The Bright Side: Tournament fishing returns! Anyone can enter

  • Left to right: Ryan Thurner, angler Keith Hilton, Ozer Culhzet, Carole Lynne, Bryan Rice, Capt. Marlin Parker, 1035.5 pound blue marlin, Aug. 2019. (Jody Bright/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Molly Palmer with her 1,022.5 pound marlin, Aug. 2012. (Jody Bright/Special to West Hawaii Today)

The Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series hosted three tourneys in July, and all went off without a hitch. The only thing close to a “hitch” was that there were no big marlin caught. Fifty one small marlin were tagged and released, which provided plenty of action.

Tag and release is a good for conservation and HMT Series anglers tag about 95% of all marlin caught. When it comes to one’s approach to tournament fishing, however, what Ben Hogan said about golf and putting can be applied: “There is no similarity between golf and putting; they are two different games, one played in the air and the other on the ground.”


Tagging small fish and taking big ones are two completely different games. Tagging small marlin is fun, and it’s rewarding. Not much beats the feeling of watching a healthy small fish swim away to grow into a healthy big fish.

Big fish make your line crack when pulling sixty pounds of drag. Some big fish just aren’t meant to be caught, leaving you sore and beaten. There is a good reason why even the skiffs in Kona fish with 130 pound tackle. They need it. It’s golfing with a bag full of Great Big Bertha drivers.

There are four HMT Series tourneys scheduled in August, and three out of four target big marlin. The Firecracker Open rewards “most points.” Ahi and marlin qualify. The Firecracker is geared toward teams who like to focus on catching everything that bites. Some people call this “fishing for numbers.”

The Kona Throw Down, Skins Marlin Derby and the Big Island Marlin Tournament attract teams that like to focus on catching really large marlin. Tag and released marlin still count, but ahi don’t. The Kona Throw Down is so specialized that if no one weighs a qualifier, no one wins. Those entries are refunded, but this rarely happens in August.

August can be one of if not the best months of the year to catch big marlin. A 1,035.5 pound blue was caught in the Big Island Marlin Tournament last summer from “Marlin Magic II”. Molly Palmer hooked into a marlin that ultimately weighed 1,022.5 pounds in August of 2012. Molly and the team on board “Anxious” missed out on a world record and the prize money because they were too honest to fudge on the rules. They self disqualified their fish. Their story went viral. Readers all over the world wondered, “I wonder what I would have done in that position?”

This brings to mind another Ben Hogan quote,“If the Masters offered no money at all, I would be here trying just as hard.” Although some people picture fishing as riding around on a boat with friends, drinking beer and taking naps (it can be) to the people who fish because that is what they do, it’s about doing it well.

There are a number of reasons why some fishermen prefer to fish for big marlin while others like to fish for numbers. It’s a real hard to hook and catch every fish that shows up behind the boat. In fact, the days are rare when you bat 1000, so that’s a challenge.

However, few teams get to the point where they become really proficient at catching giant mar-lin, so that is another type of challenge. Not everyone can commit their life to fishing just for big ones. Like turning pro in any sport, you have to commit time, and lots of it.

To get good at catching big ones you also need to fish where the big fish are. Allen Stuart is an angler who understands this fundamental well. If you ask him why he fishes Kona, he usually says the same thing, “You don’t go to Arkansas to hunt elephants.”

When it comes to fishing for “elephants” you come to Kona — or — you go to the Great Barrier Reef. If you are truly committed, you fish both. But not just once or twice. To become profi-cient, you have to fish them as many times as your life allows. Covid 19 is allowing few mere mortals to fish both places this year, but hopefully normalcy returns soon.

It takes about eight years of school and hundreds of thousands of dollars to become a proctol-ogist. If given the choice of proctology or fishing Kona, what would you choose?

Ben Hogan nailed it again when he said, “The average golfer’s problem is not so much the lack of ability as it is lack of knowledge about what he should be doing.” Catching giants well is not something you can teach yourself. Unless you are immortal and can fish forever, it’s best you put your time into fishing with those more experienced.

In 2019 teams in the Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series caught almost two hundred and fifty marlin, and brought only six to the scale. That is a ratio of more than forty small males to each female over four hundred pounds. So in practical reality, you have to catch a helluva lot of small ones for each big one you encounter.

This big/small ratio is why it can take so much time to learn. And that’s here in Kona. In Costa Rica they catch bigger numbers, but no big ones.

Less than a lifetime of experience doesn’t disqualify you from joining in the fun of tournament fishing, so don’t allow it to. Anyone can enter HMT Series tournaments.

The best time to go fishing is when you can. Tournaments are full of folks who are “in the same boat,” mere mortals fishing when they can, That’s a big part of the fun. The excitement of what can happen creates anticipation that keeps some anglers up at night. That doesn’t happen to proctologists.

A baseball player named Lefty Gomez once said, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” In fishing, there is always a bit of both elements in every successful catch.


If you are a mere mortal who likes to fish and want to enter a tournament, just hook up with one of the many charter fishing boats and crews in Honokohau. They will be perfectly happy to provide the knowledge needed to be “good,” if you simply provide the luck. And maybe the beer.

For the full tournament schedule, log on to

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