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Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series


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Would You Break the Rules to Claim a $129,000 Purse? Not Molly Palmer.

DATELINE: August 18, 2012, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

Nothing could tempt Molly Palmer and her team on board the Kona charter boat “Anxious” to break the rules.

Not a World Record. Not even a share of a $129,000.00 purse.

Angler Molly Palmer and her 1,022 lb blue marlin

It was the classic story – the great, massive fish and an epic battle, but with a modern twist. This was a young woman, not an old man – and the marlin on the end of the line would easily be First Place in the 26th Big Island Marlin Tournament. Total purse was $129,690.00.

If it beat 950 pounds, it would also be a World Record.

Fishing off the Kona Coast yesterday, Molly Palmer hooked into a monster blue marlin, got strapped into the fighting harness and went to work. Four hours later, she was actually further away from catching the behemoth than she was when it bit, and she was out of gas. Now, she knew exactly how the Old Man of the Sea felt.

Molly’s problem was not sharks.  It was simpler. It is a fundamental fact of the sport, often overlooked in the hyperole – a marlin cannot be caught unless it is at the surface of the ocean. Molly’s fish stayed deep.

Capt. Neil Isaacs tried to maneuver the boat in such a way as to confuse the fish so it would rise to the surface where the crew could try and man handle it into submission. The fish dove deeper. The clock ticked 4 hours.

Molly and the marlin gave out about the same time. It was truly a standoff. Neither could win, yet neither could go any further. Molly had whipped the fish, but the fish had whipped her back. She needed help to get it to the surface, which would disqualify the catch in the tournament. The decision was made to help her land the fish, but the crew all knew that this meant they would win no money. They never even considered cheating.

It took the five male crewmen 2 more hours to land the monster and get it to the dock, where it tipped the scales at 1,022.5 pounds. It was First Place but they did not try to claim it. It was a World Record too. Same choice.

Sad? No way. Full of regret? Hell No! A world record size party ensued. They went back out fishing today.

Team Anxious with Capt. Neil Isaacs and Angler Molly Palmer at the 2012 BIMT


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Clash On the High Seas Yields a Victor – Remote Fray Documented Only By Conscript Photos

Kailua-Kona, HI –  If  Howard Cosell had covered this event, you might have thought it was Mike Love and the Beach Boys against Mike Huckabee and the Little Rockers in a private surf contest.

Howard might say: “It was a rare meeting of the pecuniary and the eleemosynary. Two great leaders and their bands locked in pure, human competition.  Duking it out in a remote environment only added to the complexity of the encounter as it caused a dearth of spectators. Attestation that the battle even occurred – and – corroboration of evidence as to the victor, was only rendered through photographic evidence of suspect quality and source. This was due to the maritime zone of conflict, and the rules of the engagement stating that each side document their own score.”

Howard, at this point, might offer a resounding “harruumph” and resign himself to dutifully go on to clarify that this was not a celebrity surfing contest. But, that it was indeed, just a semi-normal day in the world of  big game tournament fishing – albeit at the “elite” level.

Two of the most experienced big game skippers in the world were working the same swarm of blue marlin hanging around a buoy on the edge of Hawaii’s wildest channel – the Alenuehaha. The captains and their sloggy, bait bloodied crews were bashing back against waves and spray, matching each other catch for catch – as they vied to secure for their anglers the Champion’s Crown of the Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series.

Angler Steve Spina on Rod Bender

Steve Spina, an entrepreneur from Malibu, California was the defending champion angler from last season. He fished on his boat with Skipper Kerwin Masunaga. Kerwin is former commercial fisherman who has earned his living from fishing – one way or another – his whole life.

Angler Charlie Helscel on Ihu Nui

Charles Helscel is a businessman and Sunday school teacher from outside Tulsa, Oklahoma. Going into this tournament, he was a two time Champion of the Series, but his fishing interests are aimed only at competition its ownself. If Charles has any desire to triumph for financial gain, piety supercedes it. He just likes to win.  His skipper, McGrew Rice is a descendent of the old missionary families who came to Hawaii in the 1800’s. He also likes to win, but his desire for financial gain supercedes piety because, like Kerwin, he has pretty much made a living from fishing his whole life.

Spina had some money invested and stood to win a sizable purse. Technically, it was possible for Spina’s Rod Bender crew to win 100% of the purse – with the right catches and score.

