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Fishing: HIBT embracing somes changes

Updated: 
September 11, 2017 - 12:05am

The 48th annual Hawaii International Billfish Tournament is all about change — some planned, some not.

The most notable change for the HIBT is the date with the tournament taking place in September instead of August. The change is probably a positive for local boat captains, since it allows them to finish up the busy summer season without interruption. But as for drawing in fishermen from around the world, the new dates have not been alluring with only 18 teams competing this year as opposed to 29 in 2016.

“This year, the tournament took a bold step and moved its five days of fishing off the busy summer calendar,” HIBT founder and director Peter Fithian said. “The hope was a September date would provide the opportunity of having lots of visitor charters to fill a slower shoulder season. After reviewing our team interest, Kona summer fishing is still preferred by anglers around the world.”

While the tournament is down nearly one-third of its anglers, it is still drawing teams from around the world. This year’s HIBT includes clubs from the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and South Africa.

“Kona and the HIBT has attracted fishing enthusiasts to these famous waters since its inception in 1959,” Fithian said. “There have been great captains with great fishing right outside the starting line, and anglers really long to fish here.”

Returning to the HIBT this year is the 2016 Governor’s Trophy champion, Malibu Marlin Club. The Malibu Marlin team consists of anglers Buzz Colton, Steve Spina, Fred Duerr and Stephen Chow. Last year the team had to fight for its victory, heading into the final day of competition tied with two other teams for the lead. However, the tie would be broken quickly when Malibu Marin was able to tag and release a fish within 30 minutes of the start fishing call.

The win was the second for the club, having also won the tournament in 2006.

“There is a team that has won the tournament three times, so if we are able to win this year and tie them, that would mean a lot,” said Malibu Marlin team member Buzz Colton. “There is a lot of pride that comes from competing in this tournament against some of the best anglers in the world. Coming here is like competing in the Rose Bowl every year.”

There was a historically low amount of bites at last year’s HIBT, with Malibu Marlin winning the tournament with a team total of 1,200 points, the lowest score since a 1,239 was posted in 2007. In the previous two years, the tournament winners posted scores in the 2,000 range. As for the 2017 tournament, fishing may be ready to pick up.

“Two days ago, an HIBT media team was fishing with Marlin Parker and tagged an estimated 850-900 pound Pacific blue marlin not to far out of the harbor,” Fithian said. “The fish are here and HIBT anglers are ready to fish.”

If the fish do decide to bite this week, it will be a welcomed sight for local and visiting anglers, especially when it comes to large marlin. Not one grander has been caught in 2017. If one is caught in the tournament this week, it will be a very rare occurrence. Only one grander has been caught in tournament history. That marlin was caught in 1986 by angler Gil Kraemer on the boat Ihu Nui and weighed 1,062.5 pounds.

Another grander was caught in the pro-am in 1993, a tournament which used to take place a week before the HIBT. That marlin — a 1,166-pounder — was caught by Ray Hawkes on the boat Sea Strike.

“The big girls are still here and HIBT is always looking to put another world record on the books,” Fithian said. “It’s been a late fishing year and I think fishing this week should be pretty good.”

Each year HIBT honors the angler having the heaviest qualifying billfish both on 80 and 50 pound test line. HIBT is an iconic five day, big game fishing tournament built on prestige and strict International Game Fish Association rules for world records.

While a busy fishing week would be a blessing for the anglers, everyone with HIBT opens this year’s tournament with a heavy heart after the passing of Jim Rizzuto earlier this summer. Rizzuto had a long history with the tournament and has held many responsibilities including press chief, commissioner, governor and pier emcee. He was involved in the tournament since its inception and started actively helping out in the early 1970’s.

“All of us here at HIBT are deeply saddened by Jim’s passing,” Fithian said. “He was a great friend to the tournament and Kona fisherman in general. We have honored him in the official program and will take a moment of silence on Monday’s start fishing to honor our friend.”

The HIBT will start fishing at 8 a.m. today and the tournament and will run through Friday. There will be daily round-up reports at Kailua Pier at 10 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. Stop fishing will be at 4 p.m., followed by weigh-ins.

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