KAILUA-KONA — The crowd that braved the heat — and then the rain — shouted out guesses at Kailua Pier on Thursday afternoon as the first marlin to be weighed at the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament came to shore.
A young audience member hollered, “525 pounds!”
A more precise estimator yelled, “773.5!”
The catch belonged to Malibu Marlin Club – Topanga Beach, and the teammates put their arms around each other’s shoulders as they anxiously awaited the verdict as the big blue marlin hit the scale.
The final reading flashed 652.1 pounds — a number good enough to launch the club into contention heading into the final day of the HIBT.
The four-man Topanga Beach crew started the morning with just 100 points. But thanks to the hefty catch and some bonuses, the team moved into sole possession of second place with 952.1 points, trailing only Moreton Bay Game Fish Club, which has led since the opening day and has 1,000 points.
Things could get even sweeter for Malibu Marlin Club – Topanga Beach. If it ends up being the largest billfish catch of the tournament, there are additional bonuses available.
“The fifth and final day of fishing is all about strategy — posting points on the leaderboard,” HIBT director Robbie Engelhard said. “This year’s tournament is coming down to being one fish away from any of our top teams capturing the prestigious HIBT Governor’s Trophy.”
Close behind is Kona Game Fishing Club – Osaka, with 900 points. There are 20 teams with points on the leaderboard, with Gidborne Tatapouri Sports Fishing Club, J.J. Game Fishing Club of South Australia, Ahipara New Zealand and Surfside Marina all in the chase with 600 points through four days of fishing.
Malibu Marlin Club – Topanga Beach’s Howard Dietrich was the angler who reeled in the big blue marlin and was the first to get his picture taken with the beast. It was a brief 19-minute fight for Dietrich on 80-pound test — quite a feat for his first fish of that size.
“I’m from Portland, Oregon, and the biggest fish we catch there are halibut and salmon. This was a much larger thrill than that,” Dietrich said. “The main thing to me was that we kept the fish working. He jumped several times but we kept the right amount of drag. We wore it out — but it wore me out too.”
It’s Dietrich’s second time in Kona for the tournament — some unfinished business brought him back. Last year, a fish he estimated was around the same size got away from him. He wouldn’t let it happen a second time.
“That’s why we came back,” Dietrich said with a laugh. “We couldn’t be losers.”
Dietrich had some good advice coming his way. He credited boat captain Trevor Child and crew of Maverick — James Bach and Ryan O’Halloran — as well as his team members for the catch, most notably team captain Buzz Colton.
Colton made headlines in the tournament last year just 12 weeks after having triple bypass surgery, landing the biggest catch of the tournament, a 486.6-pound blue marlin
“Mine was smaller than his and took 4 hours and 22 minutes. He made me look bad,” Colton said, before getting a little more serious. “Howard did a fabulous job for a guy who has never fought a big fish like that. To catch it in 19 minutes is unheard of. He did everything the captain and crew told him to do. He is a good student of the game.”
The final day of fishing will kick off at 8 a.m. from Kailua Bay. The competition wraps up at 4 p.m. at the weigh-ins.