Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi Hawaii’s
Back yard

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

Big Island’s Kona coast
offers rich adventures
in sportfishing

Every avid angler has a favorite story about "the one that got away." Dennis Cinta's begins on a beautiful Big Island morning just after the New Year, 1998.

"Tonee Suetsugu, a dear friend from Oahu, was visiting for the weekend," recalls Cinta, captain of the 42-foot Intrepid moored at Honokohau Harbor. "My son CJ, then 9 years old, also was on board for a day of fishing off the Kona Coast. Tonee wanted to catch a big marlin really badly, so we decided to venture up to the Grounds, a location north of Keahole Point, and try our luck there."

Using live aku (bonito) bait, they trolled for half an hour in hopes of luring a prize blue marlin. Suddenly, the rubber band securing the live bait to the bait clip snapped, and the anglers realized that they had been "bit."

Hustling into "strike mode," Tonee settled into the fighting chair. "I fed the predator slack line until I felt the line come tight, and he started to swim hard and away from the boat," says Cinta, his voice tinged with excitement. "I locked up the drag into strike position and slammed the Intrepid into full throttle to set the hook deep into the predator's mouth. Immediately, the line came tight, and we were hooked up to a beautiful blue marlin that looked close to 500 pounds!"

For 15 minutes, Tonee valiantly fought the fish, which jumped at least 10 times near the boat. "Then," says Cinta, "just when we thought everything was going 'textbook,' the line went slack, and Tonee said he couldn't feel any more pressure on his tackle. I took the rod from him and could immediately tell that all we had left was the original live bait.

The Intrepid is one of four charter fishing vessels that can be booked through Aerial Sportfishing Kona.

"I asked Tonee to reel in the line slowly so that we could hopefully tease the marlin into striking the bait again. Nothing happened, and the bait came spinning to the boat. I removed it from the water and discovered that it was a rainbow runner, but how could that be? I had put on a 3-pound aku and somehow came back with a 2-pound rainbow runner!

"What must have happened was the blue marlin swallowed the aku deep into its stomach. Somehow the aku became dislodged and the hook went into the half-digested rainbow runner, thus keeping it from penetrating into the marlin as we had hoped. Six years later, Tonee, CJ and I still talk about that day!"

Because of Kona's deep harbor, anglers often don't have far to go to hook mahimahi, aku, ono, ahi or marlin.

ENTHRALLING FISH stories like Cinta's are common in Kona, which has been dubbed the billfish capital of the world. Aerial Sportfishing Kona books charter fishing trips on most of the boats moored at Honokohau Harbor, the Intrepid being one of its four primary options.

"Because Kona is in the lee (protected side) of the Big Island and has calm waters, it has always been a popular fishing area," says Aerial's owner, Terry Causey. "The shoreline off Kona drops off very steeply, so boats do not have to run very far to find game fish; fishing can start right out of the harbor. This area has always been prime fishing grounds for marlin, but it's also very good for ahi (yellowfin tuna), aku, ono (wahoo) and mahimahi (dolphin fish, not to be confused with the mammal). Most of the captains have a respect and understanding of the ocean and can read what the conditions are and where they might be likely to hook up."

According to Causey, sportfishing attracts men, women and children of all ages. "People who love challenges, open spaces, beautiful scenery and boats are the usual clients for our fishing trips," he says. "Some are experienced, some are beginners, but they all go for the thrill of wrangling a fish. Of course, there is no guarantee that you'll catch a fish, but that is the thrill of the unknown."

Arrangements for catches are negotiated prior to the trip. Marlin that are hooked alive are released to help perpetuate the species. Other game fish usually are kept to be sold or eaten. The captain often will either give clients some of the smaller fish that are caught or set aside fillets from larger fish for them at the fish market.

Dozens of charter fishing boats operate out of Kona, and Causey recommends that customers do their homework before making a decision, including studying Web sites and brochures, getting feedback from people they trust, checking out the boats and even chatting with the captains. A seasoned crew can make sportfishing a memorable experience for any angler.

"While a lot of the time out on the water is in the hunt, sometimes the most fun is exchanging stories and enjoying the boat ride," Causey says. "The best advice I can give is to have patience, listen to your captain and crew, get a good feeling for being in that ocean environment and understand that fishing is not always about catching a fish, but learning about a fascinating world that is mostly covered in water."

Aerial Sportfishing Kona

Place: Office is at Gentry's Kona Marina, Honokohau Harbor, 75-425 Kealakehe Parkway 16, Kailua-Kona, Big Island

Call: 808-326-2553

Boats: Aerial Sportfishing primarily books private fishing charters on four boats: the Blue Hawaii (53-foot Hatteras), Intrepid (42-foot Bertram), Why-Knot (31-foot Precision Sportfisher) and Illusions (41-foot Topaz Flybridge); maximum of six people for all boats.

Rates (including fishing gear and ice): $285 to $600 for half-day (four hours), $325 to $725 for three-quarters-day (six hours) and $425 to $850 for full day (eight hours). Overnight charters ($1,500, including fishing gear, meals and ice) also are available on the Blue Hawaii and Intrepid. Customers are welcome to bring food and beverages on board.

Attire: Shorts, T-shirt, hat, jacket and closed-toe shoes. It's a good idea to bring sunscreen, sunglasses, binoculars and a book.

Notes: If you're prone to seasickness, get proper medication from your doctor before coming aboard. Children must be supervised by their parents or guardians, and youngsters under age 10 may participate only at the discretion of the captain of the boat.


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See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.


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