Slump-busting day gives HIBT teams hope; Aussie club Moreton Bay still in lead

  • Divergent crew KJ Robinson and Moreton Bay Game Fish Club’s Clinton and Michele Hicks take a photo moment after the IGFA Judges approve their tackle. (Courtesy photo/HIBT)

KAILUA-KONA — Nothing feels better than breaking out of a slump.

When the strikes came Wednesday at the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament, Pajaro Valley Gamefish Club went 3-for-5 — an average even a big league slugger would be proud of.

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Angler Bill Evans notched a pair of catches for the club on Day 3, which included a short nose spearfish and an ahi that he hooked just before the stop fishing call. The club also reeled in an additional spearfish in the shutout-breaking haul.

“It felt a lot like being at the plate hitless and you finally get one through the infield. It was a magical day in a magical place,” Evans said. “Up to this point it had been a lovely time, but we had not brought in squat. We can relax just a little now.”

The catches bumped Pajaro Valley Gamefish Club up the scoreboard with 200 points, but the veteran squad — made up of Joe Yee, Tony Campos, Rocky Franich and Evans — still has some ground to make up.

Australia’s Moreton Bay Game Fish Club continues to sit atop the HIBT leaderboard with 1,000 points. Hot on their tail is Kona Game Fishing Club-Osaka, Gidborne Tatapouri Sports Fishing Club, J.J. Game Fishing Club of South Australia and Surfside Marina, all with 600 points. In total, 17 teams have put points on the board.

Clinton and Michele Hicks make up the lead Moreton Bay team, and used a trio of first-day tags amounting to 700 points to jump out to the early lead. A 125-pound blue marlin tag on Wednesday brought in by Clinton Hicks helped the duo maintain the margin.

“To be the leaders here midweek is just unreal,” Clinton Hicks said. “Divergent’s captain (Kevin Hibbard) and crew (KJ Robinson) are top, top, top. I’ve never been on a boat that good in all my life.”

As the boats rolled into the pier, Rick Gaffney spoke to the healthy crowd on hand, sharing knowledge that only someone with his credentials would have — everything from details on the boats to insight on the tournament’s lone grander. For those wondering, the legendary 1,062-pound fish came in 1986, although another was caught in tournament’s 1993 preliminary HIBT Pro-Am event, which no longer exists.

Gaffney’s official title with the tourney is IGFA judge, but he’s been around the event since the 1960s and has functioned as a utility man of sorts, doing everything from manning the mic to serving as a captain and even a deckhand.

With the lack of fish being weighed, the optics might trick one into thinking the fishing has been discouraging. But the frequency of the smaller bites tell a different story.

“We have seen several 100-pound-plus ahi, and those are 1,000-pound fish food,” Gaffney said. “There are two days left, and I’d be very surprised if we don’t see a big fish weighed by the end of the week.”

Gaffney said a mighty blue marlin was hooked up on Tuesday— estimated at about 800 pounds — but it got away. With time winding down, a catch like that would likely be a Governor’s Trophy clincher.

Gaffney ran through various ideas he’s had and heard on why the big ones haven’t been heading to the scales before stopping himself.

“Fishermen love theories,” he said with a laugh. “But this tournament is producing fish. Some anglers are lucky, some aren’t. At the end of the day, fishing is about being in the right place at the right time. You could be in the lead, but if someone catches an 800-pound marlin it changes everything.”

It only takes that one bite, so Evans and the Pajaro Valley Gamefish Club aren’t losing hope, and rightly so. The club has been fishing in the tournament with various teams of anglers since nearly the beginning, almost six decades ago. Franich, the team captain, has three wins to his name with the club and is hungry for a fourth. Evans seems to have the hot hand on the reel and having Yee — a legendary Hawaii lure maker — on their side, helps, too.

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“Joe (Yee) always has something special. He reaches into his bag of tricks and you never know what will come out,” Evans said with a smile. “He has a sense for the sea. It’s amazing.”

The iconic five-day HIBT continues through Friday. Fishing revs up again today at 8 a.m. with stop fishing and weigh-ins starting at 4 p.m.