Keiki Come First: Fishing tournament brings families together for a day at sea

  • The Bite Me crew poses for a photo after a day spent fishing with local keiki for the Kieki Come First Fishing Tournament on Saturday. (Elizabeth Pitts/West Hawaii Today)

  • Keiki pose with the fish they caught at the fourth annual Keiki Come First Fishing Tournament on Saturday. (Elizabeth Pitts/West Hawaii Today)

  • Keiki pose with the fish they caught at the fourth annual Keiki Come First Fishing Tournament on Saturday. (Elizabeth Pitts/West Hawaii Today)

  • Riggins Martin, 4, shows off the fish he caught at the fourth annual Keiki Come First Fishing Tournament on Saturday. (Elizabeth Pitts/West Hawaii Today)

Honokohau Harbor on Saturday was filled with more than 100 smiling keiki showing off their catches of the day after spending a morning out on the water fishing.

For some, the fish they had caught was their first ever, a milestone in the life of someone growing up on the Big Island, surrounded by fish-filled blue waters that play an important part of the island’s economy and culture.

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It was the kind of day John Lim Jr. had envisioned when he first created the Keiki Come First Fishing Tournament, now in its fourth edition. Lim said the idea for the tournament came about after seeing how his drug addiction affected his children. He wanted a day for children and their families to focus on a healthy activity like fishing.

“I want families to use the tournament as a focus to go down the right road,” Lim said. “I was tired of watching my kids suffer because of my addiction.”

Despite the tournament being a staple for Kailua-Kona families every year, this year’s tournament almost didn’t happen due to a lack of donations and a recent tragedy.

On Nov. 10, a car crash on Queen Kaahumanu Highway claimed the life of Lim’s girlfriend, Cassandra “Cassie” Lynn Ellis, and seriously injured her daughter Taylor Campogan, Campogan’s best friend, Kawena Haserot, and Ellis’ 10-year-old daughter Trinity.

Bite Me Sportfishing quickly stepped in to help, and Saturday’s tournament was held in Ellis’ honor.

“Cassie had done a lot for this and when she passed away everyone kind of stopped working on it,” Bite Me Sportfishing operations manager Stephanie Smith said. “John had reached out to me and we were going back and forth and he asked if I could help a little bit and we were able to pull it together pretty quick, within a month.”

Bite Me lent Keiki Come First several of the company’s boats for the tournament to use Saturday, as well as Bite Me’s captains and crews to help.

“I was not going to do it this year and I wasn’t getting donations or anything and Stephanie stepped in and got a lot of stuff paid for and donated,” Lim said.

Lim said the Keiki Come First Fishing Tournament usually requires between 20-30 sponsors each year in order for it to take place.

Smith knew the tournament was important to the children who participate, and for the future of the Big Island community.

“It’s really important for the community just to have the fisherman around because it’s so educational and the keiki learn so much out there about the different species and stuff like that,” Smith said. “And also, if you teach the keiki how to fish, then they can carry that on for the rest of their lives. So it’s very important to teach keiki how to fish.”

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Along with the fish they caught, the keiki also each walked away with a prize, and the possibility of a new passion for fishing.

“I created a fishing tournament because that’s what I’m good at, fishing,” Lim said. “Fishing is good because it’s fishing — it’s that nature, feed-the-family kind of stuff.”

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