I peer over the side of Marlin Magic as it plies through the millpond that’s known as the Pacific Ocean. Both the water and air are a perfect 82 degrees, and the humidity is so low that I haven’t had to wipe a single bead of sweat from my forehead. I can’t stop looking at the water. It’s purple. You hear a lot of people talk about purple water, and I’ve seen it a few other places, but in Kona, Hawaii, the water is a deep, dark purple/blue. I’m sure that both Capt. Jason Holtz on Marlin Magic and Capt. Kevin Nakamaru on Northern Lights probably got tired of me saying over and over again, “I can’t believe how pretty this water is!”
I was there thanks to a perfectly timed Marlin University session, and the fish bit hard right before we arrived. In fact, one our students had chartered Nakamaru the day before we got there, and he caught two blues on his own. Holtz saw six blues the day before our arrival and caught three of them. As an added bonus, there were a lot of spearfish milling around, giving our students a good shot at catching one of the rarest of all billfish species.
I’m the Jonah
Since we had only seven students (but a lot of wives) on this trip, Capt. Peter B. Wright and I decided to switch back and forth on the boats so that we could both fish with Holtz and Nakamaru during the trip. It gave us a chance to catch up and also allowed us to learn some new tricks from some of the best captains around.
I started off with Holtz, and the marlin didn’t disappoint. Holtz told us that the bite the previous week was slamming and that several boats had let go of fish in the 500- to 700-pound class.
Holtz likes to keep things as simple as possible, pulling four lures and no teasers. “Everything I pull out here has a hook in it,” Holtz says. “You don’t want a grander to come up and get a mouthful of a teaser and never see it again.”
Holtz rigs all of his lures with a single hook set well back in the skirt — a common and effective way to rig your lures. However, Holtz uses much smaller hooks than some, preferring to use 9/0 and 10/0 hooks in lures large and small. This helps decrease the number of nose jobs and allows him to hook smaller fish or one of the many spearfish that come up and attack the jet that always run on one of the long riggers.
Our first fish up, however, ate the left long lure and proceeded to tear up the flat, calm ocean, with its bill wagging at the blue sky. The rat did a couple of circles right behind the boat, and on the last turn toward the boat, the hookset slipped off the marlin’s bill. Even the 9/0 couldn’t stop the nose job on the 150-pounder. We got a couple of more sniffs that first day but no more hookups.
Meanwhile, the students on Northern Lights were getting a show, catching two blue marlin and spearfish on the first day. The next day they caught another blue marlin and another spearfish.
On the third day, we switched boats, and I got to ride along with Nakamaru. We proceeded to get and miss three blue marlin bites right off the bat. I’d brought my funk on to Northern Lights, although we did pull out a late spearfish to get our billfish. Nakamaru pulls a couple of bridge teasers and a jet or bullet on a bridge rod in addition to his four lures. Both captains use the traditional tag line release setup on their halyards to help eliminate a lot of drop back on the bite. This is understandable, since Hawaiian boats do seem to keep their outriggers in more upright position than East Coast fishermen do.
The last day was tournament day for our students, and though the fishing started slow again for us on Northern Lights, Holtz caught two blues early to put on the pressure. We caught a blue one, failing to win the tournament but still happy with the fish.
Overall, Holtz saw seven blues in four days, got bites out of five of them and caught two. The total count for both boats was six blues and three spearfish over four days — not too shabby, especially considering the number that got away.
Never a Bad Time
With perfect weather, flat calm seas and 1,000-pound blue marlin a legitimate threat at any time of the year, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more relaxing and more comfortable place to fish for blue marlin. Kona is the birthplace of lure fishing, so whatever boat you charter here will probably pull lures to cover ground and get the most bites.
Most crews, however, will try to catch live bait if there are plenty of them around and when the fish are stacked up in certain areas. “There’s no use sitting in one spot soaking a dead bait unless you’re pretty sure there’s some blue marlin in the immediate area,” Nakamaru says. “The way the fish are biting now … they are all over the place, so we are better off pulling lures to get the bites.”
The summer months are generally regarded as the best time to target blues in Kona waters, with April and May the best time to chase the elusive spearfish — although we caught several spears on both of our Marlin U trips in July.
However, this is the one place that I wouldn’t worry about when the best time to go is; the best time to go to Kona is whenever you can.
It can be a pretty long trip to Kona, Hawaii, when coming from the East Coast of the United States; I traveled on a US Airways flight from Orlando, Florida, to Phoenix, Arizona, and then on to Kona. Total time in the air was about 12 or 13 hours. It wasn’t too bad with the break in between. There are plenty of flights on just about every major airline out of Los Angeles, and if I lived on the West Coast, I’d be hopping over as much as possible.
Our hotel, the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay (www.sheratonkona.com), was about 15 to 20 minutes away from the main charter docks at Honokohau Marina. It has an amazing pool area — complete with giant water slide — and a fabulous outdoor dining patio where you can watch the manta rays feed at night. The food was excellent as well. If you want to stay a little closer to the action in town, try the newly renovated King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel (www.konabeachhotel.com).
You couldn’t ask for better charter boats, crews and captains than the fellows we used: Capt. Jason Holtz on Marlin Magic and Capt. Kevin Nakamaru on Northern Lights. But this place offers up some of the best charter captains in the world, with Capt. Jeff Fay on Humdinger, Capt. Gene VanDerhoek on Sea Genie and many others. You can also try the The Charter Desk at Honokohau Marina at www.charterdesk.com.