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Nobody can cook fish like the French, but they are not much good at catching them—not game fish, anyway. Until last week only three indisputably French names could be found among the 601 world records, covering 49 species, recognized by the International Game Fish Association. Now there is a fourth, and it is some record. On the second day of the 15th Hawaiian International Bill-fish Tournament at Kona, a 34-year-old contractor from Tahiti named Eric Tixier hooked a big blue marlin on 80-pound test line. It took a two-hour-and-five-minute battle to find out how big it really was. When the fish finally was boated and then hung up and weighed, Tixier discovered he had broken the world 80-pound test record by 93 pounds—his fish weighed 916.
Early in the summer inflation had combined with other problems to threaten this event's demise, but 61 teams—11 of them from foreign countries—were to gather for the five-day quest for marlin and ahi (yellowfin tuna). Within 48 hours three world records were produced, a feat never before accomplished in competitive fishing. Besides Tixier, Doris Jones, a 110-pound, 55-year-old grandmother and an experienced angler, outgamed a 669-pound marlin on 130-pound test to break the world women's record, and Welby Taylor, a Honolulu hotel consultant, boated a 663-pounder on 50-pound test to break a world mark of 475 pounds set in 1966. The 1,326 points Taylor earned for that fish (in tournament scoring, a fish caught on 130-pound test wins points to match its weight; 80-pound test provides a 30% dividend, and 50-pound test gets double) put his Mauna Kea Fishing Club into a lead it never relinquished on its way to the championship.
With the proliferation of fishing tournaments, it has become fashionable to denigrate them as circuses in which rank novices are likely to win by luck alone. This is true of many, and until fairly recently the Hawaiian tournament also had no screening procedures. Two things moved the HIBT out of the show biz category: 1) limiting the number of entrants; and 2) the active participation of the National Marine Fisheries Service. The limitation proved valuable—not only were the participating teams captained by experienced anglers, but the number offish taken surpassed the 1972 and 1971 figures despite much heavier reliance on 50- and 80-pound test lines. In 1970 there were 74 fish caught on 130-pound test; this year 30 fish were taken on 130, 45 on 80 and 23 on 50.
For some time the National Marine Fisheries Service has been interested in the Kona contest, and last year the marriage of sport and science was consummated. Under tournament sponsorship, more than 100 marine biologists gathered at Kona for a symposium on billfish behavior. When the symposium's findings are evaluated and published, probably next spring, they will constitute the first definitive analysis of billfish migrations, populations and mercury infestation. Dr. Frank Williams, director of the 1972 study, declared, "We now have assembled 100 years' worth of knowledge about billfish; it will be 10 years before we can add much to it." But experts in the field returned to continue tests on fish caught and careful charting of their locations.
The scientific gloss the tournament acquired in no way obscured the drama it provided. One 200-pounder jumped into a contestant's boat just before it was brought to gaff, and another, apparently unaware that the contest was over, made a similar leap into the boat Aumoana as its skipper was trolling home to Honolulu. The first boarder was subdued without incident, but the second stabbed the captain through the neck, knocked another man flat, smashed three rods and reels and then went over the side and threw the hook.
The record catches were less bizarre, though Doris Jones suffered a couple of rips in the muscles around her rib cage before landing her fish in one hour. Welby Taylor had a longer struggle. An hour after his sunset hookup a coupling sheared on the Mali Kai's propellor shaft. As darkness fell some of Taylor's teammates kept the boat stern-on to the fish with paddles while Rick Rainalter went over the side with a hammer (but without a face mask or any diving gear) and pounded the shaft back into place. Even then the boat had no reverse capability, and it took Taylor two hours and 45 minutes to land the fish. "It seemed like all night," Taylor said later. Tixier had no such problems, and the fact that his club, Haura, from Papeete, uses only 80-and 50-pound test had prepared him for the brawl the big blue offered. He used a standard Konahead plastic lure, substantially modified. "I cut here and there," Haura Captain Alban Ellacott said. "It is legal, and it made the lure work better."
The large fish were taken in the first two days of the tournament, but on the final day Dorothy Hooper of Vero Beach, a one-woman team representing the Florida Deep Sea Fishing Club, came on like Silky Sullivan to win the ahi championship. Mrs. Hooper, who had been blanked earlier, hooked a tuna on 50-pound test around noon and expected a brisk but predictable contest. However, the drag on her reel gave way, and she fought the fish for three hours in blazing heat, braking the line with one gloved and one bare hand. Her catch weighed 166 pounds, and her double points for light tackle gave her the title. If you run into Dorothy, shake hands gently.
Oh yes, Black Bart Miller (SI, Aug. 16, 1971) for the second time won the Henry Chee Memorial trophy given the most successful charter skipper. Nobody else has ever won it twice. Miller boated six fish for his teams. In all, 99 fish were boated, excluding an estimated six-pound ahi caught by Honolulu's Rodney Inaba, who had the good grace not to present it at the weighing station.
Aside from the data collected by the biologists, the tournament's most significant contribution may very well have been the push it gave to fishing with lighter tackle. Anglers lose more fish with 80-and 50-pound tackle (about 125 were lost at Kona), but once securely hooked, the sporting challenge is immeasurably increased. It is the encouragement of that challenge, plus its scientific orientation, that differentiates the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament from most of the others.