Helscel paid only the basic fee to gain entry into the competition. This entry level qualified him to win a maximum of only 17 percent of the total purse. Helscel could catch a marlin the size of the Statue of Liberty, and he could still win no more than 17% of the purse. Obviously, he was not in it for the money.

They had started the second day of the three day competition tied with one marlin each, tagged and released the opening day.

Team Ihu Nui tags a blue

Before the start of Day Two, Rice was tipped off to a congregation of marlin, and raced past “the Grounds” where both teams had scored the first day. Up at “Otec,” Team Ihu Nui quickly scored two tags before it sank in to Kerwin and Spina – back at the Grounds – what was going on.

It was now 11:30 AM on that second day and Kerwin was down 3 to 1 to Rice, but another all pro team on Anxious had topped their first day tag with a marlin in the boat at almost 500 pounds. Skipper turned angler Mike Holtz had caught what would turn out to be a 482 pound blue on the deck and which would pose a serious threat to the other teams on the board.

Rice had 600 points on Ihu Nui, Anxious had 682 points and Kerwin was looking at a total of 200 points and the tournament was almost half way over.

Rod Bender was fishing midway between the other two boats. Kerwin’s Grounds were just not happening. He looked around and calculated.

He made a move, and ran to Otec to go head to head with Rice. In the world of professional sports, strategy is a part of any play. Kerwin doesn’t talk too much of what he did, or why. He’s not that type.

SO, here is what Cosell might have surmised if he were doing a play by play, “In regard to this competition, one must remain cognizant that there are 5 other teams on the field in a similar situation as Capt. Kerwin and his crew on Rod Bender. This is Kona and these are the elite, the aristocracy. Every single fisherman on the ocean today could earn the fishing equivalent of the green blazer at the Masters…..the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, or even a Super Bowl ring. However, one must remain equally cognizant of the fact that Kerwin and crew are the defending Champs, and this fact alone often affects the mind and strategy of defending champs to the point where often they create elaborate efforts that generate outcomes either black……or white. One may reminisce of Vince Young’s dash to the goal line when UT beat USC, or one might think of Tiger Woods when his wife taught him what it felt like to be the golf ball. Champions do not always make the right call. Let’s get back to the game, and witness what could become victory, or infamy. Frank, can you hand me my glass……I’m getting too old to pontificate so”.

What Cosell missed was another part of the strategy of the game. Although Anxious and Ihu Nui were both ahead of Rod Bender by points, at noon on Day Two the only other boat with points was Marlin Magic I, and they, like Rod Bender, were in all the optional entry categories – and thus – Kerwin’s competitor for the purse. Neither Ihu Nui nor Anxious were in the cash departments.

Kerwin’s decision to run to Otec to go at it Mano a Mano with Rice for the Championship was coupled with the strategy that he also had a better chance at winning the money by tagging mutiple marlin from that swarm than Marlin Magic did by trolling for the “big one’ down south.

When you look at it like that, Rod Bender HAD to run up and face Ihu Nui in the wind and the spray. Some decisions are made for you. Just look at Harry Pottter and his wand. Case closed.

But when Kerwin arrived alongside Rice up in big wave country, it had to have been disheartening for the Rod Bender crew to stand wetly by and watch Ihu Nui tag two more marlin, while they caught nothing.

Team Rod Bender tags a blue and closes on Ihu Nui

Finally, at just after 2:00 pm, things started to click for Kerwin and company and they quickly tagged and released two marlin in just over an hour. Down south in the calm water, the radios were quiet.

At the end of the day, Ihu Nui held a commanding lead with 1000 points from 4 tags on Day Two alone. Anxioius held tight with 682 and Rod Bender moved up to 600 points. The only other boat with points was Marlin Magic with 200.

“I’m not leaving if you’re not leaving” is what Capt. Rice told Capt. Kerwin on the third and final day.

The Grounds had gone dead the day before, so Kerwin’s wand had made the right call.

After both teams beat their way back to to the Otec buoy amid “Victory at Sea” conditions, they slugged it out again.

While no team down south caught a fish, neither the defending champion angler Spina nor two time champ Helscel – the Malibu beach dude and the Sunday school teacher – would leave the deck and chance missing a strike. Both stood side by side in the spray and wind and gore with their crew, until the final bell.

On Ihu Nui, the lone mate Carlton Arai rigged every bait, twisted every wire and felt every wave.

