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1999 Hawaii Fishing Tournament Year in Review

A couple fish close to a grand, twenty over 300 pounds, a sailboat landing one at almost 500, and a slurry of catches pushing the upper limit of each species was the recurring theme for fishing tournaments in Hawaii for 1999.  Big boats and small boats, big money and share the wealth tournaments, state attendance records, local and international favorites and parties by the sea complimented a year of explosive tournament fishing.  In the end it didn’t matter who you were, how old you were, or where you came from: if you threw your name in the hat, you had a chance to cash in on a big fish.

Whether you own(ed) a boat or charter(ed) one, live on Oahu, Molokai or are from Kansas, whether you've caught a thousand fish before or nary a one, Hawaii’s oceans even score.   Of course, preparation is crucial and experience is important, but a slight degree of luck can’t be discounted in this game where anything from five to 500 pounds or more will strike the same lures in the same areas on the same days.  Just like Sally Field told Tom Hanks as she lay on her death bed in Forrest Gump, “it’s [life] like a box of chocolates….you never know what you’re going to get.”  Is it possible she was referring to fishing in Hawaii?

As we close out the year/century/Millennium, Sportfish Hawaii offers you a chance to see how the tournaments stacked up against each other in 1999.  We have been reporting information to you all year long about the tournaments, the winners, and the key statistics, but this is the first time to our knowledge that anyone has brought all the information together for comparison side by side.

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20/20's 481.5 Marlin in the Do or Die Tournament      (Ellen Miller photo)

Criteria for Inclusion

We have attempted to compile data from every tournament on every island that is reasonably open to the public, but we have excluded data from private tournaments and tournaments we couldn't get complete information from.  For example, the Flying Fishing Freaks tournament in Kona in October is an airline employees’ event primarily, but almost anyone connected to the travel industry (wife, uncle, second cousin knows a travel agent, etc.) can enter.  Conversely, some tournaments held by local yacht and boat clubs that are only available to their members are excluded.

Other impromptu tournaments are also held throughout the course of the year.  Many of these are simply “flyer-on-the-lamppost” type tournaments are often organized on the spur of the moment or pit a few fishing buddies against each other in a completely informal format.  Results from these tournaments are also excluded.

The island of Kauai held three tournaments that we know of in 1999, and a fourth was cancelled.  We were unable to obtain information from any of them with the exception of the Rainbow Jackpot in Port Allen on July 4th.  Unfortunately, all we were able to find out was approximately 33 boats entered, several fish were caught, and some money changed hands.  Accordingly, for 1999, the Kauai tournaments have been excluded. 

We hope that next year all tournament operators will provide all their information to us so a complete and comprehensive survey can be completed.  In all, approximately 20-25 tournaments are not reported in this survey.  Most of these tournaments are smaller events held in Kona.

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933 lb Marlin caught on Ho'okele
(Photo courtesy of Kay Kolt and Jerri Sutcliffe)

The Results in General

One of the greatest features of Hawaii’s tournament fishery as a whole is there is no correlation between entry fees, the largest fish, and the highest winnings.   Although Hawaii’s largest tournament-caught fish in 1999 (974.5 pounds, Skins) did win the most money ($87,780.00), the same cannot be said for the rest.  In fact, some mighty fish won little or nothing.  The second largest fish (933, Flying Fishing Freaks, shown to the left) won a merchandise prize from a sponsor, the ninth largest fish (481.5, Do or Die, shown above) – which was caught on a sailboat – was worth only $150.00, and believe it or not, the sixteenth largest fish (407.5, Skins) was worth nothing but the memories of the fight!

On the flip side, some huge payouts were made to teams that didn’t get a drop of blood on their decks; something many people don’t realize about Hawaii. The second highest payout of the year ($60,224.00, World Billfish Challenge) went to a team that released five Marlin, and it was also, according to preliminary information from The Billfish Foundation, reportedly the largest payout in history given to a team that did not weigh a single fish. The World billfish Challenge also paid $16,125.00 to the second place team (5 releases) and $3,780 to the fourth place team (3 releases) for no fish on the deck, while the Big Island Invitational paid $5,000.00 to the top release team.

