The Bright Side: Decree or not decree

  • Capt. Bomboy Llanes with the “Grander” that came in second to 7 tagged marlin at the 2003 Firecracker Open.

The greatest sportswriter of all time was inarguably Dan Jenkins. After a career that spanned more than 70 years, he’d covered so many major golf tournaments that he wrote, “I don’t cover golf tournaments any more — I preside over them.”

Jenkins passed recently, at the age of 90.


When I read that quote I thought, “I wonder if I’ll resemble that remark one day?”

My dad and his buddies were putting up fishing tournaments as far back as the 1960s. My brother still operates one in Texas and here in Kona, I am about to go into my 33rd year with the Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series. This doesn’t add up to 70 years though, so I still “get chance” to get out of this alive.

Another Dan quote: “In a story, you have to find the defining moment and kick it to death.”

With golf and other sports, there is always a defining moment. In fishing, where the “thrill of victory or the agony of defeat” rides on the fins of a wild animal, the defining moment can possibly be hours and hours of nothing happening.

The defining moment every angler, skipper and crewmen lives for, however, is when a giant fish is finally, unequivocally, inescapably — caught. Kona is a big marlin destination, and big marlin are what we offer. Well, sometimes we do, mostly we offer the hope and chance to encounter and catch truly big marlin.

Charles Gaines wrote that this was “a token for a dream.” I’m still trying to figure out what he meant by that, but my take on it is to tell everyone on the planet within internet range about the big marlin being caught in Kona.

Last year, we started counting blue marlin caught in Kona (500 pounds plus) on New Years Day. We started losing count, somewhere around the time the 50th fish was reported, May 1 or so.

Things being how they are here on the Big Island, this year we started counting a bit later. We got started on March 1 and as of May 22, we are closing in on the 40th blue caught over 500 so far. We don’t know exactly how many over 500 were caught in January and February, but we do know that the largest at that time was a 713-pound blue caught on Ihu Nui with Capt. McGrew Rice.

Ihu Nui has now been knocked off the top of the Big Fish list by a 722-pound blue landed from “Linda Sue IV.”

All this bodes well for tournament season, which is just around the corner. The Hawaii Big Game Fishing Club’s Rock n Reel Hawaiian Open is the first “major” on the schedule, fishing over the weekend of June 8-9.

Shortly thereafter, yours truly will don cleats and sprint downhill from my training grounds up here on the Pu’uanahulu ridge, jog into the harbor and hit the starting line of a tournament marathon that would drop a normal man. I can say this because it pretty much drops me and I don’t even fish it.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Titan Games TV show is a sunset stroll along Alii Drive in comparison to “Million Dollar Week,” the hump day of the Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series that lasts for nine days. From June 28 to July 8, four of the highest profile big game tournaments in the world fish back to back, and even overlap — eight fishing days over a stretch of nine calendar days.

It’s a grueling stretch where you grab sleep the way a dolphin does, they shut off one side of their brain and sleep with one eye open. Even more grueling is living on the “tournament diet,” which is not exactly ketogenic, but can cause weight loss.

Anglers who charter boats try to lock in the top boats and crews way in advance, but not every team is elite. Anyone can enter and everyone is welcome.

If Dan Jenkins covered these tourneys, he might observe that in a few ways they are comparable to a PGA ProAm. Some anglers might be more comfortable with a Ping than a Penn and some guys are skippers only because they bought a boat, a scenario a golf pro can relate to.

Conversely, it is hard to find a congregation of more skilled BIG marlin anglers, skippers and crews than our gang here in Kona, save for one other fishing hole.

Golfers have Augusta and Pebble Beach. Fishing has Kona and the Great Barrier Reef. There are tournaments scattered all across the globe, and most have more sponsors than NASCAR, hooplah befitting a Bowl Game, purses too big for Fort Knox and so many small billfish that the scorekeepers can’t keep up. But these events only start to prepare fishermen for Kona or the GBR.

A few of the rules in the HMT Series have been brought up from Down Under. Some have been hybridized. For example, the Lizard Island tourney is 100 percent tag and release, but they have no purse. It is a different game with cash on the line and no one has figured out how to equitably score a 900-pound marlin against a 90 pounder if both are released.

When it’s just bragging rights, a tag is a tag. No worries, mate.

In Kona we have a 400-pound minimum weight and fish larger than that may be brought to the scales, because scales don’t lie. If a team catches a marlin that may or may not weigh more than 400 pounds, we allow them to tag it to insure they get those points in case it gets away while they try to decide to take it, or not.

If the team decides that the marginal fish is 401 pounds or more, and they try to gaff it and it gets away, they get zero points, even though they already tagged it. The latter part of that rule is from an Australian tournament and the 400-pound minimum was agreed upon here, by Kona skippers.

Years back, the IGFA issued what they called the IGFA “Release Rule.” This was an odd decree, because their mandate is to judge and curate world records. The rule was odd because billfish released (but not weighed) can’t qualify for a record. Go figger.

Their decree stated that an “official release” is counted when, A: the snap swivel or leader knot touches the rod tip; or B: the deckhand touches the leader.

In response, we issued a fatwa, and here’s why.

One season down on the Great Barrier Reef crews were claiming just about everything as a release, in a mad dash to have the most releases at the end of the season. Capt. Peter B. Wright responded with his own decree, stating that he would only recognize tag cards at the end of the season, thereby standardizing that a fish had to be tagged to count as a release.

In short order crews started deploying tag poles as long as a pole vault pole. Marlin were tagged before the wireman had the leader! I was fishing the GBR most every season back in those days, so I brought the Aussie standard that a marlin must be tagged to be released back home and wrote it into the HMT Series rules. However, I incorporated a maximum length for the tag pole — eight feet. Pole vault poles were out.

I’m not sure where I came up with the length of eight feet. Maybe I just wanted to issue a decree of my own.

The Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series is world class competition infused with professional camaraderie, and the ace players want to be dealt is a Grander. Sure, everyone likes action, the more the better, but Kona is about Big Ones.

Back in 2003, the Firecracker Open was won by a team tagging seven small marlin. Another team caught a grander — a fish that weighed 1,258.5 pounds. But seven tags outscored the grander, 1,400-1,258.5 .The winning team was happy to collect their winnings though the team captain was clear to lament, “A win is a win, but I’d rather have their grander.”

That’s a statement worthy of a tombstone — one’s final decree. Know what Dan Jenkins tombstone says?


“I knew this would happen.”

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