The Bright Side: One man’s ceiling…

Willie Nelson once said that the loneliest guys on earth were cowboys and sailors. Both have plenty of time on their hands to live in their heads. Hence “cowboy poets” and the oldest poem in history — “Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor” — circa 2500 B.C.

Interchange “sailors” with “fishermen” and you have a similar character, except that the fisherman at least enjoys the occasional rush of adrenaline and purpose when they get a bite. Cowboys get that too, with the unpredictable antics of cattle, especially ornery bulls.

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Nothing exciting ever happens on a sailboat though, except the odd shipwreck, which are old news. Really old news.

Google “fishermen poets” and a surprising inventory of longing and lonely entries appear — but who knew? The only fisherman poet in Kona was the late Capt. Butch Kelly. One of Kelly’s favorite lines was “one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor” and for almost 40 years I thought that this sagacity was his original creation. It wasn’t.

Paul Simon released a song by that name, way back in 1973. Simon was the poet laureate of Kelly’s generation, which explains that.

Kelly put this line out in a repeated effort to push his deckhand beyond laziness. What Butch meant was, “if that’s all you are going to apply yourself, then that is as high as you are going to go. A harder worker will always be on top.”…. or something like that.

Capt. Chuck Wigzell recently confirmed that he caught exactly 200 blue marlin during 2019. This is an accomplishment never before attained anywhere in Hawaii. Chuck is that guy on top.

Fishing has been great and a number of guys caught more than 100 blues in 2019. However, none approached 200, leaving one to wonder: why is Wigzell’s floor such a high ceiling? Wigzell gives a lot of credit to his deckhand on “EZ Pickens”, Capt. Chip Van Mols.

Van Mols is a highly accomplished skipper in his own right, but is currently enjoying a return to his roots on the deck. Very, very few great captains have ever created a high ceiling without spending lots of time on the cockpit floor. Not many return to the deck once they ascend the ladder, but Chip has and is loving it.

Chip is having so much fun “playing” with lures and tackle that it seems the only thing missing is a Tonka Truck. The reality is that his application to the craft, although enjoyable, is not really playing…well, maybe a little.

Chip’s attention to detail and progress from much trial and error is personification of what Kelly hoped to instill in his indolent crewman through a poetic boot in the butt. If Chip was on the deck, Butch would have to steal some other line.

Trying to interview Chip at his work bench with tools of the trade in hand, is an exercise in observational multi-tasking. While he relates anecdotes on how this development or that discovery came about, his hands are moving around assembling what Wigzell calls “Chip Rigs”. Along the way, lots of famous names and places get bandied about.

It’s not name dropping, it’s just history. The people he mentions are more guys who live on the top floor because of their diligence and curiosity.

Capt. Roddy Hays is credited with “discovering” the marlin grounds of Madeira, Portugal. With commercial fishing experience, he eyed the inefficiencies of sport gear, and came up with some improvements.

“Roddy looked at the design of the Jobu hook, took it to Shimano UK, and drew out improvements. He wanted a heavy gauge, stainless steel version of the Jobu. He also wanted a coned point, instead of the traditional cutting blade barb. Jobu said they had no interest in creating a stainless hook. Hays took his idea elsewhere, and the “Hays Hook” was born.

“Black Bart changed the ring eye to a needle eye and branded them as the Pa’a Hook. Then Melton Tackle beefed up the wire diameter of the hook to the next size, making a heavy duty version of the hook, in a couple of sizes.”

Chip took a breath and continued, “I take the coned points and spend a fair bit of time filing the barb flat, which seems to go in easier. With the connections, I have taken out all the lumps and bumps from crimps, leaving nothing to catch up along the way in.”

“I saw Olaf Grimkowski use simple chafing gear over the cable to increase stiffness. Now, I apply heat shrink tubing at the hook loop, and then over the entire rig, and cable failure is all but a thing of the past.”

While talking, Chip brought out various components, showing the steps in the process of making “Chip Rigs.”

The conversation moved up the line to the outriggers and the clips. An offhand comment brought up another innovation. “Marty Bates posted a photo of the loops he makes to connect the line to the rigger clips. I’d never seen that material before. I snapped a screen shot and started digging around the web, and found this stuff.” Chip held up a plastic box covered in Japanese writing with some heavy red braided line inside.

“Im not sure if this is exactly what Marty uses, but I’ve figured out how to remove the core and now my loops last for more than one season, instead of less than one season.”

Chip estimates that out Wigzell’s 200 blue marlin last year, they teamed up on about 110, on board “EZ Pickens”. Wigzell caught the rest from “Hooked Up”, and Chip Rigs are on that boat as well.

These two guys are not the only inquisitive fishermen in the harbor. Many put in the time and effort to make small improvements to tackle that generate improved results.

Two hundred marlin in one year, however, is an incredible accomplishment. Chuck, Chip and the other crew who filled in from time to time – along with Brad and Vicky Pickings, owners of “EZ Pickens” – have certainly raised the ceiling to a new level.

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The ceiling for others, that would be.

Two hundred marlin a year is now their floor.

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