Billfish tourney about more than fishing

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin 06/29/02)
By Ray Pendleton

To remind island anglers about the Big Island's annual Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament next month seems almost like reminding children of Christmas.

What avid big game fisherman in the world hasn't already got the dates of August 3 through 10 circled in red on his calendar?

In fact, they probably have got July 29 through August 2 --the dates of HIBT's preceding warm-up Pro-Am tournament -- circled as well.

Still, just in case there are one or two people somewhere who have just discovered the joys of competitive fishing, but haven't heard of the "granddaddy of fishing tournaments" in Kailua-Kona, let's discuss what the HIBT is all about.

To begin with, there is the history.

Back in the summer of 1958, after watching a number of huge marlin being weighed in at the old Kona Inn, it occurred to the hotel's manager, Peter Fithian, that a fishing tournament might be a great way to focus world attention on the Kona Coast of Hawaii.

With some backing from a few friends and the Hawaii Visitor's Bureau, along with 24 team entries from as far away as New Zealand, Fithian held his first international billfish tournament in 1959.

It started with a bang. The Kiwi team boated a world record Pacific blue marlin weighing 444 pounds on 80-pound-test tackle.

It was just the thing to get the world's attention and for the next forty-plus years new records were periodically set that kept their attention.

The 80-pound-test world record was broken again in 1973 by a team from Tahiti catching a giant blue marlin weighing 916 pounds.

Then, in 1986, history was made along with another record.

Californian Gil Krammer of the Laguna Niguel Billfish Club team managed to reel in a 1,062.5-pound Pacific blue marlin on 50-pound-test that not only set a world record, but became the first "grander" (a fish over 1,000 pounds) ever to be caught in an official tournament.

With world-class fish being caught, you would think the HIBT's prize money would be world-class as well, but you'd be wrong.

Since the very first tournament in 1959, the winning angler's only reward has been the respect from his peers, a koa wood bowl and a bronze marlin sculpture.

"The tournament is all about camaraderie and life-long friendships," Fithian points out. "Although fishing remains in the forefront, it is the fellowship and brotherhood that unites the world's best anglers for one very special week in Kailua-Kona every August."

And that sentiment may go a long way in defining the difference between the HIBT and any other tournament an angler may enter. Yes, it's about catching fish, but it's also about so much more.

When you see traffic stopped on Kailua-Kona's Alii Drive for the HIBT parade, you will know it's about more. You notice the King Kamehameha Hotel has turned into an angler's clubhouse filled with decades-long friends and memorabilia, you will know it's about more.

And if you decide to put a team up against this year's teams from China, Northern Ireland, the Philippines, Australia, Japan, the Mainland U.S. and, of course, Hawaii, you will surely know it's about more.

Call (808) 329-6155 for details.

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