The Bright Side: The great equalizer

  • The team on the charter boat “Sweet Sadie” managed to stay hooked to a marlin that weighed in at 625 pounds. Being the only team lucky enough to stay hooked until the end, they won the tournament. (Jody Bright/Courtesy Photo)

After weighing in the largest (and only) marlin of the Lazy Marlin Hunt tournament yesterday, Capt. Mat Bowman put the weekend in perspective, “It was starting to get a bit embarrassing for Kona. The fish were winning, big time. We just got lucky. Ours stayed hooked, but it was not the biggest hooked out there, by far.”

He was referring to the number of big fish that had been hooked, fought and then made their escape good. Over the course of the three day event, at least a dozen big ones were hooked and got away, in all sorts of manner.

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Bowman and company on the charter boat “Sweet Sadie” managed to stay hooked to a marlin that weighed in at 625 pounds. Being the only team lucky enough to stay hooked until the end, they won the tournament.

The Lazy Marlin Hunt is primarily a “big fish” tournament, a style of event that most fishing holes just couldn’t host. They simply don’t have the big fish for it. Kona does. Especially in March and April, which is outside of traditional tournament season.

In the Lazy Marlin Hunt, a marlin has to be 400 pounds or better, just to be brought to the scale for qualification. All marlin caught estimated to be less than 400 pounds are to be tagged and released alive. On top of that, the single largest marlin of the tourney weighing 500 pounds or better can lay claim to two “winner take all” categories, which really makes this event unique in the world of big game fishing.

The thing is, the big ones aren’t exactly easy to catch, and they proved themselves to be worthy opponents this past weekend. With a tide change in the morning, each of the first two days started with a nice fish being hooked around 9 a.m., only to get away.

Hooking up to a monster marlin early in the morning is always an adrenaline shot on top of your coffee jolt. Losing the fish can bring you down so far so fast that jumping over the side and following it down into the deep might seem a better fate than suffering through a wrath of expletives raining down from a Captain Bligh type having a conniption fit up on the bridge.

On Friday morning, the trail of tears started with the “Island Girl” losing the first big one, right on the morning tide. It was the groundswell of a wave to move the fleet. Angler Jeff Stafford had this to say about the one that got away. “I don’t know if it is my memory playing tricks on me but I think not. Our fish seemed way bigger than that 625 just weighed in. I keep seeing it in my head, and man, I’m pretty sure, but I’ll never know. I’ll be back, though because catching one is the only way to know. What a great format. And the size of fish this time of year….wow. This tournament is going to get addictive.”

On Saturday David Andersen, owner of “Kona Dream” was the next one up to start his day with a lesson in humility from a giant marlin, again, on the morning tide. The agony extended into the afternoon. A marlin estimated to be about 600 pounds got away from the team on “Marlin Magic II” and then one estimated to be even bigger — over 700 pounds — escaped after being fought right up to “SNAFU.” There are few crews on the tournament circuit more experienced at catching really large marlin than these two, if that tells you anything about the level of frustration on the playing field this weekend.

On Sunday, the odds were tipped heavily in the favor of some lucky angler to put a stop to this mental and emotional carnage. Capt. Boyd DeCoito was the guy in the right place at the right time with the right boat and the right crew, but more than anything, the right hook.

It was nothing out of the ordinary, this hook. It was the right hook simply because it worked where the others had failed. And that’s why they call it “fishing” and not “catching.”

It can be noted, however, that Capt. DeCoito as angler, was not in his usual position in this tournament, up on the bridge. “Sweet Sadie” is a charter boat and their tournament angling clients hail from West Texas, where the local capacity to fulfill their pre-flight COVID test requirements proved inadequate. Boat owner Chris Weaver was unable to jump fast enough to fill in as well. Although grounded in rural Pecos, Texas, the good natured couple of Bubba Brown and Judy Sheffield refused to throw in the towel, and told their crew to go have a “busman’s holiday,” of the sort that most can only dream of.

Maybe it was the honest nature of this selfless gesture that brought their team luck, and maybe it was just that the odds had settled in the favor of one of the teams catching one on the third day, after all the ones that had escaped. In big game tournament fishing, there are a million and one ways to lose the winning fish, but only one way to catch it.

The hook has to stay hooked. It’s the difference between seeing the one that got away in your head for weeks after, and seeing the winning fish take a boat ride to the scale. This simple aspect of the game is the great equalizer and lends no favor to anyone, regardless of economic status, gender, race or political party.

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The funny thing is, whether you are the one who goes away with mental images of the one that got away or the one with the photo on your wall — both experiences keep you coming back for more.

Sure, it is the marlin that is the subject of the stories fishermen tell, but for 42,000 years the simple hook has been the narrator.

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