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The Kona Coast has some of the world's most exciting "blue-water" fishing. Although July, August, and September are peak months, with the best fishing and a number of tournaments, charter fishing goes on year-round. You don't have to compete to experience the thrill of landing a Pacific blue marlin or other big-game fish. Some 60 charter boats, averaging 26 to 58 feet, are available for hire, all of them out of Honokohau Harbor, north of Kailua-Kona.
Kona waters have the reputation of producing large marlin, mostly the Pacific blue variety. According to records, 63 marlin weighing 1,000 pounds or more have been caught off the Kona Coast, which has come to be known as "Grander Alley," a reference to the number of big fish that inhabit its waters. The largest "grander" ever, caught in 1984, weighed in at 1,649 pounds.
For an exclusive charter, prices generally range from $600 to $950 for a half-day trip (about four hours) and $800 to $1,600 for a full day at sea (about eight hours). For share charters, rates are about $100 to $140 per person for a half day and $200 for a full day. If fuel prices increase, expect charter costs to rise. Most boats are licensed to take up to six passengers, in addition to the crew. Tackle, bait, and ice are furnished, but you usually have to bring your own lunch. You won't be able to keep your catch, although if you ask, many captains will send you home with a few fillets.
Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament. Pacific blue marlin are sought after by deep-sea anglers the world over, who come to Kona's fabled waters, most notably during this five-day tournament in August. Since 1959, this granddaddy of big-game-fishing tourneys has attracted super-competitive teams in the finest boats imaginable. The powerful animals are caught or tagged and released. Occasionally, Kona waters produce a grander—over 1,000 pounds. 808/836–3422. www.hibtfishing.com.
Honokohau Harbor's Fuel Dock. Show up around 11:30 am and watch the weigh-in of the day's catch from the morning charters, or around 3:30 pm for the afternoon charters. Weigh-ins are fun when the big ones come in, but it's not a sure thing. On Kona's Waterfront Row, look for the "Grander's Wall" of anglers with their 1,000-pound-plus prizes. Honokohau Harbor, Kealakehe Pkwy. at Hwy. 11, Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740.
Before you sign up with anyone, think about the kind of trip you want. Looking for a romantic cruise? A rockin' good time with your buddies? Serious fishing in one of the "secret spots?" A family-friendly excursion? Be sure to describe your expectations so a booking agent can match you with a captain and a boat that suit your style.
Bwana Sportfishing. Full-, half-, quarter-, three-quarter-day, and overnight charters are available on the 46-foot Bwana. The boat features the latest electronics, top-of-the-line equipment, and air-conditioned cabins. Captain Teddy comes from a fishing family; father Peter is retired but still affiliated with the Kona Charter Skippers Association. Honokohau Harbor, Slip H-17, 74-381 Kealakehe Pkwy., just south of Kona airport, Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/936–5168. www.teddyhoogs.com. From $1,250.
The Charter Desk at Honokohau Harbor. With about 60 boats on the books, this place can take care of almost anyone. You can make arrangements through hotel activity desks, but it's better to go directly to the desk at the harbor and look things over for yourself. Honokohau Harbor Fuel Dock, 74-381 Kealakehe Pkwy., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/329–5735 or 888/566–2487. www.charterdesk.com.
Charter Locker. This company offers half- and full-day charter fishing trips on 30- to 52-foot vessels. The luxurious Blue Hawaii has air-conditioned staterooms for overnight trips. Rates depend on the boat. Honokohau Harbor #16, 74-381 Kealakehe Pkwy., just south of Kona airport, Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/326–2553. www.charterlocker.com.
Humdinger Sportfishing. This game fisher guide has more than three decades of fishing experience in Kona waters, and the expert crew are marlin specialists. The 37-foot Humdinger has the latest in electronics and top-line rods and reels. Honokohau Harbor, Slip B-4, 74-381 Kealakehe Pkwy., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/936–3034 or 800/926–2374. www.humdingersportfishing.com. From $600.
Illusions Sportfishing. Captain Tim Hicks is one of Kona's top fishing-tourney producers, with 20 years of experience. The 39-foot Illusions is fully equipped with galley, restrooms, an air-conditioned cabin, plus the latest in fishing equipment. Honokohau Harbor, 74-381 Kealakehe Pkwy., just south of Kona airport, Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/960–7371. www.illusionssportfishing.com. From $550.
Kona Charter Skippers Association. In business since 1956, this company can help arrange half-day and full-day exclusive or share charters on several boats. Captain Pete is an old salt with plenty of Kona sea stories. The Bwana is the featured boat. Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/936–5168.