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Big year for blue marlin shows no signs of slowing

The monstrous billfish struck with such ferocity that the explosion atop the surface “looked like somebody had dropped a cement mixer down from the sky.”

So describes Small Kine skipper Momi Bean in the latest “Kona Fishing Chronicles” online report. Three hours later he and his guests had alongside the 41-foot yacht a blue marlin estimated to weigh “a conservative and proud 950 pounds.”

It’s been this kind of summer off Hawaii’s Kona coast. As Southern California anglers piddle around the offshore banks after 20-pound albacore, visitors to the Big Island are strapping into fighting chairs and playing tug-o-war with truly magnificent sea creatures.

Jim Rizzuto, editor of the “Kona Fishing Chronicles,” said the blazing run of gargantuan blues has “set off a tagging spree of historic proportions.”

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Skippers say, however, that conditions have yet to settle and that -- despite this being peak season -- the best fishing may be yet to come.

“It normally runs into September but last year I had close to 35 blue marlin in December alone,” says Guy Terwilliger, a 27-year Kona captain who for 13 years has run the Ho’okele. “That’s an unusually high number for a month, much less a month out of season.”

This June and July, Kona anglers have released nearly 500 blue marlin, including many specimens weighing 500-plus pounds -- a few, perhaps, topping the magical 1,000-pound mark.

Since July 16 at least seven marlin estimated to weigh 400 pounds or more were released. At least four were killed, hung for photos and presumably sold to market by captains.

The largest of those was a 789-pounder hauled aboard Capt. Walter Gay’s Ikaika Kai on July 19. Terwilliger, since April, has weighed marlin at 767, 751 and 716 pounds.

While recent restrictions on indiscriminate commercial fishing practices, along with a growing catch-and-release ethic among anglers, have undoubtedly benefited billfish, the abundance of large marlin this summer is remarkable because climactic changes appear to be wreaking havoc on ocean conditions.

Typical northerly trade winds have, on many days, given way to less-productive easterly trades. A current that generally runs in one direction will prevail for a week or so, then become dual-layered, with the deeper current running in the opposite direction.

This drives bait fish down and removes from the equation seabirds that dive on the small fish and give away locations of large predators chasing them to the surface.

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Thus, it can “look like a desert out there,” Terwilliger says.

But such are the lives of Kona captains. They persevere and adjust, and are eventually rewarded -- as Terwilliger was in the mid-'80s when he logged his only grander, a specimen weighing 1,014 pounds.

“But in the 13 years I’ve been with this boat I’ve had four or five fish over 900 pounds,” he boasts. “So I’ve been close a few times too.”

What a hoot

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As for magical experiences, few compare with that enjoyed recently by Bean and the Murray family from Florida.

The captain said he followed an owl to the spot where he found the 950-pounder, and that the bird circled the area beforehand, as if to pinpoint its location.

After the billfish struck, it ran 500 yards and nearly spooled a reel filled with 130-pound-test line. Bean’s crew cleared other lines while the captain gave chase, and it took two hours to get the fish “to turn our way.”

It took another hour to bring the billfish into view, whereupon another large marlin swooped in to try to snatch the lure dangling behind the hooked marlin, but it spooked and dashed off.

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When the chaos calmed, the marlin, which Bean said “dwarfed our 15-foot-wide transom,” was carefully set free, despite that it might have been “grander.”

Said Bean: “Growing up here as a Hawaiian boy, we fed a lot of fish to luaus and other celebrations. Now we release everything we can. We made nice friends, the Murrays, and helped send out the word that we are releasing some of the really big ones here.”

Santa Barbara blues

Despite reports to the contrary, there are blue whales in the Santa Barbara Channel. So many, in fact, that whale watchers have been treated to multiple sightings of the planet’s largest creature daily for three-plus weeks.

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“Since July 1 we’ve seen blue whales every single day,” said Mat Curto, skipper of the Condor Express out of Sea Landing in Santa Barbara. “I wouldn’t say 40 or 50, but at least eight or 10 every day.”

Last summer the krill, tiny shrimp-like creatures that provide sustenance for blue whales, failed to concentrate as usual off Santa Barbara. Many of the blue whales, migrating from the south, lingered in areas from northern Baja California to Orange County.

That same phenomenon appeared to be developing again this season, but krill patches are now thick, in and beyond the channel and most of the blue whales, some measuring nearly 80 feet and weighing perhaps 100 tons, are feeding and cavorting off Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands within easy viewing range.

Sporadic sightings are still occurring off Orange County.

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Name that shark

First there was naming your own star. Now comes a program that allows you to name a great white shark.

Researchers affiliated with the conservation group Iemanya Oceanica in September will place a satellite tag on one of the predators at Guadalupe Island west of Baja California.

In a creative fund-raising ploy, they are allowing the first 50 “pre-adopters,” who can enter at www.adoptashark.com for $49.99, to have their names entered in a drawing.

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The winner will be able to name the great white, whose movements and habits will be monitored. Proceeds will help fund future studies.

African squeeze play

Off to Tanzania to bag a lion? Be prepared to bite the bullet.

Astronomical fee increases have big-game hunters scrambling to cancel expeditions while Safari Club International mounts a letter-writing campaign aimed at the African nation’s minister of natural resources and tourism.

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The cost of hunting a lion or leopard, for example, was jacked from $4,000 to $13,500. The price tag for an elephant was raised from $8,000 to $17,500.

What’s worse, these increases, announced as the season is just getting underway, were imposed even on outfitters who had already charged clients the lower fees.

In a plea to agency minister Jumanne Abdallah Maghembe, SCI President Dennis Anderson pointed out that the unanticipated increases “may lead to widespread cancellation of hunts and result in a loss of revenue to Tanzania, not an increase in revenues.”

pete.thomas@latimes.com

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