1999 Do or Die Fishing Tournament Report

In what could only be described as the most dramatic finish to one of the most eventful tournaments in Hawaii this year, the sailboat 20/20 managed to claim the title for both the Do or Die Fishing Tournament and the Hawaii Yacht Club season’s points crowns with a single spin of the reel by landing a whopping 481.5 pound Pacific Blue Marlin.  Their fish was caught on the final day of the season, proving yet again that Hawaii is one of the most exciting and thrilling, yet mystifying fisheries in the world.

While the power fleet steadily built points throughout the year by catching on a very regular basis, in the months leading up to the final tournament of the year the sail division had some slow going.  First to lead on the board was Tiare, a beautiful 44-foot Farr owned by Sherry Vann and her late husband Doug who sadly passed away during mid-season.  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 they can catch too.  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, and her final total points earned her the honors of top female angler of the year for Hawaii Yacht Club.  More importantly, it put the sail fleet back on the map with the elusive Billfish that had been stifling them all year.

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20/20 and their 481.5lb Marlin

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.  Crystal Larsen, who just recently began to enjoy the camaraderie of the Hawaii and Waikiki Yacht Club tournaments after moving to Hawaii from Alaska, angled that fish.  Richard had some tough luck through the course of the year, losing a couple of giant fish, but the ever-philosophical Ally claims it’s all just a part of the game. 

So with the fleet still under 200 points and no boat catching a single fish over 160, along comes the Do or Die tournament.  Several of the powerboats were down with mechanical repairs underway and to add to it, the annual canoe race from Molokai was held the same weekend (several members of the fleet escort the canoes on the Sunday race and need to be in Molokai on Saturday night).  Needless to say, the fleet was a little smaller than usual on the power side, but the sail fleet had the best turnout of the year. 

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Chris Tomlin (right), skipper of Gershen with their Mahi

On Saturday’s weigh in, the optional day, only two boats came home to the scales, and the biggest fish was a Mahimahi just under thirty pounds.  One fish came in on a sailboat, the other two on a power vessel.   Other fish were caught that day, but because of the canoe race, they were sitting on the decks of various boats in Molokai’s Hale’o’Lono harbor, and we anxiously looked forward to the following day to see who would win the season.

But Sunday had a lot more in store for us than we could possibly have imagined.  One of the skippers, Chris Tomlin aboard the Gershen out of Kona, weighed a 28.5 lb Mahimahi on Saturday, and spent the evening with his crew celebrating their catch.  Unbelievably and shockingly, however, when the crew went to awaken Tomlin on Sunday morning to go to sea for day two, Tomlin had suddenly passed away on his boat during the night, shaking up his crew and a multitude of members at the Hawaii Yacht Club.

Unaware of the tragedy, most of the fleet went to sea as though the day was like any other and the fishing carried on.  At about 11:00, tournament control received a call from Sherry Vann on Tiare indicating they were out at Barber’s Point and going to shadow Kolohe back to the harbor because the Cal 39 sloop had broken her mast in half.  All were safe on board, though, and both boats continued to drag lines in hopes of a nice fish (at least the priorities were straight).  Mulligan, vigilant in his maintenance and operation of the boat, had just done some work on the chain-plates that hold up the mast.  He was confident in the rig, and no problems going to sea to catch fish as usual, and even when the mast broke, he figured the engine could make the boat fast enough to lure a fish.  They arrived about 2:30 back in the harbor, the boat and their heads at half-mast and with no fish to display, and also unaware of the drama that was unfolding at sea on 20/20.

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Team Kolohe's season was "cut short"

Skipper Tony Miller was unable to fish the first day as a result of work obligations at his optical hardware company, so the crew took the boat out for him on day one and 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 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 nobody’s business.  The lure had only been re-rigged that morning, as it had been whacked by an Ono on a previous trip, tearing the skirts up.  Miller, a skipper who has boated Marlin before, knew right away they had a great fish on and 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 came to leader, but on the third time up, the mainsail blew out, adding to the pandemonium of the situation.  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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The crew of Alele II with their Marlin


Meanwhile, other sailboats and the power fleet began to return home.  Alele II with Al Bento, still in the hunt for the power title, landed a nice 195 lb Marlin.  His fish probably would have weighed about 220 pounds since he didn’t get the fish weighed until Sunday, but his obligations with the canoe race were something he recognized could cause a conflict, and he was extremely gracious about his final tally.

Art Burt on the Audie Too also had a good tournament, as they were able to land a 138 pound Marlin.   Art had been having troubles with his brand new powerplants, and had been frustrated by his inability to participate in some of the major events in the year.  By earning second place and only spending money on fuel in this tournament, Art clearly put himself in great shape to start next year with a vengeance.  Rick Abille also managed a couple of fish in the tournament, and added some points to his total for the year with his 35 pound Mahimahi, but all eyes and ears were on the arrival of 20/20. 

As the blue-trimmed sailboat entered the harbor and 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, and preliminary record reviews suggest this is was the biggest fish caught by a sailboat in a Hawaii tournament ever.  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. 

Click here for feature story on 20/20's Marlin

In memory of Chris Tomlin, skipper of Gershen

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