Fishing tournament reels in more than just fish

John Lau
John Lau
Rob Engelhard
Rob Engelhard

By Duane Shimogawa - bio | email

KONA (KHNL) - It's called the grandfather of all big game fishing events. But over the years, the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament has been reeling, until this year.

It's the 50th year of this historic tournament, but event organizers say they were worried that with the sinking economy, less teams would show up. But much to their delight, they were wrong.

John Lau has participated in the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament for nearly three decades.

"When you come and learn so much about fishing and so many nice people and you make a lot of friends over the years and you learn more," he said.

When it comes to making lures, he's the teacher, perhaps, one of the best in the business. In 2005 and 2006, his lures were responsible for catching the biggest fish.

But in those years, few teams showed up. That changed on the golden anniversary of this event.

"Oh, this was something gonna be special this year because when you see the first boats going out on the first day, they're flying out, what a feeling," he said.

With the economy reeling, event organizers say they didn't expect the great turnout this year. 41 teams are fishing for that big catch this year. All but two are from outside the islands.

Tournament director Rob Engelhard says it's the most teams they've had in about a decade. It's a big jump from last year, when only 26 teams signed up. So why the big jump in teams? Organizers say it's all about tradition.

"I'm hoping that some of those teams that are coming back for the 50th year just for the tradition of it, will see that we're still going strong and continue to participate," Engelhard said. "I think it attracts people who haven't come back for awhile, so we've got a club from Tahiti, South Africa, it has enticed them to come back."

Or to Lau, it's more like luring them back to keep the tradition motoring ahead for years to come. The five-day Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament continues through Friday.