When the fishing talk turns to big blue marlin, there’s one hot spot that comes up more often than not: Kona, Hawaii. Calm seas. A year-round fishing season. Plenty of charter operations to choose from. And of course beautiful scenery and that famed Hawaiian hospitality. All that and more makes a trip to Kona on any serious angler’s short list of dream destinations.
Capt. Bryan Toney runs Marlin Magic, a 43-foot Allied that is one of Kona’s top charter boats. He has seen (and caught) his fair share of big blues. “There have been over 140 blue marlin over 1,000 pounds weighed in the Hawaiian Islands,” he says, “and Kona has over 80 of them. This doesn’t count the many more grander blues released. It’s numbers like that which make it such a great fishing destination, knowing that at any time you may hook the fish of a lifetime.” Several IGFA world-record blue marlin have been landed in these surrounding waters, which are also home to the largest marlin ever caught on hook and line, an 1,805-pounder known as Choy’s Monster that was caught off the island of Oahu in 1970 by a charter party fishing with Capt. Cornelius Choy.
Given its location in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, these volcanic Hawaiian Islands serve as natural feeding outposts for many pelagic species, with blue marlin at the very top of the list. The depths plummet rapidly, so there’s no reason to make a long run; trolling often begins as soon as the boats leave the harbor. In order to cover ground, nearly everyone will pull a spread of artificial lures, with some of the world’s most popular designs originating in Kona. Heavy tackle also rules the day, with most boats running their lures from 80s and 130s.
According to Toney, one of the island’s best features are the two large mountains, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, that make up most of the island. The mountains offer a 40-mile-long swath of water that’s protected from the tradewinds, meaning that conditions are usually flat-calm all year. “We wake up every morning 2,500 miles offshore with only a quarter-mile run to start fishing,” he says. “Some of my favorite fishing spots are basically landmarks that line up with the twists and turns of the offshore ledge, like Kaiwe Point, Keauhou, Red Hill, Keei, Honaunau, Hookena and Milolil. All have produced big fish for us in the past.”
And while Kona is most famous as a big blue marlin destination, it’s also one of the world’s most consistent spots to catch a spearfish — the most difficult part of attaining a royal billfish slam.
There’s a slew of top professional captains fishing out of Kona’s Honokohau Harbor, so finding a great boat is easy. Grander-marlin-chasing skippers like Gene Vanderhoek, Kevin Nakamaru, Marlin Parker and many others ply these waters on a daily basis and will work hard to make sure you have the shot at a fish of a lifetime. As with all charter operations though, be sure to book well in advance. The good news is that charters in Kona are relatively inexpensive because of the short run to the fishing grounds.
Marlin fishing in Kona can be good year-round; blues over 1,000 pounds have been caught during every month of the year. However, the most consistent fishing is usually between April and September.
The island isn’t known for big numbers of fish although multiple blue marlin are not uncommon. The spring months are best for spearfish. Other species, including striped marlin, yellowfin tuna, wahoo and others, will show up in the spread from time to time throughout the year as well.
Getting There, Staying There
The town of Kailua is located just 10 minutes from the Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport which is served by several major airlines including American, Delta, United, Alaska Airlines, and Hawaiian Airlines in addition to regional carriers. No passport is required for U.S. residents. Flights from the West Coast of the United States are approximately five hours. Honokohau Harbor is home to the majority of the island’s charter fleet, and it is conveniently located between the airport and Kailua.
Eating and Drinking
Toney says Kona is very family-friendly, with lots of shops, outdoors activities and restaurants to chose from. “A great place to stay that is right on the water and very reasonably priced is the Royal Kona Resort,” he says. “If you’re looking for a more high-end experience, head for the Four Seasons Hualalai, which is is one of the best resorts in the world.” For dining, Toney recommends Huggos, the Kona Inn, Umekes, and Sam Choy’s.
Two Hawaiian dishes that aren’t to be missed are poke and the pu pu platter. Poke, pronounced po-keh, is a raw fish salad made with tuna or other fresh fish tossed with sesame oil, soy sauce and seasonings, and is very popular throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Pu pu platters are appetizer or hors d’oeuvre plates, a combination of finger foods served before a meal.
For those with a competitive streak, tournament fishing in Hawaii is very popular. During the summer months, there are a slew of high-quality tournaments to choose from. And while only a few may win, a good time is virtually guaranteed for all who participate.
Other Things to Do
Scuba diving in Kona is very popular, as is night diving with the manta rays. These giants feed in the evenings in relatively shallow water.
Interested in learning to scuba dive? Check out PADI's online e-learning courses today — and experience Kona in a whole new way.
Be sure to head to Punalu’u beach, the most famous black sand beach in Hawaii. During nesting season, it’s not uncommon to see endangered Hawksbill turtles on the beach.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is also a popular destination, where visitors can hike over 100 miles of trails amid lush rainforest and the volcanoes of Kilauea, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea.
Honokohau Harbor: honokohauharbor.com
Marlin Magic Charters: marlinmagic.com; Capt. Bryan Toney: 808-895-3025 Royal Kona Resort: royalkona.com
Four Seasons Hualalai: .fourseasons.com/hualalai
Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series: konatournaments.com