The Bright Side: Soul to soul

  • Tara Thompson-Disnard and her bad luck breaking “grander” at the weigh scale in Honokohau Harbor. (Courtesy Photo)

  • The entire crew on board Sundowner pulling on the gaff rope in tandem to get the huge fish on board. (Courtesy Photo)

  • Capt. Kevin Hiney and Capt. Tara Thompson-Disnard with their giant marlin, after they just caught it. (Courtesy Photo)

If you ever meet a fisherman who says he’s never had a bad run of luck, and considered chucking it all for a real job — remember — fishermen are notorious liars.

Some people, however, are more consistent than others at finding fish, pheasant, or pigs, whatever. Name any critter sought by man and someone will be ranked a godlike “legend” — the best. However, if you look under the hood, not one legend is godlike every single day. Everyone has considered quitting at some point.


Tara Thompson-Disnard has a storied career that any male fisherman would envy. As one of the few females in the business, Tara earned more respect for “man handling” giant black marlin than most men. She’s weighed six blacks on the Great Barrier Reef over 1,000 lbs and let countless more go free. She knows the highs and lows of the game, that consistency is what counts and plowing through the lows is just part of that game. As Capt. Butch Kelly once said, on the highs you are only a “temporary hero” anyway.

After about ten years in Australia, she made the move back to Hawaii. Born on Oahu, she chose to resettle in Kona, looking to make the career move from the deck to the bridge to do some of that Captain stuff. Stuff like, pointing at a spinning lure and growling, “Wrong!” Or, screaming, “Get out of the corner!” when the gaff man can’t reach the fish. You know, Captain stuff.

Things were going great until COVID hit, but that’s a line from the Theme Song of 2020 that could apply to all of us. For Tara, it was just the beginning.

A year and a half of bad wind will flutter anyones sails. She contemplated giving up on being a Captain to get a real job. “It just seemed like I couldn’t figure out what to do. It was a weird time,” she said.

Last weekend, Tara was puttering around on “Sundowner” questioning just about every-thing in life. She was finishing her first day on the boat, so at least she was employed. However, she was back on the deck, not exactly doing that Captain stuff.

Like many in a quandary, she turned to an old friend for solace. The late Capt. Randy Llanes ran “Sundowner” for years, and she had a chat with him, soul to soul.

Randy was one of the most jovial characters in Kona. He was the kind of guy who did not think twice about jumping in the harbor when a baby swordfish swam by, but might should have. He speared it, and in a flash, it turned and speared him — right in the heart.

His passing was a shock to everyone. It happened so fast that many people have still not adjusted to him being gone. Tara isn’t the only person to commune with Randy since then.

After Tara left the boat for home, a potential client called Captain Kevin Hiney, currently skipper of “Sundowner.” The caller wasn’t a serious fishermen, and he was unsure he even wanted to go. Kevin talked him in to trying his luck, but he would only commit to a half day. Kevin and Tara now had two trips booked for her second day on “Sundowner.”

Toward the end of their first trip, Tara saw a huge swirl on the long bait. Being a godlike legend does not mean you stop getting excited and she yelled so loud she frightened everyone out of the delirium that often sets in while trolling. Nothing happened except the clock kept ticking, and soon it was time to go in.

Once back out, Kevin trolled directly to that spot. Tara was still teaching the new group how to use the gear when they hooked a sea monster. The huge marlin jumped, charging the boat, went down and zoomed under it. Kevin gunned the motors and they survived, but the line drug across the hull. Luckily the props did not cut it, but they had to play it easy. An hour and a half later, the marlin was exhausted, as was the novice angler. The fish would not survive release, so they boated it. The fisherman revived.

The angler — a yogaist from L.A. — marveled when the big fish was pulled on board. But he was worn out and wondered why people paid so much money to get so beat up.

Back at the dock, the fish tipped the scale at solid 1,028 pounds, a coveted grander: the Holy Grail of fishing. Catching a thousand pound marlin is something that most anglers can only dream of and very few experience.

Kevin said, “I told the angler I had waited 30 years for that fish, and he kind of looked at me like ‘Why?’ ” Kevin called his family down and the dock filled with congratulatory well wishers. After the smoke cleared, Kevin said, “I still don’t know if he “gets” the meaning of his catch, but he was happy.”

The meaning of the catch was not lost on Tara. Her seventh grander scaled was her first grander blue. More importantly, her luck had changed and all of her introspection and self doubt was just, gone. The very next day, she was back on the water looking for another, trying to remember what she’d been fussing about anyway….

The angler might have gone back to the L.A. pondering the same thing about that fish. What was all the fuss?

Many Big Island wonders may be just too accessible for some visitors to fully appreciate. Folks who usually spend their days tapping smartphone icons might find driving right up to a live volcano or hooking a giant marlin only five minutes out as easy as googling them up.


Tara and Kevin know better. Randy would too because he never caught a grander on “Sundowner.” Tara says he has now.

Up in heaven, kolohe Randy would be laughing with them, soul to soul.