Long kayak fights with billfish

Two weeks ago, kayaker Jared Willeford hooked a huge sailfish outside Keauhou and battled it from 8 a.m. until dark. During the 11-hour fight, the unrelenting fish pulled him down the coastline to Hookena. Dehydrated and suffering from heatstroke, the young paddler gave up, cut the line, and then paddled the many miles back to Keauhou Bay in the dark.

On Tuesday, he had a second chance at a tug-of-war with a billfish and resolved to win this one. The powerful fish was a husky blue marlin, and Jared was tethered to it with a handline rather than the light rod and reel that had let him down in the unsuccessful sailfish battle.

Jared with a 158-pound kayak marlin

Jared had again launched at Keauhou Bay in the dark to catch akule and opelu to use for bait. Only one small akule had cooperated. A big school of opelu hung out below his kayak but refused to take a hook. Their wariness was his clue that a predator had gotten them anxious.

When the school balled up under his kayak with their black backs turned as camouflage, Jared knew it had to be a billfish. Just then, the line running to his single live bait jerked tight, the black inner tube rubber band stretched out tight, and the power a big fish tail began pulling his kayak backward.

Jared cut the rubber band to release the line. The line shot overboard, taking two buoy floats with it to help in resisting the pull of the fish. This time the fish headed out to sea rather than paralleling the coastline. Gradually, Jared worked his handline back in. But it seems as though Jared’s efforts to recover the buoys made the fish understand that he was the enemy, Jared said. He was sure the fish was targeting him with its bill and a kayak provides very little protection from an enraged attacker.

The marlin had taken the bait at around 9 a.m. and eventually settled down into a long morning stalemate.

“I just hung on until one of us got too tired to continue,” Jared said. “Fortunately, the fish gave up first at around 1:30 p.m.”

With the fish secured, Jared’s second and third battles began. He now had another long paddle back to shore carrying the weight of his new cargo. And the fish had attracted the unwelcome attention of a curious shark.

So the game plan began to be something like this: paddle, paddle, paddle, fend off the shark, paddle, paddle, paddle, distract the shark by tossing it a piece of fish.

The shark was only able to nibble off a bit of the marlin’s tail before Jared finally left the deep blue water behind and reached the green of shallow water. The shark disappeared so Jared could take a breather and he eventually felt the solid security of a firm bottom to pose for a photo with his catch.

By then, the Charter Desk scales were closed. Jared had to wait until Wednesday morning to learn that his marlin weighed 158 pounds.

No record there. Not even for a kayaker. The Hawaii record for a blue marlin on a kayak is about 225 pounds, but at the rate kayakers are taking up the sport, that could change at any time.