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Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament: Japan, Vanuatu and China vying for lead

July 31, 2014 - 4:57am

Andrew Neill of Port Vila Sport Fishing Club has had good days before at the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament — after all, the Vanuatu angler was on the 2011 championship team — but he never experienced success like he did on Wednesday.

Neill’s 470.5-pound blue marlin wasn’t just the biggest catch of the day, it also was the largest he’s ever caught.

“The year that we won it we had seven tags — they were all tags,” he said, referring to marlins that weigh less than 300 pounds and are tagged and released. “This is the first time I’ve landed a fish (that was a keeper).”

Neill battled the fish for an hour and 42 minutes in the Makolea Point area.

“I enjoyed every minute of it,” he said. “This is what we came for. I’ve been waiting for this for four years.”

It wasn’t his only one of the day aboard the Northern Lights, captained by Kevin Nakamaru. Neill also caught a marlin estimated at 275 pounds Wednesday. Both were reeled in on 50-pound test lines, which resulted in a bonus. The team also received a bonus for the biggest catch of the day, resulting in 1,027 points for the day, putting them in second place.

Japan’s Olympian Dream Fishing Club held the lead with 1,029 points after the third day of the competition, which runs through Friday.

The China Sea Wolf Club is third with 600 points, and Liu Ming reeled in a 167.7-pound ahi after a 15-minute fight Wednesday morning.

“When I started, (it was) very difficult because the fish is strong,” he said. “After 14 minutes fighting, there’s suddenly no strength. It seemed as if the line was broken. I was very afraid, actually. I was reeling it in very fast. In 15 minutes, I caught this fish.”

Amy Gunther of Orange County, California, also had a big day Wednesday. She caught her first blue marlin. The fish, estimated at 170 pounds, was not large enough to keep, but that didn’t temper her enthusiasm.

“Really exciting,” she said of the catch, which came after a 20-minute fight. “I’ve caught a lot of striped marlins, down in Mexico and other places, but never a blue.”

Gunther said that Capt. Lance Gelman and his Medusa crew played a big role in it.

“The crew and captains here are just incredible,” said Gunther, who is a part of the Old South Marlin Club-Pacific Rim. “They are so helpful. They just calm you down and talk you right through it.”

Gunther said she’s been coming to Kona for the past seven years, and she now has bragging rights over team captain Steve Gunther and angler Ken Onion.

“I was the cheerleader for the first five years, and I started fishing last year,” she said. “I put us on the board this year and the boys didn’t.”

The competition will resume this morning at 7:30 at Kailua Pier.