Kona Tournaments—So the good news is, Kona fishing is back in business.
The inter-island quarantine is to be lifted on June 16, allowing local residents to move freely around the state. The Governor said this week that he will address the topic of lifting the inbound visitor quarantine – next week. At this time, all inbound travelers are still required to quarantine. We don’t know if this will be lifted by July 4th, or not.
As mentioned before, the State “plan” is to have a mitigation system in place with multiple layers, before re-opening to mainland travelers – pre-board proof of a recent Covid 19 test (negative) within a time frame TBD, thermal screening and contact tracing etc. etc. Getting all this in place is where the hold up lies.
A few anglers/boat owners have contacted me and offered to volunteer for a pilot project to test these mitigation measures – if they can fly in for the July 4th weekend to fish the Kona Kick Off and the World Cup. I have made that offer to the Governor’s office. I’d say it was a long shot, at best. But, ya never know!As far as procedures at the tournaments:
1) I strongly suggest you pay the base entries for tournaments – and – all of the optional categories you want, in advance by check. You can always make changes as we get closer, including pulling out and getting a refund.
2) We have installed and tested a password protected page where teams who have paid at lest the base entry, can watch the tournament spreadsheets populate – from the comfort of where ever they are.
3) Teams may make upward adjustments (additions) to their optional entries via phone and credit card, if they prefer to stay in the comfort of where ever they are.
3) Downward adjustments can also be made by phone, and if a refund is do, it will be refunded in the same manner payment was received – by card if paid by card and by check if paid by check or cash.
4) We want to limit cash as much as possible. The homeless situation in Kona has only become worse and many are hanging around the harbor. For your safety and ours, we highly recommend not carrying or paying in cash.
5) For those who must pay last minute, on-site, we are working on a new club house system but please note: NO PARTIES AND NO GATHERINGS OF PEOPLE MORE THAN STATED BY GOVERNOR PROCLAMATION IN PLACE AT THAT TIME.
6) Our plan is to have walk-up windows and tables set up at the Club House on the afternoon of the day before the first day of fishing. Only the person making a payment may approach the window or table. That “team representative” should have all the info needed for the various entry forms and documents, if they have not filed them in advance.
We do not know what the gathering rules will be by July 4th, but more than likely, we will not have tables and chairs out at the club house, as in the past. We anticipate a string of chairs, each six feet apart, under the awning in the shade, for those who need to conduct business in person.
7) Personal or business checks from US Mainland banks must be received by the Monday prior to the first day of fishing, in order to clear Hawaii banks.
8) We will continue to take very limited checks from current boat owners we have existing relationships with, on a case by case basis, inside of these limits. First Hawaiian Bank checks can also be taken inside these limits, as that is our bank and they will know if good.
9) Captains may call me directly to make arrangements to pick up tags, if needed. Some do, some don’t. If you don’t please don’t call or hoard. NOAA/NMFS was closed last I spoke with them, and getting more will be difficult I was told.
10) At least in July tourneys, tag and release video will be allowed from your phones now. We have had good luck with teams sending backup video from their phone to me directly, via Facebook messenger.
We are also working with Capt. Joe Crawford on using his app “Capt.App” which has a secure video feature. More on this soon. http://captapp.com/home
We prefer to use a secure system, but we are still in conversations with Joe on how to make this happen
At this point, the July tourneys look to be “local only” while we plan to be back in regular action for the “biggies” in August.
We will take what we learn in July and make decisions for August on how to best secure what are usually large sums of money via tag and release video.
11) We will not be opening the usual office in Gentry’s and plan to operate remotely, except when we plan to be at the Club House – the day prior to the first day of fishing, of each individual tournament. The people we rented from have closed up shop, and moved out. We were subleasing because neither Gentry’s nor the Fuel Dock has ever been receptive to a seasonal rental.
All this points to even more reasons to enter in advance, pay by check, stay home or on the boat and watch the spreadsheet in comfort!
I think that is about it for now. Things remain pretty fluid, so we may tweak this “plan” as we move on down the timeline. A caveat we learned from all these talks with the State!
By Elliott Stark
For much of the past six decades, Captain Kerwin Masunaga has been mugging fish of all kinds around Kona, Hawaii. While others care for limelight and accolades, Kerwin is concerned with catching fish and enjoying time on the water with his friends and family.
While Kerwin’s dedication to his craft is evident in his tournament accolades and catch log, if anyone were to mention the depth of his perspective and skill it would certainly not be him. Kerwin cares so little about recognition, in fact, that after winning back to back InTheBite Captain of the Year Awards in 2015 and 2016, our Hawaii correspondent practically had to hide in the parking lot and surprise him in order to get a picture for the magazine.
