Water Ways

By Ray Pendleton

These are HIBT’s
real good old days

I was back in Honolulu from the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament in Kailua-Kona no more than an hour before the questions began.

"So how's it now?" one veteran local angler wanted to know. "Is it anything like it used to be?"

Of course, I knew he wasn't talking about the tournament's billfish catch record.

After all, as the HIBT's founder Peter Fithian has always said, the Kona Coast is one of the greatest fishing holes in the world. The fish are still there.

No, the question had more to do with the things that have always made the HIBT a bit different from other fishing contests.

I think we can borrow a term from the corporate world and call the biggest change down-sizing or perhaps, right-sizing. The HIBT is much the same as a decade or more ago, just smaller.

After all, everything from tourism to the stock market has taken a tumble in the last few years, so why should the venerable HIBT be any different?

The teams that entered this year still came from around the world as well as from around the islands. In fact, the winning team -- the Malindi Sea Fishing Club -- is a perennial entry from Kenya, East Africa.

Still, the teams aren't as numerous as they once were. Instead of the 60, 70 or 80 teams of the past, there were 22 teams entered in this year's competition.

Accordingly, the spectacle of a giant fleet of charter boats blasting out of Kailua Bay at the sound of "Start fishing!" each morning is somewhat diminished.

Even so, there is still the early morning pageantry as, one by one, such well known boats as Marlin Magic or Huntress -- skippered by the equally famous brothers of Marlin and Randy Parker -- back down to the pier to fetch their teams of anglers.

And that same pageantry continues in the late afternoon as each boat returns its angling team to the pier.

Under the watchful eyes of curious on-lookers packed in the grandstand, the anglers disembark, their success measured by the size and number of fish either boated or tagged and released.

From the standpoint of the anglers, most seemed to agree that the down-sizing of the HIBT hasn't been all bad, especially when compared to not having the tournament at all.

"When we had 80 teams, it may have been too much," California's Pajaro Valley Gamefish Club angler Jim Ramsey said. "I really enjoy the camaraderie we have in this group."

"I really missed this ambiance and social interaction in 1999," added Marina del Rey Anglers' Jerry Gleason, another Californian. (The only year since its inception in 1959 the HIBT did not run was 1999.)

And the social aspects of the HIBT are about more than just "the boys going fishing." It's a family affair that also involves the anglers' wives and children. In fact, several children are now following in their fathers' footsteps as team members and boat skippers as well.

So, is the HIBT anything like it used to be?

I'd say yes -- in all of the important ways -- because in this case, size really doesn't seem to matter.

Ray Pendleton is a free-lance writer based in Honolulu.
His column runs Saturdays in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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