. Locals used to think that yellow-colored chubs were ‘queens’ of their schools, but there’s no evidence to support that. Instead, it’s regarded as simply a color variation, seen in a few fish, that is without significance. This is the first one of these I’ve seen.
Gray chubs’ usual coloration can be seen in the photo below.
These are probably gray chubs, but might also be brassy chubs, or even a mixture of both. The two species look similar and are found in similar locations, in the surge zone. I like to find a safe spot, just outside this zone, and watch the swells roiling in and see chubs and other fish swish back and forth with the swell.
Chubs are quite common and they aren’t shy. They’ll pass quite close, often with a cheerful, engaging look, which makes them a fun fish to encounter.