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Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series 2020 Recap

Wild Hooker is named series champion

February 4, 2021
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A sport fishing boat making waves on the water.
The Wild Hooker team heads for the docks in Kona after the final leg of the HMT. Carol Lynne

Comprised of eight tournaments, Kona’s Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series scores each contest individually, with teams totaling points throughout the summer to count ­cumulatively toward a Series Champion Angler and Champion Boat/Crew award.

Going into the final tournament of the series—appropriately named It’s a Wrap—angler Guy Arrington and the crew on board the 68-foot Blackwell Wild Hooker held the lead in both the angler and boat divisions over runner-up Chad Beaudry and his 40-foot Gamefisherman team, Last Chance. Due to scheduling conflicts, Arrington and company were unable to compete in the Wrap, leaving Beaudry an opportunity to claim the championship.

Late on the final day of the Wrap, the Last Chance team had a marlin boatside that could have launched them over Wild Hooker’s lead and into the winner’s circle. But just as the mate reached for the leader, the fish got away.

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Watching the results from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, Wild Hooker’s Capt. Shane O’Brien, Charles Bowman and Mark Schubert sat stunned, while at the same time, Arrington breathed a sigh of relief from Texas. Beaudry, Capt. Tracy Epstein and his crew—Michael Sunada and Russ Nitta—had dogged them all summer, and now, that was all she wrote.

Thanks to that one fish, in that one second, Arrington became Champion Angler and owner Allen Stuart’s Wild Hooker earned Champion Boat accolades. Just as it ended, it had started. The whole season was crazier than ever. Here’s how it all went down.

Watch: Capt. Chris Donato explains the importance of current in the Kona blue marlin fishery.

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Due to the coronavirus, the state of Hawaii imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine on all inbound travelers, starting in late March. This, of course, meant mainland anglers could not fish unless they were prepared to come early and wait out the sequester requirement.

In response, the HMT Series had to drastically rearrange its tournament schedule. Local events were moved to July, while the major tournaments shifted to August, when state reopening was planned.

July 2020 events now consisted of the Kona Kick Off, Lazy Marlin Hunt Returns and Hawaii Lure Maker’s ­Challenge. With a 400-pound minimum for weighed fish, a total of 51 blue marlin were tagged and released in those three events; no marlin were weighed.

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In August, the Series ran four tournaments: The Firecracker Open, Kona Throw Down and Skins Marlin Derby were shifted from July, joining the regularly scheduled Big Island Marlin Tournament. Thirty-eight more marlin were tagged before one was big enough to weigh.

A group of anglers standing next to a large marlin.
Wild Hooker’s masked bandits weighed the first fish of the 2020 HMTS. Courtesy Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series, Joe Byrum

Arrington caught the 90th marlin of the series on Day One of the Throw Down, making it the first keeper of the series. The marlin weighed 672.5 pounds.

On Day Two, Last Chance’s Beaudry survived an “attack marlin” that kept coming for the boat, no matter which way it maneuvered. That same fish was ­eventually weighed in at 765.5 pounds.

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On the final day, with less than an hour of competition remaining, Capt. Jimbo Wigzell on Go Get Em hooked up. Four hours later, Wigzell called in a boated fish, estimated to be over 600 pounds. Arriving at the scale after dark, angler Frank Luhan closed out the fifth series tourney with a 642-pound blue—the series’ third heaviest.

By the sixth event—Skins Marlin Derby—the catch count climbed to 108. One of them, however, stood out from the rest. Rey Rubalcava hooked into a blue marlin he said he knew was big but didn’t want to think about how big it really was during the fight. Weighing in at an incredible 833.5 pounds, the fish was ultimately the largest one caught in the 2020 HMTS.

Wild Hooker and Last Chance continued to duke it out at the 34th BIMT. Midmorning on the third and final day, Last Chance tagged the first fish to tie Wild Hooker with three tags. Within 15 minutes, O’Brien tagged another, moving his team back into the lead. Less than two hours later, Epstein pulled a 589-pounder out of the briny deep, moving Last Chance ahead. With that catch, O’Brien and Arrington needed more than just another tag to ­leapfrog back into first in the BIMT.

With another tag, Epstein and Beaudry were able put the final nail in the coffin of the BIMT, for a final score of 1,389 points for Last Chance; Wild Hooker ended up with 800.

The August big-fish statistics appeared to skew the tag-and-release rate, but of the 132 fish caught, 126 were released alive. Only six were weighed, making the tag-and-release rate of the series 95.45 percent.

The day before the Wrap, angler Mike Jacobsen and Blue Hawaii skipper James Dean borrowed crewman Ryan Thurner from Marlin Magic II to practice with their merged crew. The team released a 600-pound blue. They felt a little sheepish at the thought of having possibly used up their luck before the tournament started, but they got the practice they wanted. Any notion of having peaked too soon quickly disappeared on Day One when Jacobsen hooked a fish that ended up going for a boat ride and tipping the scale at 527 pounds—all by 9:30 a.m.

Taking an early lead in a tournament is always welcome, but in Kona, an early lead is never safe. They hustled back out because they knew that the remaining two days and six hours’ worth of fishing time would seem like an eternity unless they backed up their catch with another fish.

A sport fishing boat making waves on the water.
The Wild Hooker team heads for the docks in Kona after the final leg of the HMT. Carol Lynne

Before the lunch bell rang, ­Jacobsen was hooked up again. Forty-five ­minutes later, the 71-year-old landed his ­second marlin over 500 pounds in only three hours’ time. This feat could have given an average guy a heart attack, but ­Jacobsen—a lifelong gym rat—took it in stride. Fish No. 2 weighed 544 pounds.

More hookups were called in, four more marlin were tagged, and a nice ahi was reported. Jacobsen found that the sound of another team calling in a hookup came closer to causing a heart attack than catching two giant fish in only three hours.

With just seconds left on the clock, Tropical Sun angler Kurt McKnight hooked up. Thirty-minutes passed. Finally Capt. Ryan Lutes called in a tag, and Jacobsen took his hand off his heart. Surviving their early lead seemed like pure magic.

Read Next: Learn what it takes to be successful in tournament fishing.

Over the next two days, fishing went cold for Jacobsen, but Blue Hawaii hung tight to the lead, and ultimately won with 1,071 points. Two more tags placed by Tropical Sun carried them to 800 points and the second-place finish; 2nd Offense tagged two fish for 400 points, earning third place.

Last Chance’s Chad Beaudry had only one opportunity at the Wrap, and although it could have undone Guy Arrington and Wild Hooker for the Series championship, it would not have stolen the win.

So, yes, it was a crazy season in Kona, and it was against all odds that the Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series was able to pull off a season at all. Looking back, Blue Hawaii’s two-fish morning was the ­exclamation point punctuating the 2020 Series story—the story of a season that came together as if it were magic.

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