Kerwin grew up in Kona on his family’s coffee farm. After getting all of their work done, his father would take the family to the beach on the weekends. While his brothers and sisters would swim, Kerwin would fish.
After a tour in the Army, Kerwin came back to Kona with the idea of relaxing for a bit. On a trip to the outboard shop, the owner convinced him to take a job. He worked there for a while fixing motors and fishing on the weekends. Masunaga worked at the parts store long enough to purchase a boat, motor and trailer.
It was an 18’ skiff. Before long, he was fishing more and more, but people kept calling him to fix their motors on the weekends. In 1975, he took the plunge and started commercial fishing full time. “I’m still fishing now,” he says.
At the beginning, Masunaga bottom fished quite a bit targeting deep-water snapper on the Grounds out of Kona in 700-1,000’. “When we first started, it was all trial and error. There was no GPS, no depth recorder,” Masunaga recalls with a laugh. To find the ledges and bottom structure, they would tie a rock to a string and drop it to the bottom to measure the depth. Everything was handline.
“We’d drop down here, there…too deep, not deep enough. It was all trial and error. We would keep track of where we were by landmark positioning. Reading the currents was important—everything was by hand. Now, if you look at the landmarks, it’s all changed. Good thing for GPS!”
Captain Shane O’Brien began fishing with Kerwin when he was 13—they still fish together every chance they get. “He was this kid that was always at the harbor. One day we invited him fishing and found out he liked fishing, too. At first, he was a real jumpy guy…he would run to the rod anytime a line got knocked down. We’ve kinda calmed him down,” Kerwin says with a laugh. O’Brien has quite a bit to say about Kerwin.
“He bought a 19’ Glass Pro skiff and really excelled. Kerwin would fish dark to dark every day—all tuna fishing. He also did quite a bit of night fishing. His best night was 12 tuna all over 200-pounds. To let you know how well the boat was rigged for commercial fishing, all the tuna fit into boxes—nothing on the deck,” O’Brien describes. “He made his name there. Later he bought a 34’ Raddon, a big commercial boat for here.”
The Raddon’s name is Holly Ann…you can find it on the list of boats to have won the Blue Marlin World Cup.
“Kerwin was one of the first guys in Hawaii, certainly in the United States, to have a greenstick. He bought his off the greenstick’s inventor (who visited Hawaii from Japan trying to sell them) in the 80s. He killed it,” O’Brien says. “The greenstick was all on handline. He had a 1,000 pound mainline the baits would pop off straight to rope. If you had two or three on at the same time, you’d really have your hands full.”
“Kerwin would tuna fish quite a bit and bottom fish in the wintertime. He would marlin fish when everything else was slow. He fished five days a week, no matter what. He caught 500-700 pounders regularly,” says O’Brien. “He caught a grander solo on the Holly Ann. It went 1,140 and he fought it for seven hours. It died and he had to plane it up. He would run forward, then throw it in reverse to gain line. He had to run back from the throttles to crank. Teddy Hoogs came on board and helped him with the last 50 yards or so.”
“He’s been a staple of the commercial fishing community for a long time. He’s really good—you don’t want to live bait against him… he’ll hurt your feelings,” O’Brien, who at 30 has won his share of tournaments around the world, describes. “Kerwin has been involved in sportfishing for much of his life too. He crewed for John Llanes and Peter Hoogs.”
In 2008, Kerwin’s took a job running a 35’ Cabo, the Rod Bender. To illustrate Kerwin’s humility, here is his version of the story. “In 2008, my friend Carlton Arai invited me to Mexico, the owner was looking for one more guy.” He went on to describe how he met a guy that wanted to buy a boat, which turned into a job running the Cabo.
Here is Shane O’Brien’s version of the same story. “Kerwin went to Mexico in 2008. He ran the boat Karma. They fished the Bisbee’s and won the Los Cabos tournament. They won $559,000, which I think is still the record for the largest amount won.”
Masunaga has created quite a legacy as a sportfishing captain. “For many years, he was the most consistent captain in Kona. He was always placing, a consistent money winner,” O’Brien says.
In addition to winning the 2000 World Cup with a 633 aboard his commercial boat, Masunaga placed second after a last-minute fish by Capt. Bobby Brown edged him in 1990. He also caught a grander (1,043) to win the 2013 Marlin Magic Lure Tournament. Kerwin’s son Brent runs his cockpit. His daughter Heather is a frequent angler with her father.
Much of his tournament success results from his mastery of the live bait. To hear Kerwin describe it, “I live bait a lot during tournaments…or I could troll around and waste all this gas. I started live baiting to catch tuna. Marlin would bite in between the tuna…but it can be a long time between marlin bites, you know,” he says with a laugh. “I started using down riggers before people used them.”
