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One-on-one with Big Island game fish.

The waters off Hawaii's Kona Coast are among the best in the world for marlin and other game fish. You can charter a boat for a day

THE FIRST THING I noticed as I boarded the Hula Girl in Hawaii's Honokohau Harbor was the chair bolted to the deck. With its high, straight back, foot braces, shoulder harness, and polished-chrome rod holder, this was no seagoing Barca Lounger.

On a game-fishing boat like the Hula Girl, it is properly called the fighting chair. Our crew dubbed it the torture chair. Whatever you call it, this is the hot seat. The crew straps you into it--after your line screams off the reel--for one-on-one combat with a big fish.

Saltwater fishing for marlin and other hard-fighting game fish is serious business along Hawaii's Kona Coast. In part that's because these waters are among the best in the world for the high-leaping blue marlin, which, along with the black marlin, is considered the ultimate prize in the ocean sportfishing lottery. And in part it is the nature of hunting these fish. For all but the luckiest of anglers, saltwater game fishing means hours--even days--of patient trolling before a strike.

More than a hundred boats are licensed for charter along the Kona Coast. Prices to charter a boat for a day of fishing typically range from $250 to $600, with an average of $350 to $400 for a 30-foot boat. Given the commitment--and the cost--you might assume big game fishing is for only seasoned anglers. But nearly four out of five Kona-based boat charters cater to Hawaii visitors who have never tried it before. And lest you think this is some kind of macho, guys-only thing, the International Game Fishing Association notes that more Pacific blue marlin world records are held by women than by men.


Rare monsters have weighed in at nearly a ton, but the average blue marlin runs a more manageable 200 pounds, and anything over 300 pounds is considered a trophy. These big open-ocean predators can be caught year-round, but in July and August they congregate in West Hawaii's deep, sheltered waters to spawn.

Concern is rising that the species is being overfished. While data are sketchy, fisheries consultant David B. Grobecker worries that long-lining (setting miles of cable with baited hooks in the open ocean) by Hawaii-based commercial boats is leading to overfishing. "Sportfishing has no real impact on marlin stocks," Grobecker says.

In fact, the increase in tag-and-release fishing, especially during Hawaii International Billfish Association tournaments, is helping to provide much-needed information on pelagic fish.

The odds of catching marlin on any given day are only 1 in 3. Other hard-fighting pelagic game fish, including striped marlin, shortbill spearfish, mahimahi (dorado), ahi (yellowfin tuna), wahoo (ono), and (rarely) sailfish, increase those catch odds to a fish per boat per day.

Basically, you can fish for marlin two ways: troll lures or troll live bait. The arguments for lures are that the biggest marlin seem to be caught on artificials, you don't waste time catching bait, and, because you troll at a higher speed, you cover more water. Other game fish also seem to take lures as readily as bait. My day trolling lures on the Hula Girl out of Honokohau Harbor resulted in one released short-bill spearfish.

For many visitors, catching any fish is what makes or breaks a day at sea. The advantage of using bait is that, along with trolling for game fish, you can almost always catch big amberjack or giant trevally by stopping to bottom-fish.

Anglers who are serious about catching a marlin usually plan on at least three days of fishing, which makes the per-day charter rate more negotiable.


The biggest challenge facing Kona visitors is finding the right boat among those listed in the yellow pages, in free tourist newspapers, and at ocean activity kiosks in shopping centers. Before leaving home, get recommendations from local yacht or fishing clubs, or ask your travel agent. The activity desk at your hotel may also be able to help.

When trolling lures, the majority of charter boats fish four rods. As a general rule, boats under 30 feet long are fine for one or two anglers; boats over 30 feet, while usually rated to carry six passengers, are best with only four fishing.

Prices include boat, tackle, and crew; you bring your own lunch and beverages. The recommended tip for good service is 10 to 20 percent, which the captain splits with the deckhand. (Don't charter if you want only to bottom-fish; a seat on a half-day party boat fishing trip can cost less than $75.)

Interview the captain and be certain he understands exactly the type of fishing you want to do. Ask about boat equipment and fishing tackle used, and, if you're going to be trolling live bait, how bait is caught. Any fish caught are typically kept and sold by the crew; tell the captain if you want to keep some or want to tag and release the fish.

Local fishing writer Jim Rizzuto notes that Kona's best boats have a good return business, and a busy boat with a captain who asks you questions is a good sign. Rizzuto recommends inspecting the boat before committing. "A clean, well-kept boat showing obvious pride of ownership tells you something about the owner and the crew," he says.
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Title Annotation:Hawaii
Author:Phillips, Jeff
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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