2. Kona, Hawaii
"I have literally caught a grander five minutes from Honokohau Harbor," says Capt. Gene Vander Hoek, who's been fishing Kona for 40 years.
You can catch a grander Pacific blue on any day of the week in these waters, but the best big-fish months occur during the summer. Jim Rizzuto, who has chronicled the local fishing scene for the past few decades, counts 76 marlin topping 1,000 pounds since 1960 (and that does not take into account any granders released).
The Big Island is literally the top of a mountain that drops down to the seafloor. The depths fall away to 1,000 fathoms within sight of land, and you can catch marlin, tuna, wahoo and more within a stone's throw of the harbor. It's not uncommon to see an 18-foot Boston Whaler trolling with a 130-pound setup. The average blue runs between 300 and 500 pounds, but most of the fleet sticks with heavy tackle - and for good reason.
"Although we have managed to catch a 1,049 blue on 80-pound, I would much rather go after them with the 130s," Vander Hoek says. "Unless you get lucky and the beast jumps herself out, you will need to put the hurt on her sometime during the fight, and this is better accomplished with a 130 outfit."
Vander Hoek is the only captain to catch three granders in Hawaii and release a fourth. He's also won numerous honors in The Billfish Foundation's annual tag-and-release competition, including 2009 top Pacific blue marlin captain for tagging.
Kona is also the birthplace of modern-day trolling lures, and all of Vander Hoek's big fish were caught on plastic, but live-bait is also a popular form of targeting big fish in Hawaii. Capt. Jeff Fay, who runs Humdinger, a gorgeous 37 Rybovich, says he prefers baits for the big ones. Fay knows what he's talking about. He's won the Henry Chee captains award in the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament four times - the most of any captain.
As far as granders go, Kona is tops for Pacific blues.
When to Go: Any month of the year, but April through September seems to produce more big fish
Where to Stay: The charter boats tie up at Honokohau Harbor, located outside the Kailua-Kona village where you'll find many of the hotels, resorts and local eateries. For a complete list of resorts, visit www.bigisland.org, or ask the captain you plan on fishing with for recommendations.