All told, about $100,000 of the over one million dollars paid out in prize money in Hawaii went to teams that didn’t boat a fish.

The Results in More Detail

Who were Hawaii's big winners for 1999?  Legend 2's owner/angler Mike Vidal with Captain Reuben Rubio led the way and cashed in with almost $200,000.00 won in four different events (Skins, August Moon, World Billfish Challenge Heavy, World Billfish Challenge Light), and as an encore, the team went to Florida this fall to participate in the WBS Championship - and won it!  Kila Kila with Captain Randy Parker and owner/angler Steve Schumacher won just under $100,000.00 in two tournaments (Okoe Bay, World Billfish Challenge Light), while Captain Jeff Fay on the Humdinger managed to work with various anglers to claim almost $70,000.00 in five tournaments (Big Island Invitational, Five Flags, World Billfish Challenge - heavy and light, Lahaina Wahine Jackpot). 

Mike House (yours truly) angled his (my) way into almost $45,000.00 on Maui's Start Me Up with Captain Doug Armfield in a single event (Big Island Invitational), while Captain Chip Van Mols and angler Chris Potts of the Rod Bender got together to win $40,000.00 on a single fish (Firecracker).  Captain Tom Casey of the Maui Jim got his piece of the pie also with a couple of different anglers by winning just under $40,000.00 in two events (Big Island Invitational, Lahaina Jackpot).

All of Hawaii shows results

All the islands of Hawaii, not just Kona, consistently produce large fish and the tournament season confirms it.  Eight fish came in over 500 pounds and twenty-nine fish came in over 250 pounds.  Fourteen of the twenty-three largest tournament fish were caught in Kona which leads many to believe the best chance of catching a large fish lies in that area.  But, when we remember the fact that the majority of the big Kona tournaments target Billfish and that island holds significantly more events than anywhere else, it becomes clear that the rest of the islands do just as well.  It also helps to remember that Kona's charter fleet is the largest by far, which gives the Big Island the best opportunity to gather visiting tournament anglers from around the world.

Nonetheless, all it takes is some simple math to figure out that on a boat for boat, day for day basis, each island in Hawaii is pretty equal in their production.  Sure, 1999 saw the two 900-class fish come home to Kona (Skins, Flying Fishing Freaks), but Maui blew that away in 1997 when two 1,100-class fish came in on the same day in one of the few tournaments they hold all year (Lahaina Jackpot).

Another factor to consider when analyzing the data is much of the tournament scene in Hawaii isn’t about just bagging billfish.  At least fourteen yellowfin tuna (Ahi) over 150 pounds were recorded in tournaments in 1999, with many more going unreported as a result of the individual tournament format.  The Hana Pa’a and Ahi Fever tournaments on Oahu generally place an emphasis on Ahi over Marlin by virtue of the communities in which they are held, and literally hundreds of non-Marlin were caught in those tournaments.  When the prize turns away from Billfish to other species (Ahi fever pays the top award for a tuna), it is remarkable to witness how adept the fishermen are at changing their strategies.  Interestingly, however, both Hana Pa’a and Ahi Fever did post Marlin in the top twenty-three (509 and 424.2 pounds, respectively).

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175.4 lb Ahi Fever winner caught on Magic

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Kahuna Kai with their 45.5 lb Ono in the Ho'ole'a

Many tournaments pay on a “share the wealth” basis and cash and/or merchandise prizes are awarded for Mahimahi, Ono, and even Spearfish.  Accordingly, on days when the Marlin aren’t around (yes, these days do unfortunately happen), anglers can take advantage of various situations at sea in order to maximize their chances of winning.  Less than ten Hawaii tournaments are Marlin-only events, and when payments are made for smaller species of fish, it opens up opportunities for anglers to recover their entry fees and perhaps even cover their fuel.  Hundreds of Mahimahi, Ono, and Spearfish were caught during the course of the tournament year, and we’ve listed the top catches in our results. 

