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Rare Kona Black Marlin Fishing Report - April 06, 2016

Date of trip: April 06, 2016
Posted April 06, 2016 by FishTrack Member
  • The rigid, sickle-shaped fins on this jumping billfish immediately tell you it is a black marlin, even at a distance. This high jumper is the first black marlin weighed in Kona this year. Action on Night Runner with Capt. Shawn Rotella. 1 of 2
  • The wavy markings on the back of the year's biggest kawakawa help distinguish it from its similarly shaped aku cousins. The markings on the 18-pounder are called "vermiculations," meaning "little worms." Photo courtesy of Capt. Shawn Rotella. 2 of 2
This week’s most unusual catch qualifies for the title in a dozen different ways. You count ‘em as we recount the story.

It happened on Wednesday (no need to check - it wasn’t April Fool’s Day) aboard Night Runner. Capt. Shawn Rotella and crew Shawn McCurdy had Jim Ives aboard to celebrate his 60th birthday.

Shawn was fishing in a popular spot off Keahole Light. Unlike most other boats who troll the area with lures, Shawn was towing several live baits. These were opelu he caught earlier after negotiating a difficult passage out of Honokohau Harbor in the dark. Heavy seas from the west were piling up in the usually calm entrance, making even daytime exits tricky. Indeed, many boats decided to stay in port those days , a fact reflected in this week’s low catch report. With just the gleam of lights on white wave crests, Night Runner timed the incoming waves well enough to get out without too much slamming and banging and then headed northwest up along the coast.

Fishing got interesting later in the day when everyone aboard could see what happened.

The long bait trailed the pack from a line on the bridge while other live baits were swimming in closer to the stern of the 38-footer. Shawn had the bridge line in his fingers when he felt the bait get excited at the approach of a predator. The line got heavy as the fish took the bait and then relaxed as the bait popped free from the hook.

With the bait gone, he reeled the line in rapidly in hopes of getting another bait back on the hook before the fish lost interest. But as the bare hook skipped across the surface, Shawn saw a big splash behind it as a billfish swatted at the escaping loop of bare metal.

What would chase a bare hook?

Just then, Shawn spotted the fin of a shark cruising behind the baits. He hollered down to his crew to get ready for a strike. He was sure the shark would jump on one of the inside baits.

As expected, the strike came a few seconds later. But instead of seeing a shark swim doggedly away with the line, they were surprised by the sight of a marlin leaping a full body length out of the water.

And it wasn’t one of the blue marlin or striped marlin we see so often these days. From its rigid curved pectoral fins, they knew instantly it was a black marlin. We see only a few blacks each year. One or two have been hooked here so far in 2016 and these have been tagged and released. And this would be Shawn’s first one ever.

If he brought this one in to the scales, it would be the first one weighed and take over the black marlin spot on the Big-Fish List. It would also do something unheard of in the 22 years since we began the Big-Fish List. It would give Night Runner the lead in five different categories. Night Runner already held the top spot for spearfish, sailfish, ono, and kahala.

But getting it in involved another hurdle. Birthday boy Jim Ives would have to fight it on gear a lot lighter than the standard heavy billfish gear marlin fishermen use here in Hawaii. For inshore bait fishing, Night Runner is equipped with 16-pound class reels, not 130s. Though the reels are loaded with line heavier than 16-pound class, the reel drags have a top setting of about 20-pound test.

Jim handled the gear effectively while Shawn maneuvered Night Runner to stay with the fish. The marlin did what black marlin are known for — it stayed on the surface and jumped repeatedly until it tired itself out. Now they had to worry about whether the shark would attack their tired marlin.

But they got lucky and the shark stayed away. Crew McCurdy got the leader. Shawn gaffed the marlin. He now had his 5th Big-Fish List leader.

When they pulled it aboard, they spotted something even rarer than the unusual fish, itself. It was carrying a tag from a previous encounter with an angler. Despite a great deal of tagging effort here and elsewhere around the Pacific, very few tagged fish are ever recovered anywhere. Less than one in a hundred. More like one in a thousand.

This, in fact, might be one of the two tagged in Hawaii a month or so ago, but we won’t know until the tagging agency runs the numbers and that might not happen until the tag cards work their way back to the appropriate tagging headquarters in Florida or California.

So there is more to the story when the results come in. Regardless of what they are, they will definitely add to the odd nature of Jim’s 60th birthday black marlin.


Kona is known as the place to go for big Pacific blue marlin in calm water (most days) close to port. For elite big-game fishermen, the blue is the only fish worth fishing for. And then there are the rest of us.

Kona features many other interesting fishing opportunities. We started the Big-Fish List in 1994 to recognize 22 different species worth fishing for. The numbers and catches speak for themselves.

