For years the Honolulu tourist offices have exerted themselves quite successfully to convince people that Hawaii is the place to be in the summer for cool water and warm night life. But, in building up the off-season trade, they somehow have never given due recognition to a story of considerable interest to American sportsmen: the incredible summer fishing season which, during July, August and September, offers among other things the biggest blue marlin in the world.
During those months, just off the town of Kona (see map), schools of oceanic bonito come to the surface; and the marlin follow them, hungry to strike and not nearly as careful as they might be in a more heavily fished area. Last year the Kona charter fleet, made up of eight sturdy but generally middle-aged boats, landed 207 marlin averaging 325 pounds apiece. The catch was a mixture of blues, blacks, stripers and silvers, but the real giants are the blues. On February 4 of last year, Pablo Libero, mate on Tacks Waldron's 40-foot Kumu, horsed in a 796-pound blue in 30 minutes. In 1953, De Wayne Nelson of New Brunswick, N.J., fishing from George Parker's 50-foot Mona H, brought in an 866-pounder which was then judged a black but which Parker now maintains was a blue. And Parker himself is currently waging war to get recognition from the International Game Fish Association for a 1,002-pound blue he caught singlehanded off Oahu three years ago.
At the moment, the IGFA isn't recognizing any of Kona's blue marlin records because it isn't convinced the Kona marlin is true blue, i.e., not a close enough relative to the fine old family of Atlantic blues. The Kona fish, however, very probably is a blue. It certainly isn't white. It hasn't the same characteristics as a striper. And unlike the black, whose pectoral fin is rigid, the Kona fish has a pectoral fin with a joint so flexible that the fin can be folded back against the body. The only real difference between the Kona fish and the Atlantic blue is a difference in structure of the pectoral girdle that can be pinpointed only by dissecting the fish. Therefore a lot of scientists are conceding that the Pacific marlin is some kind of a blue, but until they decide which fish is a subspecies of what, the Kona marlin will have to continue to wear the bar sinister.
No matter. These are big fish, and you don't have to be a champion angler with an independent income to get one. Any Hawaiian vacationer with a few days to spare and the price of an airplane ticket to Kona ($31.90 round trip from Honolulu via Hawaiian or Aloha airlines) can put himself in the right place to try for a marlin. The cost of a charter boat is quite reasonable, too—$75 a day, $45 a half day—and easy to arrange through the Inter-Island Travel Service, 2217 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu. The three hotels in Kona—the Kona Inn, the Kona Palms and the Waiaka Lodge—have open-air dining and drinking and languid Hawaiian service at $10.35 European single, up to $42.29 American triple deluxe. Incidentally, all three of these hotels take last-minute charter boat bookings for anyone who happens to be on a standard tour of the islands and decides to go fishing at the last minute.
Perhaps the most appealing thing about Kona's marlin fishing, at least for the man who brings with him a family and/or an unseaworthy constitution, is the fact that here the marlin ground is close to the leeward shore of the island. At Kona, the minute the boat sticks its nose outside tiny Kailua Bay, you're in marlin country. And the whole broad complex of choice fishing grounds, stretching from a spot about 10 miles northwest of Kona, back past the town and on down the coast for some 13 miles, is sheltered from the prevailing trade winds. Therefore, besides a comfortable ride, you know that a half-day charter means a half day's fishing and not just a half-day boat ride out to a distant ground for one quick pass and back home. And you know you have a chance right up until the last bait is pulled in at the harbor entrance.
This last point was never made more clear than on an afternoon this past month when this reporter, in Kona at the start of a four-day junket to test the marlin fishing, turned back toward the harbor after a fishless day with George Parker. During the morning, Parker had trolled the main marlin ground northwest of Keahole Point, setting two heavy rods, one with a 14/0 Penn Senator reel, the other a 12/0, and both with a 130-pound test Dacron line. This is standard heavy equipment at Kona. For a lure he used his own version of the artificial squid that the other captains all like—a shiny head made of clear plastic (plumber's tubing for Parker), with a white plastic skirt and legs of inner-tube strips hiding a pair of 12/0 hooks on a heavy wire leader.
