In recent years, the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament has become an event where rookie teams can shine.
Seven first-time participants hope they can follow suit in this year’s tournament, which begins Monday and runs through Friday in West Hawaii waters.
Last year, Port Vila Game Fishing Club fished in its first HIBT and took a title home to Vanuatu, an island nation located approximately 1,000 miles east of Australia. Port Vila collected 2,000 points — the 10th-highest total in the 53-year history of the tournament.
Four years earlier, Japan’s Hilton Grand Vacations Fishing Club made its first HIBT appearance and topped the field.
When discussing rookie teams’ success, HIBT founder Peter Fithian said luck often dictates a team’s ability to catch large marlin but that Kona’s boat captains often create that luck by evaluating recent catch logs, trends, water temperature and other information.
“I think that being in the right place at the right time has a lot to do with this type of a sport,” Fithian said.
Last year, PKU Sun Fun Club became China’s first-ever participant. PKU will fish again this year along with three other Chinese teams — Chinese Anglers Association Zhu Hai Game Fishing Club, CAA Fishing Master Club and CAA Elite Club — that will make their first HIBT appearances.
Fithian said China, wanting to host big-game fishing tournaments in the future, has sent fishing teams to the HIBT to gain insight on how to organize a tournament.
This year, IGFA Russia will become Russia’s first HIBT entrant. Other first-time HIBT participants include Australia’s Townsville Game Fishing Club, Big Game Clube de Portugal and California’s Mission Bay Marlin Club.
The tournament field also includes past HIBT champions Pajaro Valley Game Fishing Club (1997, 2001, 2003), Malibu Marlin Club (2006), Laguna Niguel Billfish Club No. 2 (2008) and Kona Game Fishing Club-Kusatsu (2010).
Laguna Niguel captain Bob Kurz will coordinate the Great Marlin Race — a scientific research program that gathers data on marlin migratory patterns — for the fourth straight year.
Kurz sells pop-up archival tags to HIBT anglers, who then try to insert them on the shoulders of tagged-and-released marlin. The PATs, which gather data on marlin’s water depth and distance traveled, are programmed to release from the marlin after 120 days.
Of the PAT-injected marlin, the one that travels the farthest before its tag releases wins the GMR — and a free entry into next year’s HIBT.
PATs cost $4,000.
Kurz sold 10 tags last year, and a scientific grant by West Marine, a marine hardware company on Oahu, sponsored the winning tag Magic Marlin II inserted into a 170-pound marlin that traveled 2,188 nautical miles.
Kurz said he has sold six tags this year, and he expects to sell four more before leaving the island.
c Note: The Great Marlin Race originated at the HIBT, but GMR officials have taken their research program to tournaments in Puerto Rico, South Africa, Madeira and Exmouth (Australia) over the past two years.