Jon Schwartz here reporting from the 2010 HIBT (Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament) in Kona, Hawaii. Anglers from all over the world come to the Kona Coast every year to try and land huge blue marlin. Why? Well, I'm very superstitious. For that reason I will not tell you that the waters will be as blue and calm as they usually are here, nor will I tell you that this is the blue marlin capital of the world, because we all know that would jinx the whole thing!
Let's talk about the methods the anglers, mates and captains use. I'm no Jim Rizzuto (Jim is the local Hawaii writer who happens to be one of the most knowledgeable people on all things related to fishing Hawaii), but I do know that lures- artificial contraptions made of plastic, rubber, and so forth rigged up to mimic baitfish and draw strikes- were popularized here by Henry Chee and George Parker, I think starting in the 40's. (I could be off by a decade).
When I first started riding along with captains, I thought fishing was mostly about picking a fancy lure and hoping luck would strike, and a fish would show for that reason, rather than the look and play of the lure. Wrong! The more time I spend with top Kona captains who have graciously shared their wisdom like Gene Vanderhoek of the Sea Genie II, Marlin Parker of the Marlin Magic, Teddy Hoogs from the Kila Kila, and Guy Terwilliger, the more I realize there's a LOT to it.
Luck plays a part, for sure, and as they say, "On a good day anyone can run over a marlin and get a hookup, but top billfishing captains are true students of the game. They spend thousands of hours observing how different lure colors, lure shapes, hook types, trolling speeds, and drag pressure affect their rates of hookups, and are constantly making changes to adapt to the conditions.
I actually did an article on Hawaiian lure secrets for Marlin Magazine, where I worked with Captain Teddy Hoogs.
He skippers the Kila Kila, a '53 Merrit based here in Kona. It was an incredibly educational experience, and also provided us all with lots of hot fishing action that I documented from above and below the waterline. Here is a link to the article:
I sat down in the boat's salon and spent a lot of time with Teddy and mate Josh Bunch, who both showed me how to rig lures, explaining the entire process. I was amazed at how detailed their preparations were. The attention to detail really blew me away. I've been in locations where the mate rigged lures with rusty hooks and sloppy rigs, but these guys did everything flawlessly, and if they spent 40 minutes on a lure and it didn't "run right" in the spread when they threw it into the pattern of lures they were rolling, the took it apart and did it all over again.
In the above photo you can see Josh Bunch talking with the angler about just how he plans to rig the lure. Lure heads- the pieces of plastic that are attached to the trailing pieces of plastic- are sometimes chosen by the mates or captain, and are sometimes chosen by the angler, and even brought by them from their hometown. It's fun to bring your favorite lures, but it's a good idea to go with what the crew says might work because they usually have a good idea of what the predators have been eating. So if the marlin have been eating squid, they pick a shape and color that will mimic a squid. An angler can spend 200 dollars on a choice lure but if doesn't match look and action of the food that the fish have been feeding on, they might be missing their chance.
Interestingly, large hooks are not always chosen by mates or captains when rigging lures for large fish. I know one captain in Kona who has caught about as many giant marln as anyone in the world, and he happens to use the smallest hooks of any captain I have met.
In the above photo you can see the mate holding the finished lure. Get a good look at this lure because after I have dinner I am going to blog about what happened it right after it was put in the water!!