When the 7:30 a.m. call of “Start fishing, start fishing, start fishing,” echoes across the Big Island’s Kailua-Kona bay from the radios of the sportfishing fleet on Monday, July 28, it will mark the start of the 55th Annual Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament.
Then, from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day through Friday, expected teams from Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Vanuatu and from across the USA will troll the offshore waters HIBT founder Peter Fithian has called “the best fishing hole in the world.”
As the manager of the Kona Inn in 1958, Fithian had recognized the unique geographic features of the island as its 13,000-foot volcanoes blocked the normal trade winds, which provided exceptionally flat seas for anglers, and the underwater canyons offshore attracted record-sized billfish throughout the year.
Compared to most fishing tournaments both in Hawaii and around the world, the HIBT is unique in many ways. Perhaps the most obvious is the absence of cash rewards.
Unlike the familiar “jackpot” tournaments, where entry fees are returned to the anglers in prize money, the HIBT has no big payoff to its winners. Participants must be satisfied with trophies and praise, and the hope of setting a new record.
And, because so many of the visiting angling teams must charter a boat, tournament organizers hold a blind draw to determine which of Honokohau Harbor’s fine sportfishers will be assigned to them each day. This allows every team the same chance of fishing on any given boat on any particular day.
Another feature of the HIBT is its tag-and-release system for scoring points in addition to bringing fish into the scale. Any billfish reeled up to the boat, has an identification tag attached to it and is released is worth points instead of weigh-in pounds. This rule has most certainly allowed an untold number of marlin to live, grow and procreate.