Explaining Kailua-Kona's fishing boom

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin 08/16/03
By Ray Pendleton

If you ask 92-year-old charter boat Capt. George Parker what factors have contributed most to the success of Kailua-Kona's multimillion-dollar sportfishing fleet, he'll say two things:

One has been the good luck of having giant billfish congregating in West Hawaii's offshore waters, he says, and the other has been Peter Fithian's Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament (HIBT).

As Kona's first full-time sportfishing charter boat captain, he should know. And although now retired, he's been fishing since 1954 -- five years before the first HIBT.

Of course, we don't really have to take Parker's word for the availability of big fish, because a glance at the most recent issue of Jim Rizzuto's Kona Fishing Chronicles will prove his point.

In what Rizzuto calls his "Beasts of the Week" report -- fish weighing in at over 500 pounds -- four huge Pacific blue marlin were caught in just five days.

Anglers Darren Ohashi and Ryan Waldroop, aboard Capt. Bob Sylva's Thrillseeker, brought a 656-pound marlin to the scale on Aug. 5. It was the 31st-largest marlin to be weighed there, so far, in 2003.

Two days later, Capt. Mike Harlan brought in the third-largest marlin of the year, so far, aboard his boat Kekoa O Ke Kai. It was a near-grander that weighed a whopping 983 pounds. (A "grander" is any fish weighing more than 1,000 pounds.)

On Aug. 8, angler David Rude, aboard Capt. Bobby Dobson's sportfisher New Horizon, landed 2003's 52nd-largest marlin to date -- a 589-pound fish.

And last, but not least, angler Jeff McIntosh captured a 725-pounder aboard Capt. Gene Vander Hoek's boat Sea Genie II on Aug. 9, which became Kona's 17th largest marlin of the year.

Obviously, Parker is right in his assessment of Hawaii's fishery, and HIBT-founder Fithian surely agrees when he says, "Kailua-Kona is one of the best fishing holes in the world."

And that brings us to the second factor Capt. Parker points to as a contributor to Kailua-Kona's sportfishing success -- the HIBT.

As its 44th tournament will take place next week, there's enduring confirmation that the HIBT perennially brings the world's best anglers and the attention of the world to the Big Island's west coast.

With the growth the Kona Coast has seen in recent years, it is easy to forget that when Fithian and a handful of his friends created the tournament, Kailua-Kona was just a small fishing village of some 4,000 to 5,000 people.

The number of fishing boats available was correspondingly small, but as the HIBT began attracting more and more anglers to its contest, the supply began to grow to meet the demand.

Now, thanks to decades of publicity generated by the HIBT, along with promotion from other tournaments that have followed in its footsteps, the majority of nearby Honokohau Harbor's 262 boat slips are filled with sportfishing boats.

It would seem the only contributing factor to Kona's sportfishing success Capt. Parker may have overlooked could be called its comfort factor.

Anglers there usually experience considerably less seasickness because the 13,000-plus- foot Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa create a trade-wind break that produces flat seas like nowhere else in the state.

Still, did you notice that only one of the above factors was not a natural phenomenon? Mahalo Peter Fithian.

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