Fishing for marlin, tuna, and spearfish with Captain Teddy Hoogs and Bwana Sportfishing

Teddy Hoogs is a top-notch big game fishing captain on the Kona Coast of Hawaii's Big Island. Check out him pulling this 130 pound tuna into the boat that his clients recently caught!
Teddy has an excellent reputation among other Kona captains and mates, and he has a lot of experience with giant blue and black marlin in Hawaii and Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Over a decade ago Teddy “wired” the fourth largest giant black marlin ever caught in Australia, a huge 1,389 pound monster. For laypeople, this means he grabbed hold of the line attached to the surging fish when it got close to the boat. 
I can’t imagine grabbing the reigns of a wild animal well over 1000 pounds! Not for the faint of heart, but every mate’s dream. He soon became a captain and rose in the ranks at Kona’s Honokohau Harbor.
Captain Marlin Parker, one of big game fishing's true legends, called Teddy "One of the best in the business". The thing I like best about him is that he's managed to stay super friendly and humble while skippering some of the choicest boats in Kona, which is arguably the blue marlin capital of the world. 
Teddy now operates the “Bwana”, a luxuriously appointed 46' Gamefisherman outfitted with an ungodly amount of power: twin Cummins QSM11twin diesels with 710 horsepower per side for a whopping 1420 total horsepower. It's one of the fastest charter boats in the harbor, and when Teddy was putting it through its paces upon it’s delivery to Kona, some jaws dropped. It’s one serious boat!

His father Peter Hoogs is one of the old time greats of Kona big game fishing and took the eager Teddy under his wing from a very early age. Check out this picture of Teddy as a toddler reading renowned fishing author’s Jim Rizzuto’s “Fishing Hawaiian Style”!
I've had the pleasure of riding along with Teddy while taking big fish photos for my fishing photography work and wrote an article about him for Marlin Magazine in March 2010 called "Lure Magic: Kona Capt. Teddy Hoogs Learned from the Best".

About ten days ago I accompanied Teddy with one of his charter clients, the Vandrie family from Carefree, Arizona. Mate Joe "Kaiwi Joe" Thrasher usually crews with Teddy, but Joe had taken out Teddy's new commercial fishing vessel and landed three big yellowfin ahi tuna by landline the night before and arranged for Brian Shumaker to replace him this day. In fact, we passed Joe coming in with his fish on our way out of the harbor at 6:15. Those are some tough hours! Here’s a picture of Joe Thrasher.
The Vandries were super friendly and it was interesting to hear about the father Jeff Vandrie's experience as an iron man triathlete. About 90 minutes into the trip while heading south, a huge boil exploded behind one of the lures in the trolling pattern. Two rods went off simultaneously, two reels are screaming, and we've got a double hookup!
Because neither fish jumped and they struck at the sometime, it became clear that we'd stumbled upon a pair of big yellowfin tuna, known as ahi in Hawaii. The ahi bite has been better than it had been in years and I was stoked to see that it was still on fire. There's not too many places you can hook into 150 pound tuna within 5 miles of shore so fishing in Kona is a special treat. Here's a photo I took last year of a big yellowfin ahi tuna chasing a lure that made the cover of Bluewater Magazine:
Jeff manned the fighting chair and his neice Abby Hansen fought  the other fish from the side. While swimming next to the boat I took some neat photographs of the duo both hooked up, and also of the big fish swimming in the incredibly clear blue water. Jeff reeled his ahi in first add then Abby managed to battle hers in as well. After posing for some pictures of their 'wicked' tuna, mate Brian Shumaker set all the lures back into the spread. 

The next fish to hit pulled line off the reel but by the time Jeff manned the chair, he thought it had come off..until it started to pull line again. This on again, off again pattern repeated itself unti Teddy identified it as a shortnose (or short billed) spearfish. In truth he may have seen it hit the lure; he's got his eyes trained on them all day and sees most every critter that pops up near the lures, regardless of whether it strikes.

Short nose spearfish, which are called "Chuckers" in Hawaii, are the world's smallest and rarest billfish. 
For anglers hoping to achieve a Billfish Royal Slam by catching one of every species of billfish, the short billed spearfish often proves to be the most elusive. It isn't found in numbers in many areas other than Hawaii and even then, it's somewhat of an uncommon, incidental catch.

