Aloha, Kona: Hawaii Marlin Expeditions Preview

The Big Island is the perfect place for an introduction to heavy tackle

A Pacific blue marlin leaps out of the ocean.
Picture yourself here: A blue marlin takes to the air during the 2022 Marlin Expedition to Hawaii. Capt. Chris Donato

Marlin University is now Marlin Expeditions! We travel to the best big-game destinations on Earth, at peak times of the year, and teach the most cutting-edge techniques to catch billfish. Check out our 2023 expeditions.

What’s not to love about this idyllic fishing paradise called Kona? Well, from where I stand, not much. The bluewater fishing is probably closer to land than anywhere else in the world, the seas are always sparkling and almost always as flat as glass, and big blue marlin live there.

Professionals don’t consider their careers complete unless they’ve worked at least one season in Kona, and the fishing is about as endemic as you’ll find. Classic lure-fishing with little to no “advancements” makes Kona a heavy-tackle staple of the Pacific, and even without all the modern accoutrements, they get it done with no problems at all.

There’s a reason that anglers who are looking to add a grander—or at least a really big fish—to their resumes venture to Kona. And there’s a reason the ones who are looking to close out their billfish slam come here too. Sure, you can’t beat the beautiful weather and scenery, the ­cuisine, or even the culture, but if you put all that aside and were left with nothing but a treeless, ­lava-covered island in the middle of nowhere, we’d still go.

Our first expedition to Hawaii’s Big Island in September 2022 was a slam dunk. With four of the finest charter boats in Honokohau Harbor, 16 anglers who were willing to put down the light tackle and take a swing with the Big Leaguers, and four of the most knowledgeable and ­talented instructors we could find, we set out to conquer Kona in all the best ways. And because we had such a great time last year, we’re doing it all again this year.

Slated for September 21-27, this seven-day heavy-tackle adventure is, as most Marlin Expeditions are, limited to 16 anglers, and includes all charter fees and tips, and accommodations at the Royal Kona Resort in downtown Kailua-Kona, just minutes from the marina and airport. Airport transfers, meals and beverages, a one-year subscription to Marlin, and a keepsake video of your trip are also some of the perks, so grab some friends, sign up, and buy your airline ticket; Marlin Expeditions takes care of the rest.
This seven-day trip to Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii is an excellent way to introduce ­yourself and your fishing ­buddies to the sport of legit big-game ­billfishing using heavy tackle and lures. The camaraderie and good times had at Marlin Expeditions will never disappoint. And the gorgeous weather? Well, it’s just the cherry on top.

Meet the Captains

Capt. Chris Donato, Benchmark, 37-foot Merritt

The youngest, and perhaps the most adventurous of the lot, Donato is a well-rounded, lifetime fisherman, spending the better part of a decade in the South Pacific islands. He holds the current all-tackle Samoan blue marlin record of 1,025 pounds, the region’s first, as well as many other Pacific-region records and big-money-­tournament wins. Donato is a regular contributor to Marlin and produces a YouTube series of his bluewater adventures called Visions of Granders.

Capt. Kevin Hibbard, 2nd Offense, 43-foot Allied Marine

Originally from St. Augustine, Florida, Hibbard has been fishing the waters off Kona since 1995. Like many top-shelf captains, he began his fishing career traveling the world over. Places such as the Azores, Cape Verde, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and Costa Rica allowed him to learn the fine art of world-record fishing on conventional tackle from 2- to 130-pound-test as well as on fly. Hibbard is a heavy-tackle specialist and says that Kona is the only place to be, because on any given day, at any given moment, the marlin of a lifetime can present itself.

Capt. Randy Parker, Legend, 54-foot Allied Marine

You could call it a sixth sense, but we’ll just call it experience, in all of its best forms. A world-class boat driver and lure aficionado, Parker’s vast geographical knowledge and instrument strategy are just two of the tools he uses to find fish. And once they’re located, there’s no escaping the 40 years’ worth of experience that he brings to the fight. Parker has two granders to his credit, multiple tournament wins and world records, and is possibly one of the most passionate fishermen you’ll ever meet.

Capt. Marlin Parker, Marlin Magic, 57-foot Spencer

Parker began fishing with his father at just 5 years old and started charter fishing professionally in 1976. His largest blue marlin to date is a 1,400-pound monster and stands as one of the largest Pacific blues ever landed on rod and reel. Also a world traveler, Parker spent 12 ­seasons fishing the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, 32 years in Mexico, and several years on the East Coast and in Costa Rica. You’d be hard-pressed to find a captain who’s seen most all of it, and we are grateful to be able to bring him to you.

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