Rod Bender was more heavily armed. Kerwin had his son and daughter team of Heather and Brent along with Kevin Shiraki. Heather actually angled the first marlin while Spina ambled over to Hawaii from California.

When the salt had settled, Rod Bender outscored Ihu Nui on that final day – two marlin to one. All were tagged and released.

Final score, Ihu Nui 1200 points, Rod Bender 1000 points, Anxious 682 and Marlin Magic remained at 200.

2010 Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series Champions - Team Ihu Nui - Mate Carlton Arai, Captain McGrew Rice and Angler Charlie Helscel

Charlie Helscel became the second angler to be crowned Champion of the Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series – for the Third Time – and as mentioned, earned 17% of the purse for he and his crew with their $7500 First Place check.

Team Rod Bender - Kevin Shiraki, Brent Masunaga, Heather Masunaga and Kerwin Masunaga with Tournament Director Jody Bright

Steve Spina lost the crown, but found $26,586.00 in his pocket that came with Second Place PLUS all his optional entries. This turned out to be some 64% of the total purse, not as much as if he had swept the thing, but then again – he was Second. Even Howard Cosell can’t make Second Place sound like a Sweep of anything.

Anxious took Third and earned $5,934 and Marlin Magic quietly pocketed $1,260 by splitting a daily prize.

Overall, the Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series has paid out about $700,000.00 in the past 4 weeks, so the total Championship purse of $41,280.00 – although not inconsiderable – was the smallest of the four events,

As was the field of competitors.

In order to fish the HMTS Championship, you had to earn your invitation by scoring points through the season, so the best competing against the best is usually fewer than with the rest. That is just common sense.

Funny thing about the final outcome though. Capt. Kerwin, Spina and the Rod Bender crew could have won the same amount of money without returning to the rough waters of the Alenuhaha Channel to go head to head with the Crew of Ihu Nui.

Likewise, Helscel, Capt. Rice and company could have won the Championship and the same amount of money by taking the third day easy.

But as one did, so did the other……….even though between them, the only difference was the Crown, not the money.

That, is the essence of competition.

Howard, back to you.

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Tag And Release – The New “Old School” – Kona Style

The Integrity tags and releases a blue marlin in the 2011 Skins Marlin Derby.

Kona is to blue marlin fishing as Pebble Beach is to golf – an “old school” name in an ever-increasing swarm of flashy brands. But along with being an established brand comes a certain reputation that does not always hold up to closer inspection.

The Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series just turned the corner of the midpoint in the season. Now that the first three events are over – catch statistics this summer are helping to dispel some common misconception concerning the “old school” reputation of Kona.

Ninety four percent (94%) of all the marlin caught in the first three tournaments have been tagged and released alive – back into the ocean they go. The figures, to be exact, are 114 of 121 marlin released.

The total available purse to date from the first three events was $616,060.00 and again, more than 90% of the teams pocketing this purse had tag and released marlin on their scorecards.

The season began with the suitably re-branded Kona Kick Off. Thirty six (36) teams caught 18 marlin of which one was kept to win the Largest Marlin category – a 718 pounder by Joe Gallegos on “Strong Persuader;” a world class catch in anyone’s book.

The Sea Genie II catches a blue marlin in the 2011 Firecracker Open.

Next up was the 23rd Annual Firecracker Open where more myths were debunked. Sea Genie II took top honors with a tag and a 641 pounder by the team of Paul Dolinoy and Mike Cipolla. After the 641 pounder was weighed, Paul elected to stay on shore and Mike hooked into another marlin estimated to be “hundreds of pounds” larger. The team calculated that they did not need any more points to win the tournament, and decided to release this fish, even though it could have been a coveted “grander.” Just prior to tagging, the marlin released itself and swam away. The end result was the same.

Bubba Brown on Capt. Kevin Nakamaru’s “Northern Lights” took second with a tagged marlin and a 512 pounder. However, Bubba and his team earned the most money, laying claim to $122,520.00 by sweeping the lucrative optional categories.

Third place in the Firecracker Open was a tie with two boats at 600 points – both with tag points only.

The next event, the Skins Marlin Derby is the premier Big Marlin event on the circuit, and although the field narrowed to 34 teams, the purse climbed to $293,280. The “elite” of the sport made their appearance, albeit in shorts and barefoot on the deck.

