Saturday, September 8, 2012

Big fish, bent butts, and bowling pin-sized lures

For five days last week, I had the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the most famous big billfish skippers on the planet. At the invitation of Peter Fithian, the only surviving founder of the iconic 53-year-old Hawaiian Invitational Billfish Tournament, I traveled to Kailua-Kona, Hawaii as one of several writers to cover the event, which included 40 competing international teams from 11 countries.

It was quite a privilege to ride on the HIBT press boat Lana Kila, skippered by Captain Bomboy Llanes, well-known lure-maker and his crewman, Shawn Palmer, racing from one hookup to another during the five-day event to photograph the catch and release, the Marlin Race tagging and the taking of the giant blues for the competition. 

Throughout the week, others chose to ride on the press boat on different days: Tim Simpson, Editor/Publisher of Bluewater Magazine; Jim Rizzuto, local sportfishing columnist, author and unofficial historian; Charla Thompson, well known local photographer; and several others. 

During the time that no boats were hooked up, Bomboy and Shawn would demonstrate and discuss their theories on lure fishing in Kona, showing us different styles and models of lures, how to position them in the wake as well as explaining different hook-sets and their reason for using them. 

DURING THE TIME that no boats were hooked up, Bomboy and Shawn would demonstrate and discuss their theories on lure fishing in Kona.
Simpson offered some of the results of his research for his The Book of Lures. His explanation on how billfish vision is split with upper and lower part of the eye being sensitive to a different spectrum of colors underwater was fascinating. From extensive collaboration with world-leading scientists, the book contains several chapters detailing how color works underwater. Tim also described how sound and vibration travel beneath the surface, and how they are picked-up and used by fish when hunting or to avoid threats.

Rizzuto has been writing about Hawaii sportfishing since 1963 and he has a long list of books about fishing the area to his credit. For future generations, Jim's columns, articles and books will serve as a history on the way fishing was on the historic Kona Coast blue marlin grounds. He has also collected fishing tackle over the years, but his primary focus is his extensive lure collection dating back to the 1950s. According to Jim, Hawaii's billfish don't fin so they have to be found another way. Three-quarters of all billfish caught in local waters are caught on lures which are designed to anger more than entice … hopefully triggering a violent response.  

The largest marlin ever landed on sportfishing tackle, an 1,805-pound Pacific blue, was suckered into attacking a 10-inch lure!  

Hawaiian lures are not necessarily designed to look like a baitfish! They do not imitate anything. If the lure is performing correctly, it doesn’t act or look like bait that a billfish might be interested in. It is hard to imagine any big marlin getting excited enough by a small lure to expend the energy required for the pursuit of the tidbit.

Of course at some point, I began to make a comparison of the Hawaii fishery and the waters off the tip of Baja. Having spent the majority of my life fishing Baja, it was inevitable. The local consensus was that Kona would win the "fishery" discussion hands down; I had my doubts. 

It seems to me that the odds are heavily favored for Kona to deliver year ’round granders in very close proximity to the harbor. The majority of the local fleet seems to be equipped with heavier tackle and prefers to target the larger fish and consider all other species more or less an incidental catch.

In Los Cabos, the focus most of the year is on variety, with the fleet allowing the angler more light tackle options. So I could go no further with my comparison scientifically, and have to stop. I only know that I would gladly go to either place to fish any time I get an invitation!

By the end of the week I had acquired a sufficient number of Hawaiian-style lures along with enough new tactics and techniques to keep me busy experimenting when I return to Baja in the fall for the billfish and tuna tournaments.  

This is what I love about fishing. There is always something new to learn.