Categorized | Featured, Fishing, Sports

Sometimes the fish win and sometimes they don’t

Members of the press get a front row seat Friday, July 29 the final day of the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament.

Story and photography by Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

“Start fishing, start fishing, start fishing!” With those words, the chase is on.

Twenty-eight of Kona’s best charter boats bolt out of Kailua Bay, with eager anglers on a quest for the great Pacific blue marlin and points toward the 52nd annual Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament trophy.

Right behind that fleet is a handful of press photographers aboard Chiripa, chasing the elusive leaping fish photo. Skipper BC Crawford puts the throttle down and, aiming Chiripa northwest, quickly pulls up near Wild Hooker.

In little more than one hour, Capt. Randy Parker has found a marlin for the Alii Brothers Marlin Hui team. They are hooked up and the angler is working the rod back and forth.

Crawford eases in close to the action and swings Chiripa around so the sun is behind the photographers. A smooth move to ensure the best pictures, but Parker waves him back as the marlin puts up a fierce fight.

Crawford keeps up a running commentary from his perch. “See that guy at the back with the gloves on. He’s the deck hand. When he gets all lit up, you know the fish is getting close. And he’s already got his gloves on. He’s like a dog getting ready to attack. When he gets down like that, it’s go time.”

After about 15 minutes, a loud ‘ping’ and even louder ‘awwww’ carry across the water. The deckhand rips off his gloves and flings them down. The marlin has broken free and Alii Brothers won’t be getting any points from that battle.

The angler's chair aboard the Chiripa was mostly empty as the photographers attention was elsewhere.

The press boat chugs away slowly and the photographers’ attention is drawn to a single dorsal fin popping up above the swells. More quickly follow and a handful of dolphins join in Chiripa’s cruise for several minutes.

It doesn’t take long before the radio crackles again. Sea Baby III is hooked up. Crawford hammers toward the action and the photographers clutch their cameras as tightly as the guardrails.

The Chiripa pulls in behind the Sea Baby III as the Hilton Grand Vacations Fishing Club – Ohana angler gives a mighty tug on the rod and the deckhands reach over with gaff hooks, ropes and an aluminum baseball bat. They struggle to subdue the fish as they pull it alongside the boat.

It’s a monster. Estimates ranged between 425 lbs. and 500 lbs. That’d be one of the biggest of the week and worth a bucket load of points.

The press boat erupts in a cacophony of clicks, whirs and snaps as camera shutters work overtime. Over on the Sea Baby, it’s a jumble of ‘get her,’ ‘hold on’ and ‘got it.’

Hilton Grand Vacations Fishing Club - Ohana was pleased to snag a Pacific blue marlin about 10 a.m. Friday, July 29.

Almost simultaneously, the deckhand loses his grip on the baseball bat and as it bobs off in the swells, Crawford voice rises above the noise of two engines, six cameras and the crew’s chorus.

“Shark, shark, shark. There he is. Quick. Get her onboard. Oh no. Too late. That’s DQ’d.”

The anglers and crew look crestfallen, but continue to haul the carcass onboard.

The photographers crowd together, waiting to see the carnage. Blood begins to change the color of the ocean and as the monster marlin is dragged aboard, it’s clear several large chunks of its flank are missing.

Blood stains the ocean as the crew pulls the fish aboard Sea Baby III.

The anglers and crew silently tug at the fish and inspect the damage. Meanwhile, Crawford is still yelling.

“Roney, grab the bat. Can you reach? Hang on. Got it? Good.”

Crawford expertly eases in closer so Roney can hand the bat back to the Sea Baby crew. But everyone on both boats is momentarily distracted.

“There’s the shark.” Roney points the bat into the water about six feet off the stern of Chiripa. “See it? Right there.”

Just below the surface, the shark glides between the boats as if wondering what happened to its breakfast buffet.

Is it 6 feet long, 8 feet, maybe 10 feet? “Hard to say,” Roney peered deeper into the water. “But probably about 200 or 300 pounds, I’d guess.”

Over on Sea Baby, they all look like soccer goalkeepers who have accidentally let in a game-losing goal. Hands on hips, heads shaking, staring down at their feet as if personally insulted by the grave injustice of what just happened.

According to International Game Fish Association, a catch is disqualified for any mutilation to the fish, prior to landing or boating the catch, caused by sharks, other fish, mammals, or propellers that remove or penetrate the flesh.

So, no points for that team, either.

