Four billfish in one day. Eight in one week.
Sue Vermillion has fished in West Hawaii for 25 years, and she’d never dreamed of having a fishing experience like this one.
The Kona resident teamed up with Ken Onion and Steve Gunther to form an Old South Marlin Club No. 4 team that piled up a whopping 3,150 points to win the 53rd Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament Friday.
Only two other HIBT champions — Club Cabo San Lucas (3,848) in 1974 and Laguna Niguel Billfish Club No. 2 (3,323) in 2008 — scored more points than Old South Marlin Club No.4.
Old South Marlin Club No. 4 accumulated 1,950 of those points on Wednesday, with Onion highlighting the day by boating a 638-pound Pacific blue marlin on 80-pound test line. Gunther tagged and released two marlin — an estimated 150-pounder and a 120-pounder — in a half-hour time frame, and Vermillion tagged an estimated 150-pound blue.
On that banner day, the North Carolina team fished with Capt. Jason Holtz aboard Marlin Magic.
Holtz won the tournament’s Henry Chee Award, which goes to the captain who accumulates the most billfish points on his boat.
“It’s absolutely surreal,” said Vermillion, who also serves as the tournament director for West Hawaii’s annual Huggo’s Na Pua O Ke Kai Wahine Fishing Tournament. “I can’t believe we had such an amazing week. I’m still shell-shocked.”
Japan’s Kona Game Fishing Club-Taiyo, which led after the first two days of the five-day fishing tournament, placed second with 2,418 points, and New Zealand’s Bay of Islands Swordfish Club-Endeavour finished third (1,904).
Vermillion wasn’t even thinking about fishing in the HIBT at this time last year, but the strong friendships she developed with longtime Old South Marlin Club team members Lupton Pittman, Randall Ward and Susan Ward while Vermillion served as HIBT tournament director from 2000-05 played a role in her participation.
Vermillion had dinner with Onion and Gunther in California this summer, and the fishing duo expressed an interest in adding a third member to its team.
“(I told them) if they couldn’t find a member for their team, I’d be happy to be a member of the Old South Marlin Club,” Vermillion said.
That’s exactly what happened, and on top of that, Pittman made her team captain.
Old South Marlin Club, which sent four teams to the HIBT this year, has fished in the tournament for 12 years.
“It was the perfect week with the perfect team. It couldn’t have gone better. All the stars aligned.”