Categorized | Fishing, Sports

Tag and release – the new ‘old school’ – Kona style

Special to Hawaii 24/7

Kona is to blue marlin fishing as Pebble Beach is to golf – an “old school” name in an ever-increasing swarm of flashy brands. But along with being an established brand comes a certain reputation that does not always hold up to closer inspection.

The Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series just turned the corner of the midpoint in the season. Now that the first three events are over – catch statistics this summer are helping to dispel some common misconception concerning the “old school” reputation of Kona.

Ninety-four percent of all the marlin caught in the first three tournaments have been tagged and released alive – back into the ocean they go. The figures, to be exact, are 114 of 121 marlin released.

The total available purse to date from the first three events was $616,060 and again, more than 90 percent of the teams pocketing this purse had tag and released marlin on their scorecards.

The season began with the suitably re-branded Kona Kick Off. Thirty-six teams caught 18 marlin of which one was kept to win the Largest Marlin category – a 718 pounder by Joe Gallegos on “Strong Persuader;” a world class catch in anyone’s book.

Next up was the 23rd Annual Firecracker Open where more myths were debunked. Sea Genie II took top honors with a tag and a 641 pounder by the team of Paul Dolinoy and Mike Cipolla.

After the 641 pounder was weighed, Paul elected to stay on shore and Mike hooked into another marlin estimated to be “hundreds of pounds” larger.

The team calculated it did not need any more points to win the tournament, and decided to release this fish, even though it could have been a coveted “grander.”

Just prior to tagging, the marlin released itself and swam away. The end result was the same.

Bubba Brown on Capt. Kevin Nakamaru’s “Northern Lights” took second with a tagged marlin and a 512 pounder. However, Bubba and his team earned the most money, laying claim to $122,520 by sweeping the lucrative optional categories.

Third place in the Firecracker Open was a tie with two boats at 600 points – both with tag points only.

The next event, the Skins Marlin Derby is the premier Big Marlin event on the circuit, and although the field narrowed to 34 teams, the purse climbed to $293,280. The “elite” of the sport made their appearance, albeit in shorts and barefoot on the deck.

Sixty marlin were caught and three were taken to the scales. Two of these earned a daily “Skins” purse of $27,200 each. The third marlin weighed just missed the 500-pound mark, but still earned a large chunk of change when combined for points in optional categories.

Wahine “local girl” angler Heather Masunaga caught the largest “Skin” fish at 676.5 pounds with her dad Kerwin at the wheel of “Rod Bender.” Tim Rainey on “Maui Jim” grabbed the next Skin with a squeaker at 506 pounds, just 6 pounds over the minimum.

Team “Humdinger” claimed the Third daily “Skin” purse with five marlin tagged and released and zero weighed on their scorecard. In the Skins Derby, any “Skin” money not claimed by a fish over 500 pounds is awarded to the team with top total points. Capt. Jeff Fay’s 1,000 tag and release ruled on the third and final day.

Every single dollar paid out in the Skins Marlin Derby went to teams with tag and release on their scorecard, but catching the “monster of the day” certainly helped two teams.

The Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series moves into the Second Half in August with the Big Island Marlin Tournament followed by the Lazy Marlin Hunt. The September Challenge returns for its second year in the third week of that month, as the final competition of the season.

Each year, a Series Champion is crowned at an invitation only tournament held the weekend after the Skins Marlin Derby. To follow along with the Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series, visit

To watch past national TV coverage episodes of the HMTS, visit

So far in the 2011 season, Kona has lived up to its “kahuna” reputation as the Blue Marlin Capital of the World, but it has added a new image while burying and old myth: in Kona, tag and release rules. But whether you boat ’em or tag and release ’em, Kona is still the best place on earth to catch large blue marlin.

An old institution withstands the tests of time by changing with it, while remaining steadfast to tradition.

Most modern day fishing techniques for marlin and tuna were developed by Hawaiians, but new “norms” have evolved as the sport has spread across the globe. Kona – like Pebble Beach – doesn’t adopt every new fad and gimmick that hits the tour, but quietly accepts quality innovation and improves on it.

So in Kona, blazers and slacks are not required as T-shirts and flip-flops will get you into all the hallowed halls of the sport.

You can wear blazers and slacks if you want, and many do. But not many do it more than once.

It’s just that kind of a place.

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