The common musing around Kona this past summer was: What does Capt. Teddy Hoogs know that the other guys don’t?
Hoogs led Craig Lindner Jr.’s team aboard Bwana to jackpots in six of the seven tournaments in the 2019 Hawaii Marlin Tournament series, posting scorecards that resulted in three first-place wins, one second-place finish, and daily money in two additional events. Lindner was crowned Champion Angler, and Bwana earned the Championship Team title, pocketing a total winner’s share of $582,126.
So, what does Hoogs know that other skippers don’t? If there is any secret at all, it might be consistency. He fished every single tournament with the same anglers and the same crew, working together like a well-oiled machine. Two-time champion Rick Shedore won his 2018 series crown this way, fishing the entire season with Capt. Rob Ellyn on Lightspeed.
This is not a new concept, but the Kona fleet is comprised primarily of charter boats, with most boats having a different team in each leg. Team consistency certainly paid off for Lindner, who outscored his nearest challenger by more than 5,000 points, posting a final total of 8,390 points.
Capt. Marlin Parker’s Marlin Magic II finished second in the series, earning $515,830 with three first-place wins of his own, as well as a coveted grander: Angler Keith Hilton boated the largest fish of the 2019 season on Marlin Magic II, a 1,035.5-pound blue at the 33rd annual Big Island Marlin Tournament.
Of the 295 blue marlin caught, only nine were weighed. That’s a tag-and-release rate of just under 97 percent. Every tournament winner had tags on their scorecard. And even if they were one of the lucky few to weigh a fish, in many categories, the tag points merged with weighed-fish points to help contribute to the win.
Fishermen have long been known as folks prone to stretching the truth about the one that got away. And now, here in Hawaii, they are earning big checks for purposely letting them get away.
Some 30 years ago, when the proprietors of the HMT series introduced a cash purse for a tag-and-release division, everyone along the Kona coastline scoffed and laughed out loud: “You’re telling me you’re gonna give a bunch of liars a $5,000 reason to lie about the one that got away? Man, you are some special kind of crazy!” It might have been crazy then, but it works now, and it works well.
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In the early years, Polaroid sponsored the tag-and-release division, and each team got a quick-snap camera. To win the jackpot, a team had to capture an image of their marlin with a visible tag. More than one perfectly good photo of a potential winner was lost in the wind when the camera spit out the picture too fast for the photographer to catch.
Once disposable 35mm cameras hit the market and one-hour photo kiosks went up, tag-and-release for cash hit the mainstream in Kona. Today, the HMT series gives each team a small GoPro-style video camera. Recording the entire tagging process creates much better proof than one lucky still picture.
Imagine the outcry if 295 tournament-killed marlin were stacked up on the dock each summer? The sport in Kona would never have grown to what it is today without embracing tag-and-release. Turning lies about the one that got away into proof that hundreds of marlin are set free each summer was, ironically, the catalyst.
The Bwana crew caught a total of 34 blue marlin this tournament season, with Lindner tagging 30 himself, and weighing in one at 671.5 pounds. His teammates, KJ Robinson and Bobby Cherry, tagged another three.
An honorable mention goes to the Last Chance team. Anglers Chad Beaudry and Ian Keinath went out on Day One of the Big Island Marlin Tournament and tagged six blues, then went back out on Day Two and tagged six more.
Also at the BIMT, wahine angler Michelle Amador weighed her largest fish to date, with it tipping the scales at 579 pounds. Amador took the lead over Chip Wagner, who weighed a 404-pounder on Day One. Then, Lindner stole the lead from Amador, only to have Hilton outplay the entire show when he landed his 1,000-plus-pound blue—all of which upset the lead set early by Beaudry and Keinath and their tag-and-release fest. Fishing-tournament competition just doesn’t get any better than that.
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Kona’s reputation for producing 400-pound qualifiers held true this summer after a stellar spring run of big girls. Grady Mulberry caught the first qualifier of the season to win the Kona Kick Off with a 427-pound blue. Paul Douglas won big in the Kona Throw Down with a 428.5-pounder. Edgar Artecona weighed the first qualifier at the Firecracker Open by bringing a 488.5 pounder to the scale, only to be upstaged by Andy Shiels, who captured the win with a 517.5-pound blue the next day. And Dave Anderson closed out the season at the It’s a Wrap tournament with a 607.5-pound bruiser.
Kona is home to one PGA golf tournament—the Mitsubishi Electric at Hualalai—that sports a total purse of $1.8 million, with $300,000 being the winner’s share. The Hawaii Marlin Tournament series has now surpassed the PGA and the Ironman to be the richest sports property on the Big Island, and perhaps all of Hawaii. Sure, there are much-richer fishing tournaments taking place around the world, but given the 30-year history of tag jackpots in the HMT series, you’d be hard-pressed to find another that has paid out as much to teams with tags-and-releases on their scorecards. Kudos, Kona.