The back end of the marlin after its encounter with a whitetip shark. The fish reportedly weighed in at 436 lbs., with an estimated 30-40 lbs missing.

Crawford gets a little philosophical. “All that work. But what are you gonna do? That’s fishing for you. Sometimes you lose them.”

For the next two hours, Crawford alternates between toodling around the various zones that make up the tournament’s fishing area and ripping along to catch up with the next photo opportunity.

Game fishing is not a titillating spectator sport for novices, but watch long enough and the delicate dance between angler and fish becomes clear. Reels whiz angrily as a billfish darts in every direction under the waves. Rods bend and strain as the angler works the surface.

There’s a give and take, a dramatic display across dimensions. And there is always only one winner.

Sometimes the lure works itself free and the fish is gone. Sometimes lines get tangled or snap or the deckhands can’t get a good grip and the fish is gone.

“Sometimes they start to zip off in all directions, chaining it up and the lure just pops loose and you’re done,” Roney said, snapping his fingers. “The fish wins.”

Other times, the angler, his teammates, the skipper and the crew work in concert so precisely that the fish is out-numbered, out-maneuvered and out of luck. For the angler, it’s points and bragging rights. For the fish, it’s the end of the line. Literally.

Many times – especially during tournaments like HIBT that place as much emphasis on research and conservation as sport – the fish is zapped with a tracking device, which monitors its movements, and cut loose.

Crawford catches up with several boats just as anglers attach the tag. The whoops of delight and slaps of high-fives echo across the swells. Hey, you still get points and bragging rights for tag and release.

Tagging and releasing a Pacific blue marlin aboard the Kona Seafari.

There is a lull shortly after noon and the photographers settle down for a lunch of sandwiches, pretzels and carrot sticks. Shortly after that, the conversation falls off and more than half the photographers snooze in the cabin as Chiripa rumbles sedately along.

When Crawford throws it into high gear and the engine starts to growl, the photographers follow. Up and out on the deck in an instant. Is someone hooked up? Where? More whoops and high-fives. Oh, they tagged and released already? Back to snoozing.

Later, with all assignments complete and another break in the action, Crawford turns away from the defined tournament fishing area and shifts into Star Trek super-wrap speed, as Roney busts out a big shiny fishing rod.

Everyone relaxes again, but keeps one eye on the blue reel and bright green fishing line that trails behind the boat. Just as the snoozing sets back in, that distinctive whiz sounds as loud as a tsunami siren. And the reaction is just as fierce.

Roney quickly plants Erin in the angler’s seat. Erin, who is shooting for an Australian fishing magazine, is an ocean aficionado – surfer, angler, boat deckhand, lover of the wide open spaces.

She looks comfortable and in charge, winding the reel on and letting the slack off with ease. Arms and shoulders pumping, focused, intent on the thin line that connects her to this unseen, under-sea behemoth.

Roney, who has 35 years at sea, is giving her pointers and Erin is doing so well, he has already donned those getting-close gloves. Crawford, however, is skipper and has a birds-eye view.

“Pump it up and down. Quick strokes, if you can, Erin. You got it.” He’s directing this dance from above.

It goes well. The lure pops to the surface several times. Roney leans over. “It’s probably 125 lbs.,” he yelled up to Crawford.

There are cameras ready. Everyone is on edge.

Steve Roney has his gloves on and is ready for action as Erin works the rod. Eventually, the fish thrashed loose and was gone.

‘Thwipppp.’ The lure ricochets back and the fish is gone.

“Hey, I’ve caught tons of fish before but that was my first marlin so yeah, it was exciting,” she said. “Bring it on. I loved it.”

Crawford, however, isn’t up for that challenge. The press boat swings by one more tag and release catch.

Strong Persuader has a strike at about 3:30 p.m. and Crawford gets the press boat there in time to see the tagging tussle..

“Fish on. Fish on. Come on, Charlie, make her jump. Aww, no, scratching up the boat on that side. They got her. OK, that’s it. We’re going in.”

Back at Kailua Pier, the anglers might be a bit disappointed that nobody hauled in a big fish. But, like all true anglers, they were quite happy with their new stories about the ones that got away.

On this day – the final day of fishing for the 52nd annual Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament – maybe the fish won.

Never mind. There’s always next year. Save the dates: Aug. 13-17, 2012.

— Find out more:

Thanks for the ride, Capt. BC Crawford and deckhand Steve Roney!

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