Take Me Back Tuesday: Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament comes to a dramatic end in 1998

  • Crewmen of the sportfisher Tara and members of the Mauna Kea Sports Fishing Club of Japan secure a raging 697-pound Pacific blue marlin after a 35-minute battle with angler Kohei Ushimura, upper left corner, at the 1998 Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament. (Michael Darden/West Hawaii Today File Photo)

Editor’s note: While the sports world is shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, West Hawaii Today will look back every Tuesday at memorable sports moments on the Big Island.

On Friday last week, the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament was canceled for 2020, a big blow for a sport that has an important economic, and emotional, value to many on the island.


In August 0f 1998, the tournament celebrated its 40th event in style, with a last-minute catch that cleared the way for the Mauna Kea Sport Fishing Club of Japan’s win.

Written in a Aug. 9, 1998 West Hawaii Today article: “It almost seemed like a not-quite-believable fishing storybook ending, but it was true.

In a dramatic 11th-hour finish, the Mauna Kea Sport Fishing Club of Japan reeled in a 697-pound Pacific blue marlin, the last fish caught in the event, to win the 40th anniversary Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament.”

The marlin was caught by 18-year-old Kohei Ushimura with just 27 minutes left on the final day of the five-day tournament. It took the college student 35 minutes to boat the fish.

“Estimating the weight at more than 500 pounds, the Tara returned to Kailua Pier where a huge crowd awaited the weigh-in to see if the marlin could put the Mauna Kea team ahead of tourney leader Hilo Yacht Club.

“When the scales finally revealed the marlin’s true weight, it was among the 10 largest marlin ever landed on 50-pound test in the 40 years of the HIBT.”

The marlin was worth 1,299 points for the Mauna Kea team, and included 300 bonus points for being both the largest fish of the day and tournament, and for being a marlin over 500 pounds.

Mauna Kea ended the tournament with 1,529 total points. It was the team’s first win in the four years it had competed at the tournament. The team had finished in second place in 1997.

Hilo Yacht Club came in second that year with 1,155 points.

PORF Save Our Billfish ‘97/Port Moresby team from Papua New Guinea came in third.

In all, 59 teams in the 1998 HIBT caught 24 marlin — six weigh-in and 18 tag and release. Six ahi were also weighed in.

“Tournament founder and chairman Peter Fithian said the week had been ‘pretty slow’ for fish, but added the marlin weighed in were ‘classic, beautiful fish.’


“‘I’m very pleased with the tournament,’ he said. ‘What about that for a finish.’”

Unfortunately, anglers will have to wait another year before they can see what drama the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament can still bring.

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