When asked about the secret to successful live baiting, Masunaga is circumspect. “It’s a current thing. You’ve got to know what the current is doing. I used to live bait the ledges, then the buoys came.”
When asked the secret to Masunaga’s success, O’Brien puts it like this. “He can catch anything, he really understands the ocean. He reads structure and currents better than anyone I know. He also takes fishing super serious,” Shane relates. “He has something you can’t teach. His attention to the environment and what’s happening around him… What he sees is more than what you or I see.”
Having fished his whole life in Kona, Masunaga certainly has seen his share. “I was fighting an ahi (yellowfin tuna) one day, my sister-in-law was onboard. The fish was coming up and going down again. I thought, ‘What is the matter with this fish.’ Finally, I got it on the leader—it was about 150-pounds.
When I got it on the deck, I looked down and saw what I thought was a bunch of porpoises coming toward me. It was so big, I didn’t think it could be one fish. It was a giant fish coming straight (head toward the boat from the depths). It had huge eyes.” It was not a group of dolphins, but a single, gigantic blue marlin.
“I saw the 1805 (Choy’s monster)—big belly, big old eyeballs. Its shape, this fish looked like that one. Huge belly. The fish swam around the boat, its eye moving around looking at me. ‘What did you do with my dinner?’ it said,” Kerwin laughs. “It looked like the 1805 type…but who knows. It was over 1,500 any way. Huge…big belly.”
Do you have any comments or questions for us? We’d love to hear from you.
If you’ve been around fishing long enough to stay calm when a giant marlin materializes in your baits, one thing that strikes you is that they appear to be keeping up with your trolling speed with absolute ease – almost effortlessly. When you combine this visual with the astonishing bulk of the beast in your wake, it almost makes them look as if they are acting like a lazy old elephant, just out for a stroll.
Of course, if you hook that monster, all hell will break loose and any interpretation of laziness will go right out the window – along with your calm – but for a short while, that’s what it can look like. Even after you’ve seen lots and lots of big marlin, you may still wonder at this and the incredible transformation that can happen in the blink of an eye.
On another note, the “lazy” looking ones can be the hardest to get an aggressive bite out of, and hence, sometimes hard to hook. They are like the worlds largest mouse toying with a knot in the end of a piece of string. It’s always easier to hook a suicide fish than one just playing with the bait, but that doesn’t discount every single encounter with a BIG one from being awe inspiring, and a down right shock of adrenaline.
So, if you are wondering why anyone would call a tournament “The Lazy Marlin Hunt”, now you know! What you may not know is that “granders” (marlin 1,000 pounds or larger) have been caught in Hawaii during every month of the calendar year. In addition, more “grander” blue marlin have been caught in Hawaii than any other single fishing hole on Earth.
The month with the most graders caught is July, but in Kona, there are already tournaments on every single weekend in July. The month with the second most graders caught in it is March, which has no tournament scheduled, which is why the Lazy Marlin Hunt was put in March.
It is also interesting that more marlin 500 pounds or better are caught during March and April than any other two concurrent months of the year. More than 50 blues, 500 pounds or better have been caught in March and April – each year – during 2018 and again, in 2019.
As for Granders, 31 blues over 1,000 pounds were documented as caught in March and April. And two of the three largest blues ever caught were landed in March a 1,649 pounder caught off of Oahu in 1984 and and slightly more infamous 1,656 pound caught from Black Bart in 1991. March has also turned up six blues over 1,200 pounds.
Looking closer for trends, another pattern appeared: more granders were caught just before, just after or right on the New Moon – clearly more than during any other period. The New Moon of March 2020 is on the 25th, so it seemed logical to schedule the tournament to start fishing March 27, just after the new, and right before the page turns to April.
The two most popular (and richest) tourneys in Kona are the Kona Throw Down and the Skins Marlin Derby, which run back to back in July. Between them, they generated a total purse of over $1 Million dollars last summer. Anglers like to fish for Big Fish!
The Lazy Marlin Hunt combines a few of the most popular aspects of the two tourney formats into one – 500 pound minimum – winner take all, one prize from the Base Entry; 400 pound minimum for all optionals; and refunds for winner take all and biggest marlin categories if no qualifier is weighed in any particular category.
With all these points in mind, why would you not fish the Lazy Marlin Hunt? It’s not like you can fish a Big Blue Marlin tourney with these odds, anywhere else but Kona…one just doesn’t exist – except for the two in July. And, there have not been two marlin over 1,600 pounds caught in July…and you get more bites in July, but from more small fish….and….oh, well, you get the picture.