Sixty (60) marlin were caught and three (3) were taken to the scales. Two of these earned a daily “Skins” purse of $27,200 each. The third marlin weighed just missed the 500-pound mark, but still earned a large chunk of change when combined for points in optional categories.

Wahine “local girl” angler Heather Masunaga caught the largest “Skin” fish at 676.5 pounds with her dad Kerwin at the wheel of “Rod Bender”. Tim Rainey on “Maui Jim” grabbed the next Skin with a squeaker at 506 pounds, just 6 pounds over the minimum.

Team “Humdinger” claimed the Third daily “Skin” purse with five (5) marlin tagged and released and zero weighed on their scorecard. In the Skins Derby, any “Skin” money not claimed by a fish over 500 pounds is awarded to the team with top total points. Capt. Jeff Fay’s 1000 tag and release ruled on the third and final day.

Every single dollar paid out in the Skins Marlin Derby went to teams with tag and release on their scorecard, but catching the “monster of the day” certainly helped two teams.

The Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series moves into the Second Half in August with the Big Island Marlin Tournament followed by the Lazy Marlin Hunt. The September Challenge returns for its second year in the third week of that month, as the final competition of the season.

Each year, a Series Champion is crowned at an invitation only tournament held the weekend after the Skins Marlin Derby. To follow along with the Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series, log on to

To watch past national TV coverage episodes of the HMTS, log on to and view entire episodes for free.

So far in the 2011 season, Kona has lived up to its “kahuna” reputation as the Blue Marlin Capital of the World, but it has added a new image while burying and old myth: in Kona, tag and release rules. But whether you boat’em or tag and release’em, Kona is still the best place on earth to catch large blue marlin.

A Blue Marlin Caught Off Kona, Hawaii

An old institution withstands the tests of time by changing with it, while remaining steadfast to tradition.

Most modern day fishing techniques for marlin and tuna were developed by Hawaiians, but new “norms” have evolved as the sport has spread across the globe. Kona – like Pebble Beach – doesn’t adopt every new fad and gimmick that hits the tour, but quietly accepts quality innovation and improves on it.

So in Kona, blazers and slacks are not required as T-shirts and flip-flops will get you into all the hallowed halls of the sport.

You can wear blazers and slacks if you want, and many do. But not many do it more than once.

It’s just that kind of a place.

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Sea Genie II Wins 2011 Firecracker Open!

Mike Sipula tagged a blue marlin and Paul Dolinoy boated this 641 pound blue marlin for a total of 841 points to win the 2011 Firecracker Open Big Game Tournament.

Mike hooked a third marlin estimated to be larger than the 641 pounder just prior to the call of “stop fishing” and planned to tag and release the larger fish because they did not want to kill the fish unnecessarily. Paul had stayed on shore after the 641 was weighed, so he and tournament producer Jody Bright were able to determine that Sea Genie could let the third (larger) fish free, and still have enough points to win the tournament.

Tagging and releasing a larger fish would have been an unprecedented move in the history of Hawaii Tournament Fishing, but the fish pulled off the hook at the boat and swam away. Regardless, Capt. Vanderhoek, crew Chris Choy, Mike Sipula and Paul Dolinoy should enjoy all the applause they get for being willing to let an even larger marlin than the first – go free – rather than kill it and hang it up, just for photos.

Please feel free to contact Capt. Vanderhoek at 808-936-4234 for more information.

Second largest marlin was a 512 pounder caught by Bubba Brown of Texas on Northern Lights, which along with a tag, gave them second place with 712 points.

The total catch for the $265,780 Firecracker Open was 43 blue marlin and two yellowfin tuna (ahi)!

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PBR’s Willingham, Wimberly Will Fish Kona Kick Off

PBR Bull Riders to Fish in Kona Kick Off

PUEBLO, Colo. (June 21, 2011) – The Professional Bull Riders announced that riders McKennon Wimberly and Sean Willingham and up-and-coming stock contractor Mesa Pate will be visiting Hawaii on June 22-26.

The visit is being coordinated by the Paniolo Preservation Society, which celebrates and preserves the Western culture and heritage, and the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Paniolo is the Hawaiian word for cowboy.

“Hawaii has a rich Western lifestyle heritage and Paniolo are among the original American cowboys,” said PBR President and COO Sean Gleason. “PBR has conducted two successful events in the Islands, and we are working to include Hawaiian events as a regular part of our schedule. We are honored to be working with the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the Paniolo Preservation Society on this cultural event.”