I wrote an article for Marlin Magazine in February of 2010 called "Spearfish Skippers: A Talk with Hawaii's top Spearfish Captains" that detailed how anglers come from all over the world to Kona to catch these fish, which are most fun to catch on light tackle due to them topping out at about 70 pounds.  Getting good pictures of spearfish is also hard because they don't jump alot; one of my luckiest moments in photographing fish underwater came when I swam with a shortbill several years ago. The captains I featured for the story were Guy Terwilliger, Marlin Parker, and Gene Vanderhoek.

Shortnose spearfish are also good eating- they're called Hebi in Hawaiian fish markets-but the Vandries were all about catch and releasing billfish and the fish swam away in good shape after being leadered by the mate. For all we know it was devoured shortly thereafter by a big blue marlin, which have been known to swallow spearfish whole!

About midway through the day Teddy’s lures attracted another strike from a blue marlin, and Vandries again found himself in the fighting chair. The day was only half over and Bwana Sportfishing’s anglers had caught two big tuna, a spearfish, and a blue marlin! I didn't get any good photos of the marlin jumping, but here is a picture I took in Kona of a blue marlin that made the cover of Marlin Magazine a couple of months ago:
Here's another photo I took of the same fish. This shot became kind of well known.
Incredibly, the big fish action wasn’t over. In the last 5 minutes of the charter, on the way back the harbor and only a mile offshore,  a reel went off and a blue marlin started doing aerial acrobatics off the stern. Back into the fighting chair for Jeff Vandries! Teddy maneuvered the boat effectively to allow Jeff to wield maximum pressure on the fish and after a fun fight, the blue was brought alongside the boat for tagging. Here's a picture I took of it swimming near the boat just prior to release.

All in all it was a great day fishing for the Vandries family, Bwana Sportfishing and Teddy Hoogs. Total fish count for the day: two 100 plus pound tuna, two blue marlin, and a spearfish. I was fortunate to be there to take photos of all the big fish action and I'll be sending the VanDries family some pictures to hang on their walls. Yet another fun day on the Kona Coast with good people and plenty of fish!

If you enjoyed reading this article and would like to see more fishing photos, please go my Facebook page Jon Schwartz Fishing, Photography, and Travel and "Like" it by clicking HERE. I periodically have photo giveaways worth $400 and post a lot of neat content there. Thanks, Jon Schwartz


Giant tuna speared as Sharks circle breath holding free divers!

This is fishing photographer Jon Schwartz reporting on some BIG FISH NEWS from Hawaii with amazing video and photos!

A big game spearfishing expedition turned into the catch of a lifetime for Hawaii's Wendell Ko when he swam down 60 feet on a single breath to lie in wait for his dream fish, a huge yellowfin tuna ('ahi' in Hawaiian). Ko is a rare breed of sportsman called bluewater freediving spearfishermen: waterman, athlete, and ultra selective and ethical deep water hunter who possesses equal amounts of patience, skill, and daring. All these qualities came into play when he bested a massive 188 pound ahi tuna on July 24 off the Kona Coast of Hawaii's Big Island.

Kona is one of the world's top big game fishing spots, and Ko took a weekend with some friends from Oahu to continue his lifelong quest to spear a monster tuna that began when he was 9 years old. As Ko and his partners continually dove down to 60 feet and waited with breaths held for minutes, hoping for a chance at seeing a giant tuna swimming by, a trio of oceanic white tip sharks gathered ever closer, curious if they could catch a free meal of freshly speared fish.

Miles offshore in water thousands of feet deep, divers Ko, Mike Shimabuku and Nate Kaneshiro took turns fending off the increasingly interested sharks by poking them with their spear tips when they got too close for comfort. Captain Bomboy Llanes waited nearby on the Lana Kila with mate James Kataki.
Llanes, a well known Kona big game fishing captain and lure maker, had been hired to bring the 51 year old Ko and his Hawaiian partners to various offshore bouys that act as "FADs" (Fish Aggregation Devices) which are maintained by the State of Hawaii. Bluewater spearfishing enthusiasts like Ko target hard to catch, fast swimming open ocean pelagic fish like wahoo, tuna, and dorado ( known in Hawaii as ono, ahi, and mahi in Hawaii),  but they usually don't swim miles offshore by launching from the beach and simply hoping to stumble upon them.