One more thing to consider; interest is strong and the best boats and crews are booking up already, so don’t miss “stacking the deck” and fielding your best team for this one. You’re gonna need every edge you can muster to win the Lazy Marlin Hunt. Enter now!
Go to konatournaments.com and download the entry form: https://konatournaments.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/2020-lazy-marlin-cash-1.pdf And for those detail minded, why not read the rules: https://konatournaments.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/2020-Lazy-Marlin-Hunt-Rules.pdf. For more information, call at 808.557.0908 or shoot me an email at email@example.com.
See you in March, at the Lazy Marlin Hunt – Kona
InTheBite received a cooking-101 at Keoni’s Point of View in Kona, Hawaii and the restaurant delivered. The seafood hotspot, which sits on the west side of the island, is well-known for its fresh fish dishes—from Hawaiian-style poke to smoked marlin dip—that come out of the busy kitchen.
Owners and husband and wife team, Keoni and Kalina Llanes, have built the restaurant from the ground up making it a current favorite among locals and visitors alike. And the restaurant has also become a way to honor Keoni’s uncle, Capt. Randy Llanes, whose life was cut short when he was impaled by the bill of a swordfish while spearfishing. According to Keoni, his uncle dreamed about one day opening up a restaurant of his own.
Today, that dream has taken root on Honokohau Harbor. InTheBite brought a mahi-mahi that was cooked up at the restaurant and prepared for a meal that did not disappoint.
CAPTAIN SHANE O’BRIEN
43 Merritt, Kona, Hawaii
Wild Hooker: 68 Blackwell
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Owner: Allen Stuart
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.
By Elliott Stark
Kona, Hawaii is a wonderful place. In terms of distance from a continental landmass, the Hawaiian archipelago is one of the most remote strings of islands in the world. Kona sits on the western edge of the Island of Hawaii—the Big Island. Its rocky coastline is the result of millions of years of volcanic deposits piling atop one another. The Hawaiian Islands are mountains that jut from the sea floor, covering thousands of feet beneath the waterline and thousands more above it. The mountainous interior of the Island of Hawaii creates a giant wind block, large enough to create a permanent lee and break apart hurricanes.
Thousands of miles from the nearest large river mouth and input of nutrients necessary for green or brown water, the waters that encircle Kona are bluer than blue. Not only is the water blue, so too are the majority of the marlin that transverse them. Many of the largest blue marlin ever tamed on rod and reel were Hawaiian-caught—most of them caught out of Kona. Grander blue marlin have been caught in every calendar month here.
The combination of calm waters, big and consistent blue marlin, remoteness, and Hawaiian hospitality has created one of the most unique and influential cultural traditions in sportfishing. Over the years, what has happened in Kona has touched the sportfishing world at large in many ways.
Captain Bart Miller, fishing aboard the Kona-based Black Bart, is credited by many with having the tuna tubes. Many of the lures you see dragged everywhere in the world were first designed in Hawaii—the tradition of master lure makers here is too great to mention. Kona is also on par with any place in the world when it comes to crews coming to accumulate knowledge. For many, the place is so enamoring that what was intended to be a stint working in the cockpit of a Hawaiian master soon becomes a longer-term job or the place they make their career.
There are many charming things about Kona. These charms relate to the fishing and the place generally. If you enjoy being offshore or have ever dreamed about catching a bruiser blue marlin, you should fish here. The following provides some context to this claim.
If This Dock Could Talk
One of the most charming things about Kona (even more so than the fact there are wild mongoose running all over the place!) are the people who fish here. The careers and catch statistics, which are measured chiefly in the number of granders hung, are second to none. The lineup of captains and boats fishing out of Kononkohau Harbor could just as easily be found in the pages of a Zane Grey or Ernest Hemingway novel. There are too many great captains and boats fishing there to list here.
Most anyone who has spent any time fishing here has seen his or her share of big fish. As the fishing community is close knit, there are plenty of firsthand accounts of Bobby Brown’s world record Pacific blue marlin or Choy’s 1,805-pound monster or the exploits of Capt. Bart Miller. Captains are as excited to speak of the big fish they’ve seen and lost as they are about the granders they’ve captured. You can ask the question, “Have you ever seen anything bigger than the biggest you’ve caught?” in plenty of places. But when a man who has hung multiple granders and seen plenty of others weighed gets the faraway look in his eyes while recalling a sea monster lost, it makes you sit up a bit straighter in your chair.
To put this in perspective, we asked Capt. Fran O’Brien this question. When Bart Miller hooked up to the fabled 1,656, he called O’Brien in to leader it. There might be someone in the world with more big fish credibility than Fran, but I’m just not sure who it would be. In response to the query about whether he had seen anything bigger than what he had caught, he recalled this story…
“You can’t ever really know for sure, but one time we had been fighting a fish for 14 hours. It was the middle of the night… she took a big run and came up jumping. You could hear the splashing,” O’Brien recalled. “I looked up at the captain and he said, ‘We’re ___ed.’” The fish would go on to break the line.
A PhD in Lure Fishing super
While it has been years since most places in the world succumbed to the dink ballyhoo revolution, Hawaiian captains still proudly pull plastic. In some of places where lures still appear, their selection is haphazard… the old, “Grab that one over there and throw a hook in it” type thing. In Kona, lure fishing is equal parts science and applied engineering with a healthy dose of aesthetic appeal mixed in.
The scientific approach to lure fishing makes sense. Many of the lures used around the world were designed here—some by captains still fishing out of Kona. Many captains still make their own pulling lures (producing a batch whenever they need some themselves—keeping some, selling a few others). If you were to ask around, you’d probably find that by percentage there are about as many “craft lure makers” among the charter fishing docks in Kona as there are craft beer makers in a neighborhood full of hipsters.
The hook sets and rigging procedures are equally dialed in. Where mates in other places might spend the ride out rigging dredge mullet or swimming ballyhoo, Kona mates will meticulously adjust hook sets to match the day’s conditions. “Hook up for slant heads, hook down for everything else.” In 2019 it is a unique proposition to set out for a day’s marlin fishing without a cooler full of dead baits.
The global domination of dink fishing has been accompanied by the prominence of smaller and smaller high-performance reels, fitted with strong drags and hundreds of yards of braid. Kona has largely been immune from this. Hawaii, along with perhaps Bermuda, the Great Barrier Reef and Nova Scotia, is one of the last strong holds of the 130. Whereas some boats fishing the Northeast or the Gulf or elsewhere pull out a couple 130s to look cool, the big guns are used here for a reason.
Big fish and deep water have spawned a saying that we heard more than a couple times, “They’re big reels but sometimes they are not big enough.” Captain Gene Vanderhoek runs the Sea Genie II, a charmingly appointed 39-foot Rybovich. Vanderhoek is credited with four grander blue marlin here— and he has released another. A more than capable conversationalist whose perspective is as wide-ranging as the stories he launches into, Vanderhoek provides context for the captains’ preference to use the big stuff.
“We had a father and son fishing with us. They wanted to catch a big tuna on 30-pound. We caught them one, and they wanted to put the 30 back out. There had been a good class of fish around—a grander had already been caught. I suggested that we stick to the 130s as a very special opportunity could present itself,” Vanderhoek begins. “We put out the 30 as a shotgun. A little while later, a grander came up and guess what it ate? It looked to be 1,100-pounds…I warned them.”
There is more than a bit of charm to watching lures bounce behind the boat, cockpit equipped with four hooked 130s. This type of charm emanates from the fact that, statistically speaking, a day fishing in Hawaii has a greater chance to produce the largest blue marlin you’ll ever catch than do most places. Any bite can be that bite. Most captains seem to prefer to remove chance from the equation, 130s spooled to the brim. While other places a captain’s success is measured in numbers of releases or grand slams, the king metric in Kona is number of granders brought to the scale.
A slow day of fishing in Kona is given solace by the fact that after catching a massive blue in the afternoon, nobody in the history of fishing has ever cared that the morning might have been a little slow. There is additional comfort in the fact that it is most always calm fishing out of Kona and that big fish have been caught in every calendar month. This same charm does not extend to places where sailfish bite best in 8’ seas and it’s 40-degrees outside. When you’re having a slow day of sailfishing— cold, wet and getting your teeth kicked in, there is generally no hope that thing that will break the cycle of monotony might weigh 900 pounds.
But the Flight is So Long?
This is perhaps the biggest objection to someone from the eastern or central time zones planning to fish Kona. There are a couple of approaches to resolving this dilemma. Sure, it’s a long trip and it takes a bit of time to adjust to jet lag. But you can take solace from the fact that if you are tired while fishing, you’re still trolling around for giant blue marlin in one of the most productive, historically and culturally influential destinations in sportfishing.
You can also think about it another way, considering two scenarios.
Scenario One—Four Days of East Coast Marlin Fishing: Say you live in a spot on the East Coast and plan to go marlin fishing for four days. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the ledge or canyon you are targeting is 75 miles from the dock and that you come and go from the dock each day (no overnighters). Let’s further assume that your boat cruises 25 knots and that there is no travel time between your house and the dock. Your total travel time for four days of fishing is 24 hours—three hours out and three hours back each day—six hours total per day, for four days.
Scenario Two—Four Days of Kona Marlin Fishing: Say you live in the same place on the east coast and decide that instead of marlin fishing out of your place, you decide to fish four days out of Kona. Assume that you decide not to cheap out on plane tickets and book a trip that includes one layover. You fly from
the east coast to LAX and then to Kona. Your total travel time each way is 12 and a half hours. Next you factor the run time out of Kona… the first day fishing with Gene Vanderhoek aboard the Sea Genie II, we nearly snagged the dock with our long rigger! (Not really, but you get the point…there is no run in Kona.)
For those keeping score, the total travel time, combining flights and runs to and from the fishing over four days, is within an hour or so of being equal. If you were so inclined, you could next factor the cost. The fuel tab on your four-day east coast endeavor would dwarf the charter bill for your Hawaiian marlin fishing expedition. The options for a day’s rate on a great boat out of Kona would set you back in the $1,000-$1,500 range, before tip. After all, costs are low when the fuel burn is minimized, and there’s no ballyhoo tab. A final benefit? You can get a much more awesome Hawaiian shirt in Kona than you can at your local marina store.
Beyond the draw of big blue marlin, Kona sits squarely on the list of most people who are serious about the Royal Slam. It’s perhaps the best place in the world to tick off the spearfish (the species that might be the most common bottleneck in the quest). The tuna bite here can be good too and certain times of year there is a great wahoo bite. So now that you’re thinking about booking your ticket, when should you come?
Captain Gene Vanderhoek provides a breakdown of Kona’s fishing seasons. “Up until about five or ten years ago, we had good winter runs of small stripies and spearfish. Now it seems that the blue marlin fishing is good year round—it has been the past two years. The best times to come for blue marlin would be June through September. The best days are dictated by the tides and the moon—Kona has always been a dark of the moon type of place. That said, this year there was a grander caught on the full moon—so who knows? There are blue marlin, tuna… everything. Lots of spearfish in June and July,” the Kona veteran describes.
“In the spring, April and May, there are lots of wahoo around. The Sea Genie’s boat record is 28 in five and half hours. The spearfish are best in May, June and July. The big tuna show up in late May and June, through August. We typically catch them on jets and lures… 200 is a big one here.”
Captain Jason Holtz gave InTheBite a full tour of the customized 54′ Pursuit from Scarborough Boatworks in North Carolina. The Pursuit is headed to Kona, Hawaii.
By Capt. Jody Bright
March and April have long been hailed as “big fish months” in Kona, and indeed, there have been some very nice ones of late. We counted 31 blue marlin over 500 pounds in March and April. Here is the catch report from the Kona charter fleet – at least the ones we know of:
In the first week of March, Capt. B.T. of Melee Sport Fishing reports that a skiff released a marlin “about 800 pounds after it burned up their electric reel! 600 pounders were reported on Huntress and Jun Ken Po.
The largest blue marlin weighed in early March was a 713 pounder caught on Ihu Nui with Capt. McGrew Rice and the Clarence Clemons of the Cockpit, Carlton Arai.
On March 11, the High Noon caught a 670 pounder to back up a 642 they weighed in February. They are also reported to have broken off a fish that could have been 800 pounds.
Capt. Gene Vanderhoek went out holoholo on March 13 to train a new crew and ended up catching his old crew – 72 year old Skip Dasher – the largest fish of his angling career, a 708 pound blue. Dasher and company subdued their catch in a quick fifteen minutes.
Gene’s “crewman in training”, Brett Mowens, also caught a blue they tagged at 500+. They were back at the dock by 1:00 pm. Now that is a mighty fine busman’s holiday!
On March 14, Capt. Chad Contessa on a Bite Me boat weighed a 596 pound blue on Bite Me 1 after it arrived at the boat DOA.
Based on an informal phone survey, additional nice ones tagged recently include a 650+ released by Humdinger with Capt. Jeff Fay at the wheel. Marlin Magic II released one they called 550+ and Kona Blue released one about 500 pounds and pulled hook on another, also about 500. Nasty Habit also released one that they called 500.
EZ Pickens has been fishing with owners Brad and Vicky Picking every Saturday and Sunday since December. Up until last weekend they averaged one blue a day for a total of 25 blues so far, as well as lots of stripes and spearfish. Their largest to date was in the 500 pound range, tagged and released. In big game fishing, no hot streak lasts forever and last weekend they finally experienced a fishless day.
March 20: Linda Sue weighed a 722 pounder overtaking Ihu Nui in the top position of the Big Fish List. Foxy Lady tagged a 500 pounder.
A few fish under 400 rose on the 21st, Hula Girl caught one about 450 but Sea Genie II would start the 22nd as the pole sitter after tagging a 600 pound blue.
On Friday March 22nd, Night Runner had the “encounter of the week” when they swung and missed a few times at a marlin the experienced skipper and crew both said was the largest either have ever seen.
Huntress tagged two on the 22nd to top singles around the fleet. March 23rd was a “big fish day.” Marlin Magic II tagged one over 500, another at 375 – and also pulled hook on another 500 and one they called 650! Foxy Lady caught a youngster a 492 pound blue.
Honey returned from an overnighter on March 24 with 12 big ahi.
March 25 saw Maverick tag one and set it free, calling it 500 pounds. Hooked Up tagged and blue and two stripeys that day, which sounded like a January report. Waiopai almost got their “Kona Slam” with a nice blue and a stripey but when the spearfish they hooked came unhooked, that was all she wrote.
The next day, Waiopai got even with the billfish gods and caught, tagged and released a blue they called 650, telling it to come back during a tournament.
Northern Lights had the next “encounter of the week” on the 27th., while out holoho, whale watching and relaxing. According to the story posted on the new Facebook page Kona Marlin Report, their relaxation was shattered by a marlin that exceeded all the superlatives usually used such as “monster” or “biggest ever seen” and “giant”. You get the picture. We aren’t talking first timers or novices here, either. These are veterans “to da max” to throw in just one more superlative.
Hooked Up tagged a 450 on March 29 and on March 30 Marlin Magic II was back in the news with two blues tagged, one about 275 and one they estimated to be 575.
No “granders” yet, but that was a total of 20 blues over 500 pounds caught in March alone.
There were some real nice fish caught in April too, and a lot of days where boats caught multiple marlin and multiple species as well. Again, check the Kona Marlin Report page on Facebook for up to the minute catch logs.
Between April 2 and April 5 marlin in the 600 pound class were caught by Pair O Dice, Sapo, Honey and Maverick.
The charter boat Melee had an interesting day on the 9th of April going 1/3, tagging a 700 pound blue. The two they lost were also hefty, estimated at 500+ and 700+.
Blue Hawaii had what they called a 500 pounder expire on them and when they weighed it, the tally was 497. That’s real close to 500!
On April 12, a noteworthy report came in from a skiff. They went 4/8 on marlin, with the largest over 500 pounds.
Multiple catches were logged through all phases of the April moon and some of the reports have been pretty spectacular.
Melee went 3 for 6 on blues on April 14, the same day Humdinger caught 3 blues as well. The next day, Kona Blue caught 4 striped marlin.
Night Runner caught a blue, a spearfish and a sailfish on April 14 and backed that up with a sailfish on April 19 and 20th. Sails are rare in Kona, so they must have found one of those famous secret spots without a name.
Capt. Jeff Fay has been quoted (tongue in cheek) to say that there are few sailfish in calm Kona because there is not enough wind. This might be the reason why Kona is not a sail boaters mecca, but that’s a “Fay-ism” when it comes to sailfish. Truth be told, sailfish are usually a Continental inhabitant, preferring shallow water, the one thing Kona is lacking that actually makes a difference.
Honey went 3 for 4 on blue marlin and 1/1 on striped marlin on April 20, evidence that the full moon does not always dampen the marlin bite.
If that didn’t make you a believer, you would have no choice but to pay attention when Humdinger caught 2 blues, 6 striped marlin and a spearfish, all on April 21 when the moon was bright.
Rounding the turn into the third quarter moon phase, the bite has even gotten better! Anxious went 3 for 3 on blues on April 25, with the largest a healthy 600 pounder.
April 26 was a banner day with Tropical Sun going 3 for 4 on blues with one spearfish and Go Get Em went 3 for 4 on blues AND 3 for 4 on spearfish. J.R.’s Hooker was 2 for 2 on blues as was Waiopai.
The second half of April has produced four more marlin over 500 pounds, a 682 pounder on Bite Me 6 that was brought in because it would not revive at boat side, the largest fish weighed in April – so far.
Bite Me 3 released one they called 600 on April 26, and putting icing on the cake, Pursuit tagged a very thick 800 pounder, fishing one of Kona’s famous fishing spots – “the trail run.”
Melee closed out April going 1 out of 2 bites, catching a 700 pounder and losing a 700 pounder.
So, when wrapping up the month of April, it appears that two more fish over 500 were caught on the waxing first quarter than the waning third quarter. In March, there were more blues caught over 500 than in April, but there was no discernable pattern relative to moon phase. In March the biggest fish so far (722) was caught on the full moon, but in April there were no big ones caught on the full moon. There was action in the moonlight though, and a number of boats caught multiples on a few big moon days.
So, which moon phase is best? Does the moon phase even matter?