Wimberly and Willingham will conduct a bull riding clinic from 12-4 p.m. on Friday, June 24, at Paniolo Park on the Parker Ranch. They will also attend the Youth Rodeo Scholarship Dinner and Reception for PBR at the Kahua Ranch on Thursday, June 23. Their week will begin on Wednesday, June 22, with a branding and Paniolo “Talk Story” at the Parker Ranch, and will also include a Pukalani stable blessing/celebration on Saturday, June 25.

The pair will then challenge a 1,500-pound foe of a different sort when they fish for Pacific Blue Marlin on Saturday, June 25, and Sunday, June 26. Wimberly and Willingham are scheduled to compete in the Kona Kick Off tournament, the first event of the Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series, which annually awards approximately $1 million in cash and prizes.

There is a similarity between big game fishing and bull riding. In big game fishing, the last 30 feet of the fishing line is called the leader, and is either piano wire or heavy nylon. The “wireman” wraps the leader around his gloved hand, and has to battle, one on one, the fish that can weigh as much as 1,800 pounds. In bull riding, the rider wraps his bull rope around the bull, who can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds, and holds on with his gloved hand.

The visit will be documented by David Neal Productions for features to be broadcast during Built Ford Tough Series events, on television and in arena, as well as on The production company produces BFTS telecasts which are broadcast nationally each week on VERSUS with select events being shown on NBC and CBS. It is led by 30-time Emmy® Award winner and Peabody Award winner David Neal, who serves as executive producer and creative lead.

The Western lifestyle has been a part of Hawaiian culture for more than 150 years, and in 1908, Ikua Purdy won the Roping Championship at the World Championship Rodeo in Cheyenne, Wyo.

The PBR visited Hawaii in 2006, holding an event on Maui with local bull rider Myron Duarte, and on Oahu with the Hawaii All-Star Challenge. Zack Brown, who has earned over $865,000 competing in PBR events, was raised in North Shore, Hawaii.

Featuring 29 stops in 23 states, the 2011 BFTS schedule began at world-famous Madison Square Garden in January. The season concludes Oct. 26-30 in Las Vegas with the PBR Built Ford Tough World Finals, and the crowning of the 2011 PBR World Champion. The World Finals are the richest bull riding event on the planet with the winner receiving the World Championship PBR Buckle and a $1 million bonus.

About the Professional Bull Riders, Inc. (PBR)
The PBR is the world’s premier bull riding organization. More than 100 million viewers annually watch over 400 hours of primetime PBR programming on VERSUS, NBC, CBS and networks around the world. The PBR has awarded over $100 million in prize money and 20 riders have earned over $1 million, including Justin McBride with $5.5 million — the most of any western-sports athlete in history. The PBR was nominated as 2010 Sports League of the Year at the Sports Business Journal Sports Business Awards, alongside the National Football League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball. Nearly 2 million fans attend Built Ford Tough Series and Touring Pro Division events each year. For more information on the PBR, go to, or follow on Facebook at and

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BIG MARLIN ARE IN! 2 – 900+ lbs, 2 – 700+ lbs and 2 – 500+ lbs marlin caught off Kona in the last two days.

982 lb Marlin Caught off Kona

The monster blues are making a pre-tournament appearance and issuing a challenge to all Big Game Anglers. In the last week, 2 – 900+ lbs, 3 – 700+ lbs and 2 – 500+ lbs marlin have been caught off Kona. In the photo is a 982 and 1/2 lb marlin caught by the Camelot on June 9th. Camelot caught another 472.5 pounder the very next day.

Other big blues caught recently include a 552 pounder boated by Illusions; a 511 pounder boated by the Kona Seafari; a 702 pounder on the Hana Mana and a 901 pounder caught by the Strong Persuader.

All in all, as of June 11th, almost 30 marlin have been boated, or tagged and released off Kona.

The excitement is building. If you have not yet registered for the Kona Kick Off (June 24th), or the Firecracker Open (July 1), visit our website at and fill out an entry form today!

Don’t forget the Skins Marlin Derby Tournament that begins on July 7th! Patterned after the golf format, the base purse is available each day for the largest marlin over 500 lbs. These recent catches could have put any of these lucky anglers in the money.



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