By Charlie Levine
Multigenerational fishing families run deep in Kona, Hawaii. The Big Island breeds good fishermen because the well-worn skills are handed down from captain to son (or daughter). Once inherited, fishing ability is modified, improved upon – rinsed and repeated. Thirty-year-old Captain Shane O’Brien is definitely part of that tradition.
Shane’s father, Fran O’Brien is one of the best wiremen in the business. He’s pulled on more granders than any other person in Kona. When Capt. Bart Miller had the notorious 1,656-blue marlin on, Fran jumped over from Bobby Brown’s No Problem and wired the fish. His fishing acumen runs deep, and he has passed it down to Shane. While the two O’Briens never fished together much professionally, the elder captain opened many doors for his son.
“My dad introduced me to everyone and made it easy to get in the fishing business here,” Shane says. “He gave me every contact in the world.” At 12-years-old, Shane scored his first fishing job as a mate on a small charter outfit, making a whopping $20 a day. “I would’ve done it for free,” Shane says. “On the first day we caught a 465-pound marlin and I got to gaff it. Th at was the first fl yer I ever threw. He probably gave me a little more freedom than he should have, but I’m glad he did. It worked out.” Shane never looked back.
The next captain to take Shane under his wing was Kerwin Masunaga, a commercial captain and just about the fishiest guy you could meet (Masunaga was named InTheBite Hawaii Division Captain of the Year in 2017 and 2018). Together they’d target tuna, wahoo and a lot of bottom fish from Masunaga’s 34-footer. They’d run two- to four-day trips down to the southside of the island. It was a quick education for Shane in a range of fishing types, as well as boat handling and tackle prep.
When he turned 16, Shane started crewing one of the better charter boats, Foxy Lady, with Capt. Boyd Decoito during the summer. When he was 17, he got his first big tournament win. Th e boat took home $112,000. Th at win changed everything. Not only did he put some money in his pocket, he got to win with Allen Stuart – the man who would ultimately hire Shane to fish tournaments in Cabo and the Gulf Coast.
“When you win a big tournament like that, especially at 17… I was just high on life,” Shane says. Later that year Shane fished the Bisbee with Allen on the 61-foot C-Ya. They caught a couple small fish and didn’t place in the money but it was the same year that the crew on Bad Company won $3.9 million. “It was exciting to be around that kind of money,” Shane says. And seeing that crew accept that big check put an image in Shane’s mind of what he wanted to achieve as a captain. He didn’t wait long and got his captain’s license when he turned 18.
In 2007, Stuart bought the Five Star, a beautiful 1979, 43-foot Merritt stationed in Kona and named it the Strong Persuader. Aussie captain Craig Denham ran it and Shane worked under him and would fill in when Denham was gone. Before long, Shane was running the boat full time. “I’d decided I wanted to be a captain after I met my boss and knew there was longevity with him,” Shane says. “So many guys blaze in, fish one or two years and get out. With Allen, as far as fishing goes, he truly enjoys it.
He’s not doing it for the glory, or fame. He has a good time and has traveled the world.” For the first few years running the boat in Kona, Shane would fish with Allen three to four weeks straight in June and July. “We’d go hard,” he says. “We’d be the first to leave and come back after everybody was in. We’d stay out on the grounds overnight to get more fishing time in.” Their drive paid off. Shane and Allen won the second tournament they fished that year, the Skins, and took home $130,000. “As a brand new captain, it was exciting. It gave me a lot of drive,” Shane says. The operation expanded. Allen added the Wild Hooker, a 61-foot Blackwell stationed in Cabo and a second Wild Hooker, a 68 Blackwell to fish the Gulf of Mexico tournament circuit. They were soon fishing 10 to 14 events each year.
They’d start pre-fishing the Gulf in April and May to get ready for the tournaments in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle. When those tournaments were done, they’d park the boat, fly to Hawaii
and fish four or five more events including the World Cup. Then it was back to the Gulf for late July. Sometimes they’d add in some Texas tournaments. Then off to Baja for the Bisbee’s and Los Cabos. That’s a lot of water and a lot of different styles of fishing.
“Live-baiting is pretty familiar to me, growing up in Hawaii,” Shane says. “The biggest difference is navigating the Gulf. We’d run 300 miles one way to fish these rigs in the middle of the Gulf. Then we’d go back to Hawaii where you might put the lures in one mile offshore. You’re always adapting but it’s the same core principles. Current, water temperature and structure and the basic ingredients for blue marlin. Then you put a few twists on it by networking with local boats.” Fishing in the Gulf can be excellent, but it’s a lot of effort and a lot of fuel. Shane says it wasn’t uncommon for them to burn 3,400 gallons a trip.
Like any good captain, a large portion of Shane’s responsibility takes place below the waterline. Fixing systems, updating electronics and when you have an old Merritt, a lot of varnish work. Being from Hawaii, where there is not an abundance of tradesmen around, you have to learn how to care for your boats yourself. That’s something he learned from his father – and the many other top captains in Kona. “All of the guys out here
are so good, and almost all of them helped me,” he says. “They’re always open with information, always answering questions. A lot of the captains here feel like my uncles.”
Shane’s boss just sold the 61 Blackwell and moved the 68 down to Cabo so the operation is purely Pacific now, but he’s still fishing the Gulf on friends’ boats. It’s hard to resist the opportunity to add some more trophies and dollar signs to the $2.7 million he’s already been a part of in his young career.
A young captain with an impressive tournament resume, Shane O’Brien is a name to remember.