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Catching up: HIBT a historically great time in Kona

Updated: 
September 11, 2017 - 12:05am

The sport fishing boats taking off across Kailua Bay this morning mark the start of the 58th annual Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament. Teams from around the world will fish the legendary waters off West Hawaii and have a chance of capturing the HIBT’s prestigious Governor’s trophy.

For those who have never seen a big fish before, this is a golden opportunity. The HIBT is rich in International Game Fish Association history, setting 15 world records, and the weigh-ins have included two blue marlin weighing over 1,000-pounds — one caught in the official tournament and one caught in the pro-am — and numerous marlin weighing over 500 pounds. You will probably see big ahi at the scales, too.

Peter Fithian founded the HIBT in 1959, the same year Hawaii became a state. In the more than half-century since, it has become one of the most legendary events to take place along the Kona coast, so much so that it landed Fithian a spot in the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame.

Before coming to Hawaii, Fithian was the General Manager at Augusta National Golf Club in 1954. It was at the Masters Golf Tournament that Peter received his inspiration for the model of HIBT.

Fithian was hired in 1954 by the great golfer Bobby Jones to manage the Augusta National Golf Club. One year after arriving at Augusta, he accepted a job managing the Kona Inn. Peter immediately saw the potential for big game fishing on the west side of the Big island.

A small group of local anglers were regularly assembled in Fithian’s Kona Inn office to discuss the planning of a world-class sport fishing tournament. Henry Chee, the legendary Kona fisherman and IGFA Hall of Fame recipient, was also a part of this group. The rest is history.

The HIBT is just one of many achievements by Fithian. Other achievements include the following:

• Founding the Pacific Ocean Research Foundation for scientific studies on marlin in the Pacific. Information gathered has allowed the fishing community to collect data on the Pacific blue marlin, including their feeding habits and their migration movement throughout the Pacific ocean.

• Instrumental in assisting in the formation of the Japanese Game Fishing Association. Presently working with mainland Chinese on forming their game fishing endeavors.

• Worked tirelessly for over 60 years promoting sustainable sport fishing in Hawaii, using the principles promoted by the IGFA as his guide.

• Promotes the use of strict IGFA rules worldwide through the HIBT

• Requires HIBT anglers to become IGFA members

• Requires the use of circle hooks in the HIBT

• Early on he supported the tag and release technique to help preserve the fish stock

• Contributes support including the fishing venue for the placing of electronic tags in support of The Great Marlin Race

• In 1976 Fithian was nominated by the Governor of Hawaii and appointed by the Secretary of Commerce to the newly established Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council.

• Inducted into the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame in 2001

• Served for many years on the Board of Trustees and committees of the IGFA. Now is honored of being trustee emeritus

Speaking of Big Fish

Australian Trish Simpson certainly gave her husband Tim, the editor of the popular fishing magazine Bluewater, something to write about when she tagged and released a blue marlin estimated well over 800 pounds on Friday. This big fish came after she had already caught another blue marlin two hours earlier.

When he first saw the enormous fish, Capt. Marlin Parker believed it might have had a chance to break Alex Nuttall’s IGFA’s women’s world record of 958-pound caught off Kona on the Monkey Biz II in March 2012. Ironically, Nuttall is also an Australian. It looks like these Aussie gals know how to catch big fish too.

Trish, who had previously caught only one blue marlin in her life, had a remarkable day Friday on the Marlin Magic II. Capt. Marlin Parker said he had a gut feeling they were going to find a big fish that day and he asked Simpson if she was ready to catch a world record blue marlin.

Trish happily accepted the offer, and everyone determined if a fish were to strike, she would apply IFGA rules. Following these rules means that without any crew assistance, she would have to transfer the rod from the rod holder to the fighting chair, buckle the reel in the bucket harness and wind the fish to the boat. It would be all her doing. This effort is a serious challenge for anyone when there is a huge fish on the end of the line.

At 8 a.m., in conjunction with the moonset, a blue marlin attacked a Marlin Magic XL Henry lure on the boat’s short bait. The boat sprung to life. Simpson correctly transferred the fishing rod by herself and went into action. The fish turned out to be a lively 150-pound blue marlin. Approximately 10 minutes later, crewman Ryan Thurner had the leader, and the fish was alongside the boat getting its picture taken. The beautiful little blue was then tagged and released.

A smiling Simpson caught the fish entirely on her own and now had a total of two blue marlin under her belt. Little did she know this was only a warm up for things to come.

Two hours later, the long bait rod bent over, peeling out line. No one saw the fish, and it was thought to be a big ahi since it ate a deadly ahi rig, a Marlin Magic infant blue lure with a small 8/0 hook with a 400-pound leader. After grabbing the lure, the fish went straight down into the deep Kona blue.

Simpson grabbed the rod, took it to the fighting chair, clipped the reel into the harness and prepared for battle. Five minutes later a monster blue marlin erupted about 400 yards behind the boat. The big fish went ballistic, jumping and throwing white water everywhere. The adrenaline rush was on, with everyone’s hearts pounding a little faster, and then the behemoth fish went back down.

Twenty minutes later the fish exploded on the surface again, showing its power and grace by putting on a spectacular aerial display. Simpson courageously battled back, gaining line whenever she could, reeling with all her might. Her husband and the entire crew encouraging her as she reeled.

After an hour and ten minutes, the gigantic marlin was near the boat, but decided it wasn’t ready to be caught and a thirty minute stand off ensued. The fish wouldn’t budge, and considering the smaller hook and leader, great care was taken by the captain not to lose the fish when it was this close to the boat. Simpson was giving it her all.

One hour and forty minutes after the initial hookup, mate Ryan Thurner held the 400-pound leader in his hands, and he had the fish alongside the boat. The gaffs were ready to bring the fish aboard, but the experienced captain realized the fish, even though it was possibly in the 900-pound range, would not break the women’s world record.

They decided to let the fish live to fight another day. The marlin was tagged, and photographer extraordinaires Tim Simpson and Carol Lynne got to take some great photos. The captain spent extra care and time to make sure the fish would survive its release. After twenty minutes of helpful revival techniques, they all happily watched the gargantuan fish swim away, and high fives were in the air.

Trish Simpson’s third blue marlin was a big one and an unforgettable experience.

“After releasing a 150-pound blue marlin I felt the day was already a huge success, but what happened next blew me away and gave me an experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life,” Trish said. “At 10 a.m. I was hooked to the biggest blue marlin I’ve ever seen. It seemed the size of a small car, and over the next hour and forty minutes, (the marlin) tested every muscle and every drop of stamina I could muster. When Ryan finally took hold of the leader, my heart was in my mouth, and I held my breath. Seeing that stunning marlin beside the boat, glowing in exquisite flashes of purple down its flank, is a memory that still has me buzzing.”

Tim, who has seen a lot of fish, said he would never forget how “lit up” the blue marlin was while on the leader. He said the brilliant colors going up and down the side of the fish were incredible.

Upcoming Events

Sept. 22-24: “It’s A Wrap,” is the final tournament of Jody Bight’s 2017 Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series and the last major blue marlin tournament of the year. Plenty of fishing boats are available for charter.

Want to see what the charter boats have been catching? Like “Kona Fish Report” on Facebook. Captains and crew please like and tag your fishing photos.

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