It's important to remember these numbers are far from complete, as many anglers who know they aren’t “in the money” in a particular event don’t weigh all their fish.  Furthermore, some tournament operators don’t keep track of every fish brought to the scales and only maintain records on the winners.  Nonetheless, the data we present clearly demonstrates just how many different people catch memorable fish during tournaments in Hawaii.

Everyone gets to play

Well over a thousand boats entered Hawaii tournaments in 1999, with the largest at only 260.  Using an average of five persons per boat (i.e. captain, mate and 3-4 charters in some cases, captain and 2-5 friends as crew in others), we estimate approximately 5000-6000 anglers participated.   Remember, this total comes from just the events listed here, and the total could easily be 50% or more higher if we had every single tournament listed).  For participation, we listed just the top eleven (tournaments with over 40 boats), but there were many more with entries in the teens, twenties and thirties. 

Some tournaments, like the Lanai Rendezvous and the Lahaina Jackpot, have been around for many years, while others are still in their infancy.  Some remain well attended year after year, while the Ho'ole'a was able to turn it around after a couple of dismal years.  Some tournaments may not be back for 2000, and we still don't know the fate of the famed Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament which was cancelled for the first time in 1999 after forty straight years of operation.

But no matter what tournaments drop out, one thing for certain is there will be somewhere to play in Hawaii.  Unlike Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and other sports where the participants enjoy a short shelf-life and the cost or selection process excludes the vast majority of the public from access to the elite levels of the game, big game tournament fishing in Hawaii is available to everyone.  And the fish don’t care about the size of your boat or the amount you paid to enter the tournament.  From the $20.00 club tournaments to the $10,000.00 and beyond events, everyone who participates in a Hawaii tournament can catch a fish and win something. 

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Spectators and anglers alike enjoyed Ahi Fever

So if you don’t want to spend $16,100.00 to enter every optional daily entry of the World Billfish Challenge for your shot at over $160,000.00 in prizes, the Lahaina Jackpot guarantees a $25,000.00 first prize every year to the team with the largest fish and it’s only $600.00 to play.  And if you don’t want to spend $6,300.00 to get into every category of the Big Island Invitational for your shot at over $100,000.00 in prizes, the Ho’ole’a, Ahi fever and Hana Pa’a tournaments on Oahu offer top prizes in the $10,000.00 to $15,000.00 range and they are only $350.00 to $600.00 to enter.  All that matters is an individual enters the event and plays by the rules.  After that, it’s anybody’s guess who will catch the biggest fish. 

From Wahine events to open tournaments, from open bars and banquets to no frills 100% paybacks, Hawaii has something for everyone in the tournament year.  And with events drawing 260 boats and 5,000 spectators (Ahi Fever) to those drawing just a few, there is a tournament out there that can fulfill everyone’s dream of receiving a check from a tournament director in front of a crowd. 

More importantly, there is an ocean out there that gives everyone  a chance to catch a big fish.

Please enjoy Sportfish Hawaii’s 1999 tournament year in review. Click on the links below to review the 1999 tournament results.  Feedback and comments are always welcome!

Entire Tournament Summary
Largest Marlin Category
Largest Ahi
Largest Spearfish
Largest Mahimahi
Largest Ono
Highest Gross Poundage
Largest Fish in Wahine Event
Most Released Fish
Highest Winnings in a Tournament
Most Earnings for a Single Fish

Highest Payouts in a Wahine Event
Most Won for Lowest Entry
Clean Sweep Winners
Most Won for Released Fish
Most Boats in a Tournament
Most Boats in Wahine Event
Most Expensive Entry
Least Expensive Entry
Highest Total Cash Prize
Longest Running Tournament
Other Tournament Stats

Click here
for the 2000 Hawaii Fishing Tournament Schedule and links to 1999 Reports

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