Billfish Blues

by Annette Lucido

If you have to ask how much billfishing costs, you may not be able to afford it! Private charters run from $250 to $750 for an eight to nine hour day. Boats and skippers vary and, as usual, you get what you pay for. Three-quarter-day trips run six to seven hours and are offered by some boats. Half-day trips of four to five hours cost less, but may not be as good a value as the percentage of running time to get to the prime spots increases.

Given the use of a $100,000 boat, all the gear you need and a skipper, deckhand and mate, plus the price of 50 gallons of gas and insurance costs, charter skippers aren't rich. Prices vary. Some boats, for example THE PRIME TIME out of Kailua-Kona advertise reduced weekend rates ". . . over $100 less." If you must catch your own billfish, private charters improve your odds. Still, bring plastic or lots of cash, for according to Hawaii Tourism it takes about ten trips to catch one Pacific Blue Marlin.

A share charter with up to five other fishermen can also cut your costs. It's also a good way meet other fishermen and to check out new skippers and boats and a "best buy" for first-timers who want to sample the action.

Both private and share charters take you out to the buoys where billfish gather. Each lets you enjoy the sheltered tropical ocean and the excitement of a day in big fish country. Each gives you the chance to see billfish caught. If you're lucky you'll get to watch someone else work up a sweat, hand cramps, sore hands and a stiff back.

Booking trips isn't difficult. Boats are listed in the quarterly HAWAII FISHING & TRAVEL GUIDE available through Hawaii Tourism and throughout the Big Island. Hotel activity desks offer trips and can help put together share charters.

But wise fishermen head down to the docks to check the boats and talk to skippers whose attitudes about fishing range from the casual to the compulsive to suit all tastes. A dock trip in the afternoon to Kailua or Keauhou Bay harbors also lets you talk to other fishermen. Do watch the afternoon Kailua Pier fish weigh-in.

You can also find boats at our favorite Honokohau Harbor and watch their weigh-in at the Kona Marlin Center. Visit both places and you'll have a better idea of the type of trip and the kind of boat and crew that suits you best.

Don't worry about seasickness. Seas off Kona are smooth in the wind shadow of the volcano all year long. Do worry about lunch and beverages -- they are your responsibility and most hotels offer box lunches.

You will need to book early during popular winter periods and a reservation fee of 25 percent is usual from the mainland; 50 percent is typical on the big island. If you cancel more than 36 hours ahead, you'll get a full refund from the boat, but may have to pay a service fee from the booking agent. If you phone Hawaii, realize that it's 9 a.m. in Hawaii while it's 2 p.m. in New York and that Hawaii does not use Daylight Savings time.