Their prey can swim upwards of 45 miles an hour and freely roam the sea;  FADs provide them with some fish-attracting structure and at least some hope of finding these fish.  In fact, FADs are thus a common spot for both rod and reel and "spearos" and as the group took great care to only dive at FADs that weren't crowded with too many boats hoping to catch ahi with more traditional methods. Just when they thought no big fish were present, a school of mahi mahi swam by, providing the spearos with a chance at some action, and me, with a chance for some more photos for my fishing photography collection.

I write for fishing and travel magazines and usually don't get to see many free swimming fish so I snapped away with a grin under my mask. I was also excited to get some great oceanic white tip photos and video. Although just like many other wild animals these sharks can be aggressive when provoked, Ko and his buddies and I were mostly concerned with keeping them calm by not letting them get near any speared fish. Sharks are commonly encountered by spearfishermen and are a part of the sport. 

As legendary freediver and pioneering spearfisherman Terry Maas said in an interview today with me, "Sharks and spearfishermen are competing predators in the water" and spearfishermen must set the tone and discourage sharks from getting too close by setting an aggressive stance in the water. In fact, spearfishermen are much more likely to get hurt by boats running them over that don't see them, equipment malfunctions with their huge multi-band spearguns that are under a tremendous amount of tension, and shallow water blackout.

In fact, says Maas, because spearfishermen usually swim in clear water and the sharks won't mistake them for their usual prey of fish or ocean mammals like seals, they are much less likely to have negative experience with sharks than recreational swimmers so.

I'm not going to go into my diatribe about how people are more likely to get killed in a car crash on the way to the beach than by a shark in the water (true!), nor will I rant about how millions of sharks are killed each year by people simply to make soup out of their fins(true!), and I won't carry on about how dog bites send thousands of people in the US alone to the hospital each year while there are only about 100 shark attacks reported annually on average and the great majority of them are NOT fatal), but I will say that although sharks can certainly be dangerous, I felt safer swimming with Ko and his partners that day than I would if you were to put me on a motorcycle (you'd have to force me, because them things are really dangerous!). Sorry to kill your buzz if you are a shark week fan...