A rubber band
Like the other Kona captains, Parker dragged the lure fast, about 7½ knots, and strung his line from a rigid uprigger, rather than the common outrigger. The local theory seems to be that the uprigger keeps the line higher off the water than an outrigger would, and hence gives the lure a lighter, livelier skipping action. For a release, Parker and the others use a rubber band instead of the usual clothespin. This is a really superior arrangement, because the rubber never chafes the sensitive Dacron line, and stretches with the wave action so that the fishing line never pops off the outrigger unless there is a real strike which snaps the rubber band. Finally, like the other captains, Parker trolled a light rod with nine-thread line, 6/0 reel and a feather, hoping partly for a dolphin or an amberjack, because this is world-record country for both, but hoping even more to catch a bonito to use as fresh bait. There was also a chance, on any of the rigs, to pull in a hefty Allison tuna, which come in record sizes hereabouts.
Just before noon a small bonito took Parker's feather. When the fish was aboard, Parker rigged him as bait on the 14/0 setup. But instead of trailing the fresh bait from the uprigger, he trailed it from a white muslin kite, just like the 10¢ store kites that small boys must still fly somewhere. For the next four hours, he skipped the bonito from the kite, which stood perhaps 50 yards out from the boat, well away from either the wake or the noise of the engine and kept the bait dancing lightly along the surface. Still no marlin.
At 3:45 Parker turned for home. At 3:50 his charter party fell asleep in a deck chair. At 4 p.m. there was the tortured howl of a reel. Parker shouted, "Fish! Fish!" and the sleeping party stumbled out of his chair, struck the fish four times heavily—and stupidly, since this was fresh bait and the marlin might not have had the bait well in his mouth—then eased off the drag and fell into the fighting chair.
For the next four hours and five minutes the fish did everything he should have. He ran, he sounded, he thrashed the surface and bore in on the boat. All the while, Parker kept the stern on the fish, gently coached the angler but at the same time let him know that this battle was strictly between the fish and the man in the chair. And when the marlin finally gave up at 8:05 p.m., Parker dispatched him quickly and lashed him along the stern. This performance by Parker, immensely helpful to a novice, can be duplicated by any of the top skippers in Kona, especially by Henry Chee, who is a real master of his trade, and by Charlie Machado and Waldron, the oldest hands and wisest heads in the Kona fleet.
The fish weighed out at 500 pounds even. And this weighing process is something else that seems to be more fun at Kona than most places. Kona is a tiny town, which had only one hotel until two years ago. Therefore, both the natives and the tourists are still openly friendly and really enthusiastic about the business of bringing in a marlin. No matter how late the fisherman gets in, the dock is crowded with people and cars. Everybody comes just to see the fish; and as the dockside hoist swings out to lift the marlin tail first from the water, three or four flash cameras go off. When the fish is safely ashore, other anglers come up to shake hands and ask how the fish had struck; and little boys, in the same wildly flattering voice they usually offer only to star halfbacks, ask if this was the man who caught the fish.
Once out of the water, the fish is trucked, along with the angler, to the Kona Inn, where it is hoisted on the weighing gibbet hard by the open-air dance floor. Then a marlin bell shatters the rhythm of Hawaiian music, and more flashbulbs lure the dancers out to the angler who, by this time, is feeling quite giddy about the whole thing. After the weighing, and according to custom, the fisherman walks down to Johnny Spencer's Kona Steak House to celebrate the catch with a truly superior cut of island beef and a glass or two of rum. There he finds that the news of the catch has reached the Steak House ahead of him, so that the bartender and the men in the band call him Mr. Marlin and generally convince him that, though his fish weighs 130 pounds less than one that was caught only the day before, he is still somehow one of the world's really great fishermen.