People are always trying to figure out when the best fishing occurs. Is it the moon or is it the tide? Could it be the current, or is ocean surface temperature the key? Perhaps, as my grandmother used to say, it’s just the way you hold your mouth.
For those who can contemplate more complex theories, the idea that the best fishing is created by some combination of these elements can have them contemplating complexities, all the live long day.
The fact of the matter is that none of those items contribute to fishing success if there are no fish in the area. Yes, current can cause them to gather in an area but you can have good current and no fish. You just can’t catch fish that are somewhere you are not. And that does happen. Sometimes the fish are just gone. Obviously, that is not the case in Kona, at present.
Once they move in, like now, then those elements may come in to play. Marlin tend to bite around a tide change, but even that is not set in stone. As Capt. Tomo Rogers once said, “If I thought that the only time I had a chance at getting a bite was during the tide change, I’d only fish during the tide change, but I don’t. So, what does that tell you?”
On top of that, the phase of the moon has not seemed to have had much effect on the bite this April, because the fish have been biting throughout the lunar cycle. If one was so inclined, contemplating this complexity could make a live long day drag on forever, if it weren’t for the distraction of all those marlin bites.
The other bottom line is you can’t catch em if you don’t go, so stop wishing and go fishing! No better time then now, by the looks of it.
If you can’t jump a plane now, tournament season starts in June. There are 7 tourneys in the Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series and an entry fee and format for every style of angler. Events are open to everyone and no experience is required because Kona’s pro charter fleet teaches novices to catch marlin 365 days a year. If you are experienced, better yet!
For more information log on: https://konatournaments.com/
Or Write: firstname.lastname@example.org – 808.557.0908
The great early fishing in Hawaii in 2019 could be a primer for a wide open tournament season this summer. Check the updates on Hawaii’s tournaments in the 2019 Hawaii Division of the Captain of the Year, presented by Sea Genie II! First tournament event is in June, check back at InTheBite for standings and updates. There are also charter spots available for tournament anglers should you like to fish the tournaments yourself.
ITB-Digital contributor Michael Marks of Hawaii was nice enough to write out an account of an epic, unexpected run in with a pack of ravenous bigeye. Check it out… Thanks for the story Michael and keep em coming!
By Michael Marks
The anticipation had been building for a few weeks as a plan was hatched, and the moving parts all started to come together. The crew was solid and consisted of Captain Cyrus Widhalm, part owner of Honey – a beautiful custom 40-foot Buddy Davis, co-owner of Honey Mark Rodrigues, deckhand extraordinaire Nick Watson, owner of the tournament winning El Jobean, Larry Peardon, Brian Cibulka, owner of Relentless and yours truly.
The 4:30 wake up and raw anticipation that comes with the pre-dawn loading up of the boat for a 2-day-overnight trip down to South Point had peaked at about 6 am….and slowly given way to a lot of blue water and zero action.
The opelu at the secret submerged bait buoy were essentially unattainable. They were everywhere, but getting decimated by predators as soon as they bit. An hour and change of work turned into two measly baits.
We resorted to running south for a bit and jumped into ono lane. The run proved to be scenic and beautiful as we skirted alongside the prehistoric looking cliff filled shoreline, but the onos refused to play ball as well. Four hours and not a touch.
As we continued to push south, Captain Cyrus made the call to head outside to “B” buoy. There were some skiffs around, scattered birds and little tunas breaking water occasionally. The general liveliness of the area gave us renewed hope.
We busted out the small gear, rustled up a 4-5-pound aku (skipjack) for bait, bridled it up along with an opelu and sent them back out for a swim. The fish finder showed some serious signs of life. Consistent stacks of medium sized marks down deep that looked like potential tuna, and some big solo marks that looked the part of marlin.
We worked the area. Hard. And after a few hours, and a number of tricky tactics to get the opelu down deep and face to face with the tuna when we marked them, we had nothing to show for it.
The excitement we had first thing in the morning pretty much left us. Frosty IPAs and an assortment of other adult beverages were the only things driving the positivity at this point. All of the other skiffs that were dropping bait at the buoy for tunas seemed to be striking out as well, but Captain Cyrus was convinced that there was just too darn much life underneath us for nothing to happen. Finally, after a number of hours turning fruitless laps around the buoy, he finally proved to be right!
Out of nowhere, a blue marlin showed up directly behind the boat. I mean directly in the props, lit up bright blue and trying to put his bill in the exhaust pipe. Captain and deck hand Nick quietly slid down from the bridge trying not to spook the fish and brought the baits right to it. It turned, ate the port side bait, and then spit it back at us as soon as he felt any pressure, and promptly left. SHIT! Now we had proof there were hungry fish around, but it definitely stung to see one just feet behind the transom and not get bit. [Read more…]