Back to the giant tuna story..Ko, a former USA National Spearfishing Freediving champion, speared a mahi mahi and eventually brought it back to the boat. Although it was exciting for me to see the sharks and the mahi mahi, Ko and his partners were just about to hop back on the boat and try another location when we saw the the yellow sickle-shaped fins of several HUGE ahi tuna below us.
I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I knew that it was very rare to for spearfishermenspearos, and here I was seeing them on my maiden spearfishing photo shoot! Here's where the greatness of the sport kicks in for me, and where I truly began to appreciate what it would take for a freediving spearfisherman to get one of these huge fish. Floating at the surface with a snorkel and camera, I could afford to let my excitement get the better of me, and when my adrenelin started pumping and my breathing and heart rate increased, it didn't matter, other than I thought I might die of excitement.
The spearfisherman has no such luxury. Because they've got to swim down to incredible depths and then lie in wait for sometimes over 2 minutes, and do this repeatedly in the hopes that they just might get close enough to the tuna, they have to maintain strict control of their heart rate and breathing. If they don't they can blackout on the way back up, and at the very least, their quarry can sense their nervousness and run, and they can run out of air quicker. So to swim down that deep and wait patiently and calmly with only the oxygen you have left in your lungs?
That's so beyond extreme! Oh yeah, it gets even wilder: I mentioned that Ko is a selective and ethical hunter, so let me explain. Like most spearfisherman, he knows that with such big fish in open water, if their spear doesn't hit the fish in the right spot, it will only hurt the fish and it will get away. He and others like Maas detest this idea of waste- they only want that special one, and will only pull the trigger of their speargun of they feel they can take the fish.
I know that this isn't baloney because when the big ahi tuna showed, Ko did another "drop" and, as proven by the video I took, he went down extremely deep, leveled out, passed on several shots at the tuna because he didn't think he would be able to deliver the spear correctly, and only let the spear fly when the giant fish passed a third time. You realize that by passing up the first two opportunities, he could have seen the biggest tuna of his life ( his previous best was 120 pounds less!) disappear forever, right?
That takes serious composure, and to do it with basically no air in your lungs? OMG. Ko was so deep when he let his spear fly at the giant ahi tuna that I could barely make out the fish, and so mostly trained my camera on the giant speargun that he made for himself. Next, I heard a faint "thwick" sound like a toothpick breaking. Did he actually hit the fish, I wondered? I stopped wondering when I looked over at his the floats that were attached to his gun.
See, in big game spearfishing, the fish are so big there's no way that the a man even as fit as Ko could wrestle a fish of that size to the surface once the spear hit home and it sounded for the depths. To tackle fish this size, they attach a series of floats to their guns and when they spear the fish, the spear, which has a breakway tip, keeps the fish attached to the floats, and now the fish fights the floats until it tires out enough for the spearfisherman to pull it up.
To my delight and amazement I saw Ko's lines go tight and whine under the strain of a giant fish pulling down on the floats. The floats were actually being pulled down and gas was being forced out of them by the power of the fish sounding over 150 feet below! Ko swam up just as calmly and slowly and controlled as he had done with all of his previous drops, so it seemed incongruous that he could have just speared the fish of several lifetimes, but when I saw his partners come over with looks of joy on their faces, I knew it actually happened.
A long battle ensued and Ko triued to bring the fish up, only to have to stop puling and attach more floats to the two that he started out with. This fish was like a locomotive! Wendell told me that it would be awhile before the fish might come up, so I swam back to Bomboy's boat to change lenses in my underwater housing and hopped back in the water. The sharks were still there, and in fact, now that there was a sense of urgency in the water, it felt like they were getting a bit closer, so Nate and Mike continued to protect Wendell by staring the sharks down and poking at them with their spears when they got too close.
As Terry Maas told me, that is every wingman's job in spearfishing: to protect the man who's fighting the fish so they he could focus 100% of his attention on raising it.Interestingly, at this stage of the game Maas calls the sharks and the spearfishermen "competing predators" who both want the fish. Maas said the shark might be thinking, "The diver won the first round, but the game isn't over yet" and of course, with several white tips coming ever closer, this scenario unfolded in front of my own eyes in dramatic fashion.
After about half an hour, the fish grew tired of pulling down against the floats and came up to where we could see it. It was still beating it's tail and swimming rather heartily, and as Ko brought the fish up little by little, the sharks took many close passes at the fish, but for some reason never attacked it.
The sharks might have been as stunned as I was, for I can't otherwise explain how they managed to let the tuna be pulled right through them (see the video!)
Ko finally managed to bring the fish to the surface and with his last reserves of energy, swam the fish to the boat while his friends stoodd guard for the sharks. Once he got the fish to the boat the mate James gaffed the fish and hoisted it aboard, and when it hit the deck, everyone's eyes almost bulged out of their sockets!!!!! Everyone was hooting and hollering.
This celebration continued until we got back to the certified scale back at Honokohau Harbor's Charter Desk.  Here is Mike, Wendell, Bomboy, and Nate:
"What do you guys think it weighs?" asked the woman at the scale. We'd all spent enough time with fish and scales to know that it's always better to take a lot of weight of what you think it weighs, so we shouted out numbers like 150, 167, 170, and 155. When she said "188!!!" we all redoubled our celebratory efforts.
I've seen a lot of really wild stuff on the ocean, but this was far and away the gnarliest thing I ever witnessed. For example I used to catch marlin from kayaks, but that is child's play compared to big game spearfishing. It being my first time on a spearfishing photo shoot, I think I might just stop here, because it's gotta be all downhill after Wendell Ko's 188 pound giant ahi tuna! ....FAVOR TIME......
If you liked this story, PLEASE do me a favor and "Like" my Facebook Page Jon Schwartz Fishing, Photography, and Travel by clicking HERE. That way you can stay current with my latest photo adventures and also be eligible to win my next photo giveway worth $400.00 ************* About the Author************** Jon Schwartz contributes to fishing and travel magazines worldwide, specialzing in big fish photos and yacht and travel photography, has been featured on Nat Geo TV, and blogs at http://bluewaterjon.blogspot.com. He lives in San Diego his wife and daughters, teaches elementary school, and enjoys teaching technology, fish science and art, and blues music to his students. Below is one of his student's tiger shark renderings!
Jon Schwartz also contributes articles to educational websites like Edutopia and has been featured on KPBS TV and many other networks for his pioneering work with technology, music and literacy in elementary education. Check out his First Grade Blues Band (they were on TV y'all!) and his student blogging site Kids Like Blogs. Here he is on stage with some of his first grade bandmates: