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20/20's 481lb Marlin

In an amazing display of experience, boat handling skill, fishing prediction, and a little luck, a 34 foot sailing vessel from the Hawaii Yacht Club in Honolulu, Hawaii managed to claim the title for both the Do or Die Fishing Tournament and the club season’s points crown with a single spin of the reel.  By landing a whopping 481.5 pound Pacific Blue Marlin on the final day of the season, Tony and Ellen Miller’s 20/20 removed all doubt that sailboats can catch big fish, and it proved yet again that Hawaii is one of the most exciting and thrilling, yet mystifying fisheries in the world. 

Despite all the disadvantages of fishing aboard a sailboat, the great Marlin was not the first to be caught aboard 20/20.   The previous boat record was 264 pounds, and they have caught several billfish to win tournaments and seasons in the past.   Miller’s fish claimed them the season’s point trophy for the third straight year, and the fish is the largest caught aboard a sailboat in a club tournament.  Furthermore, based on preliminary research, the catch is also the largest in Hawaii caught on a sailboat in any tournament, and may prove to be one of the largest tournament caught fish recorded by a sailboat in the world. 

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High Fives for 20/20 and their 481.5lb Marlin

During the course of the season, fishing had been slow for the sail fleet.  First to lead on the board early on was Tiare, a beautiful 44-foot Farr owned by Sherry Vann and her late husband Doug who sadly passed away during mid-season.  But after five of the eight tournaments had passed, only two boats had registered fish and the poundage totals for the leading vessel Tiare barely broke the hundred-point level.

The last few tournaments saw some great action, though, and the sailboats proved their efforts in previous seasons were not just luck.  Crispin Mulligan, wife of skipper Hank Mulligan of Kolohe, got into the action by landing a nice 159.5 pound Marlin to win the sail division of the Cockeyed Mayor’s Tournament in August, and her final total points earned her the honors of top female angler of the year for Hawaii Yacht Club. 

Richard Ally, a savvy angler who has fished these waters for years on board his 28 foot sailing sloop Stinger, finally broke his hard luck streak by landing a 22.5 pound Mahimahi in the Wahine tournament back in September.  That fish was angled by Crystal Larsen, an energetic young lady who only recently has begun to enjoy the camaraderie of the Hawaii and Waikiki Yacht Club tournaments following her move from Alaska to Hawaii.  But while Richard had some tough luck through the course of the year losing a couple of giant fish, the ever-philosophical angler maintains it’s all just a part of the game. 

So with the fleet still tallying less than 200 points and no boat catching a single fish over 160 pounds, along came the Do or Die tournament.  On Saturday’s weigh in, the optional day, only two boats came home to the scales, and the biggest fish was a Mahimahi weighing in at just under thirty pounds.  One fish came in on a sailboat, the other two on a power vessel.  Sunday was a bit more eventful, and in addition to fish being caught all over, the leading points boat, Kolohe, unfortunately had her season cut short by breaking their mast in half out by Barber’s Point. 

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Angler Bob Simpson

On board 20/20, however, things were just getting warmed up.  Skipper Tony Miller, unable to fish the first day as a result of work obligations at his optical hardware company, sent the crew out for him on day one and they returned with no fish despite spending a great deal of time in a substantial bird pile in the area between buoys HH and BO.  With the idea that fish had to be in the area the following day, 20/20 set course for the same area and found the birds again.  They had just left the HH buoy and began working downwind, then hit the pinnacle area, and worked it pretty hard until they reached the BO side of the pinnacle.   

No strikes had the crew thinking about other things for a while, but suddenly, at 10:20 am, their leisurely cruise turned into a situation that would change the face of sailboat fishing forever.  An Everreddy model Leprechaun Lure made by Stuart Dixon, outfitted with green dichroic glass, a purple and blue outside skirt and a yellow and pink inside skirt, got hit hard and line began running out on the Shimano 80W Tiagra like the drag wasn’t even applied.  The lure had only been re-rigged that morning, as an Ono on a previous trip had whacked it, tearing up the skirts.  During the course of the first run, Miller, sensing a big fish was on, immediately turned the boat toward the fish as angler Bob Simpson began the fight.

By turning the boat and running the engine at full power to a sailboat speedy eight knots on a downwind course, the team of four not only had to battle the fish, but had to contend with the sails as well.  The spin move paid off, though, as the fish stopped at about mid-spool, and they were able to contain the sail somewhat.  After gaining some line, the fish took another long run and began a great aerial display filled with tailwalks and head shakes, and the crew recalls the loud, blistering cracking noise the line made as it slapped the water with the fish running like the wind.

At about 50 minutes into the fight, they got the fish to the leader, but they all knew it was too green to take at that point.  A couple more times they got the fish to leader, but on the third time up, the mainsail blew out, adding to the pandemonium of the situation.  Recognizing safety was of higher importance than landing the fish, Miller convinced the crew to calm down and take it easy.  The fish was well hooked, and they allowed it to take another small run as the boat was tidied and re-organized.  Four times they had to let the leader go, but by the fifth time they got to leader, the great Marlin was tired.  A gaff was procured, the fish was secured, and the crew called in their catch to tournament control with an ETA back to the dock of about 4:20 pm. 

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How did they steer the boat?

As other boats weighed in and the word got around, the crews and other spectators anxiously awaited 20/20’s arrival.  And as they pulled up to the scale dock, the crowd went crazy.  The fish had been called in at an estimated 325 pounds, but everyone knew when they saw it the estimate was low.  Half the fish was hanging off the stern of the transom scoop model sailboat, and lines were all over the place keeping it secure.  Tournament control tied up the boat, connected the tail to the scale, and hoisted the fish up where it read a whopping 481.5 pounds before cheers from the crowd.  High fives and congratulations were poured onto the crew as they reveled in their successful season, capped off by a fantastic fish and changing the mood of what could have otherwise been a somber day. 

Despite all the odds, a sailboat had now caught the largest fish of the year in a club tournament.   Sportfish Hawaii congratulates team 20/20 with skipper Tony Miller, angler Bob Simpson, and crewmen Russ Cunningham and Steve Mann for their great day on the water and a thrilling finish to the 1999 tournament season.


To read about lucky Leprechaun Lures, click here

To read about the grounds mentioned in the story, click here

To learn about what the FADS/Buoys HH and BO do to attract fish click here


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