Night Runner has built a clientele by successfully targeting the fish on our Big-Fish List. Those successes are the reason why Shawn and his crew show up often in this column. The black marlin was their fifth hit on the list. On Saturday they made it Number 6 with an 18-pound kawakawa. Like the black marlin, the List-leading kawakawa grabbed a live opelu in along the opelu koa, the 25- to 35- fathom zone where the opelu gather in big schools.

During the spring, big schools of kawakawa circle the schools and herd them like cattle. They pack them in tight balls, which show up on the fish finder as bright blobs and on the surface as dark patches colored by the opelu backs.

Shawn Rotella told me that there are a lot of big kawakawa around right now — so many that it is sometimes difficult to get bait and then get a bait past them to catch another type of gamefish. I’m calling this recent phenomenon the return of the big kawakawa run.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, big kawakawa showed up reliably each spring, hung around for a few months and then disappearred to parts unknown. They’d show up in different places at different times sporadically in the years since. The state record was a 33-lb, 6-oz fish caught of Molokai at the end of June, 2014.

With six top fish on the Big-Fish List, Capt. Shawn is looking for number seven. He thinks the rainbow runner (kamanu) spot, which is vacant, is the most vulnerable. He has already caught kamanu big enough to enter, but he is looking for a 15- to 20-pounder. When he (or anyone else gets one), we’ll be sure to applaud and tell you about it.

Big-Fish List for 2016. The list recognizes the biggest fish caught on rod and reel (except opakapaka and onaga, for which we'll accept hand line catches) in West Hawaii waters for 2016 in each of 22 categories. They are listed by species, weight, angler, skipper, boat, and date. The list is updated every Sunday throughout the year (copyright 2016 by Jim Rizzuto). If we have overlooked you, give us a call (885-4208) or send an e-mail (rizzutojim1@gmail.com).

Blue marlin, 802, Lou Groebner, Capt. Rocky Gauron, Go Get Em. Mar. 1.
Black marlin, 160.5, Jim Ives, Capt. Shawn Rotella, Night Runner. Mar. 30.
Ahi, 227, Capt. Russ Nitta, Lepika. Jan 6.
Bigeye tuna, 173, Dave Remillard, Miles Nakahara, Puamana II. Jan. 11.
Striped marlin, 136.5, Mitchell Romero, Capt. Guy Terwilliger, High Flier. Jan 22.
Spearfish, 54, Nick Humpries, Capt. Shawn Rotella, Night Runner, Feb. 26
Sailfish, 91, Mike Foster, Capt. Shawn Rotella, Night Runner. Mar. 24.
Mahimahi, 53, Nainoa Murtagh, Aulani. Feb. 10.

Ono, 62, Charlie Ford, Capt. Shawn Rotella, Night Runner. Mar. 18.
Kaku, (barracuda), (vacant)
Kahala, 70, Jessica Yell, Capt. Shawn Rotella, Night Runner. Jan 22.
Ulua (giant trevally), 69, Sawyer Slattery, Capt. Kenny Llanes, Lehuanani. Feb 22.
Omilu (bluefin trevally), (vacant)
Otaru (skipjack tuna), 26, Randolph Fort, Capt. James Dean, Blue Hawaii. Marc 7.
Broadbill swordfish, (vacant)
Ahipalaha (albacore), (vacant)
Kawakawa, 18, Capt. Shawn Rotella, Night Runner. Apr. 2.
Kamanu (rainbow runner), (vacant)
Opakapaka (pink snapper), 9.5. Butch Chee, Sueto Matsumoto, Sandee. Mar. 12.
Onaga (ulaula ko`aie), 19.5, Greg Hong, Kevin Shiraki, Erin Kai. Feb 25.
Uku (gray snapper), 17.5, Devin Hallingstad, kayak. Mar. 24.
O`io (bonefish), (vacant)

Beasts of the week (marlin weighing 500 pounds or more).

None weighed


April 1: Spearfish (25) Unknown, Capt. Kent Mongreig, Sea Wife II
April 1: Striped marlin (50) Joe Hannan, Capt. Bill Casey, Marlin Grando


March 28: Spearfish (36) Gintaras Krulikas, Capt. Jean Nogues, High Noon
March 28: Striped marlin (108) Chris Balmer, Capt. Kevin Hiney, Ku'uipo
March 28: Mahimahi (7 fish to 25 pounds) Stefanski Family, Capt. Tony Clark, Ihu Nui II
March 30: Black marlin (160.5) Jim Ives, Capt. Shawn Rotella, Night Runner

Report by Jim Rizzuto

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