HIBT's Big One Didn't Get Away

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (08/16/97)
By Ray Pendleton

Last week, for the third time in its 39-year history, the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament in Kailua-Kona was won by a team that never weighed in a fish.

Showing the world that top international anglers can simultaneously compete and conserve the fishery stock, the Pajaro Valley Gamefish Club of California caught, tagged and released five marlin, each estimated to weigh under 200 pounds, over the five-day tournament.

This is not to say that the objects of their pursuit - Pacific blue marlin - were never boated and brought into the Kailua-Kona pier. They were, but just not by that team.

If the winner of the '97 HIBT had been determined by the largest billfish to be actually weighed in last week, the trophy would have gone to the Waikiki Yacht Club's team - aboard Jim Markey's 32-foot Grand Banks Nauti Gal - and specifically to angler Mervyn de Wolff.

With Markey - who is an HIBT Governor - at the helm, he began the fourth day of the tournament exactly the same way he has begun every "start fishing" command for the past 14 years. He kept his somewhat smaller and slower Grand Banks idling as the other boats blasted out of Kailua Bay, and then leisurely began trolling from the very start.

"I have a theory that billfish will tend to come up behind the fleet when the boats all speed out," Markey said. "So I like to troll behind them, and I've caught 10 fish in 14 years that way."

Thirty-five minutes after the start, the Nauti Gal was approaching several boats "making bait" about four miles off of Kailua Bay.

"We made one circle," Markey said, " then a second, and then wham-o!"

"This fish came up from under our boat," de Wolff added, "took the port corner lure - our 'flying coconut' because it's big and brown - headed out away from us and then jumped and started galloping right back. It jumped so close to the boat, we thought it might jump in.

"Then it took off again and danced its way through a mosquito fleet (small fishing boats) and scattered them," de Wolff recalled.

"That fish jumped in so many places," Markey said, "people watching said on their radios they thought it was a double hookup."

For Markey, the biggest problem was keeping a tight line while the fish continued to swim around in circles and loops. For de Wolff - who is no lightweight - it was fighting a huge, spirited marlin on 80-pound test tackle, but not fighting too hard.

"It was its 400-plus pounds pulling its way," de Wolff said, "and my 300 pounds pulling my way. I just had to be careful not to pull too hard and break the line."

One hour and five minutes after it had begun, the fight was thought to be out of the fish and it was brought to gaff, only to have it splinter the handle of the first pole gaff put into it.

"It was a very active fish," Markey said. "And fortunately, the ESPN crew was in a nearby boat taping the action, so we and other anglers will be able to watch the capture on television sometime in September."

Of course, finally lines were secured around its bill, middle and tail, but because of its size and weight, it was wrapped around the transom to be towed back to the pier.

When the Pacific blue marlin was finally hoisted on the scale, the numbers spun and then stopped at 442 pounds and the largest fish of the day, and the tournament, was in the HIBT record books.

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