The Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series enters its 29th year this weekend, which is somewhat interesting because organizer Jody Bright says he never intended to be in the tournament business at all.
“We created the Big Island Invitational Marlin Tournament back in 1987 with guys like Fran O’Brien, Butch Kelly, Rusty Unger, B.C. Crawford, Tomo Rodgers and other great skippers of that era pitching in. We decided to do this for two reasons (1) the tournaments in those days were well attended and popular, but the more discerning anglers wanted something that operated from a black and white document that spelled everything out clearly and (2) I had grown up in a family on the gulf coast, heavily involved in putting on tournaments – so I was sort of the default nominee to run the thing. Truth of the matter was I had fished in those family run tournaments, but I had never been involved in operating them, so in actuality I didn’t know any more about how to run one, than anyone else in the harbor at the time.”
Fast forward 29 years and now the HMT Series fields between 170 and 200 teams each summer, generated an available purse of more than $1 Million in 2014, had its own national TV series to cover the action for about 10 years and is working on a new TV series now, and has awarded prizes running the gamut from a set of Caterpillar diesel engines to free fishing trips in places like Panama, Tahiti, Samoa, the Marshall Islands and again this year – the Great Barrier Reef fishing for giant black marlin.
The Kona Kick Off fishes this Friday and Saturday, and is the first event of 2015 held on the Kona Coast. Fishing has been very good so far this year, with lots of marlin and ahi, as well as two granders from Kona and one from Maui.
All eyes were on Oahu June 6 when the HMT Series began the 2015 season with the inaugural Kewalo Harbor Big Fish Chase. The largest blue marlin ever caught on rod and reel was from a Kewalo based boat and weighed 1,805 pounds, so there was ample reason to believe that a grander might be pulled in at this event.
Team Cormorant captured the imagination of the world as they wrestled with a big marlin for almost 17 hours. In the end it tipped the scales at 848.5 pounds and although not a grander, it was one of the most dramatic finishes in Hawaii tournament history.
The HMT Series returns now to Kona and offers 5 tournaments in the next 4 weeks. After the Kick Off, anglers get a 5 day break and then return July 4th weekend for “Million Dollar Week” where the Firecracker Open overlaps with the World Cup and is followed one day later by the Kona Throw Down, which leads straight in to the Skins Marlin Derby.
After a week break, the Kona Classic fishes to end the July run of competitions. The Classic benefits the kids of Miloli’i Hipu’u Virtual Academy, a web based charter school in Miloli’i village.
The HMT Series returns in August for the 29th Big Island Marlin Tournament and finishes up in September with the Randy Llanes Lure Makers Challenge tournament. Each team fishing this even can represent a specific lure maker or lure brand, and whoever wins this event becomes the Presenting Sponsor of the event for the following year, and remains so until another lure maker wins a future tournament.
Along the way anglers and crews will enjoy prizes and awards from sponsors Hawaii’s own Crazy Shirts, Maui Jim Sunglasses, Intova Cameras and Pacific Ocean Producers. Tag and release certificates will be made from Paul McPhee fine art prints. The top angler, skipper and crew will receive trophies at the end of the season from Weather Routing Inc. and the top scoring team will win two days and one night Free on the great barrier reef on board Castille Charters.
“You know, back in 1987 I would get off the boat from fishing and go to my “tournament office” to check messages on the code a phone. I had 5 gallon bucket for a seat and that phone at one end of Diesel Dans shop, and that was it. Now look.”