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The history of the Lahaina Jackpot Fishing Tournament

By Staff | Oct 21, 2010

LAHAINA — The first thoughts of the event evolved in the slightly beer-loosened minds of a couple of Lahaina’s charter captains. Bill Moffett and Phil Cole were contemplating get rich quick schemes and ruminating over the possibility of running a tournament for money.

Before anybody checked to find out if fishing for money prizes was a form of legal gambling, the newly formed Lahaina Fishing Club was dragged into the planning process.

Capt. Kenny Takashima was coerced into getting the ball rolling as part of his capacity as president of the fledgling fishing club. He grabbed his partner, Capt. Rick Rose, for his years of experience, and the tournament — which no one was real sure was even legal — began to take shape.

An opinion from the Maui County Prosecutor’s Office that equated fishing for money to riding brahma bulls for money — which had long been accepted practice at the Makawao Rodeo — was the final draw that made the system work.

It was not long before the Lahaina Yacht Club and Commodore Warren Hinton were called upon for assistance. Their history of fine service to boat-oriented people and their record of operating yachting events made them the natural choice as tournament cosponsor.

Pushing aside the usual below the belt, club house-style wisecracking, LYC Rear Commodore of Power Bob Carey felt this was long-overdue recognition for their contribution to the salty way of life: sport fishing.

Considering how long charter sport fishing had been going out of Lahaina Harbor, some wondered why this wasn’t thought of before. Anyhow, the board voted a sum of money to get the tournament on its feet after Bob Carey, Bill Moffett and Phil Cole convinced the members of the board that the tournament was a worthwhile project.

At first, it looked like Chairman Peter Fithian behind the famed Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament, which took place annually over in Kona, was a bit disturbed over the idea of a fishing tournament for money (gambling) in Hawaii… one with such obvious potential.

The first tournament committee was made up of a cross section of LYC members, harbor fishermen and good friends: Co-Chairs Kenny Takashima and Rick Rose, “Moneybags” Sally Rose, Weighmaster Doug Shue, Bill Moffett, Phil Cole, Steve “Popsicle” Elkins, Denny Putnam, Rick Bodinus, R.K. Wooten, “Too Tall” Eddie Wilson, Jim Dampf, Harbor Agents Richard Dempsey and Mike Hatton, and Secretary Sue Danielson.

That first year, 76 boats, including some of Hawaii’s greatest sport fishing anglers and captains, sent in their $450 and then packed the tiny harbor in Lahaina on Friday, Oct. 28, 1977. Boats were tied abreast in the harbor six deep, and the inter-boat cooperation was something captains from Kona and Oahu had never seen before. Hot showers and cheap beers at the yacht club and general acceptance by yachting types — which prevailed throughout Lahaina — were immediately picked up by the assembled fishermen. The parties became legendary.

It all began on Saturday morning. By the end of the first day, Lahaina Charter Capt. Dave Rockett, aboard the Halcyon, weighed what turned out to be the tournament-winning fish: a 559.75-pound black marlin worth $15,200. This fish stands as the tenth largest marlin to win the Lahaina Jackpot, and the only black marlin to win the tournament.

The precedent-setting Lahaina Jackpot Tournament started a trend that literally exploded into a wave of new Jackpot tournaments across the State of Hawaii and the U.S.

It was a modest beginning and evolved into the largest fishing tournament in the state. The Lahaina Yacht Club, as sponsor, continues to show the special aloha and atmosphere that has greeted the men and women of the sea for 34 years.

Did you know that the Lahaina Jackpot Tournament has the distinction of the only tournament in the state to have had three “granders” (marlin weighing 1,000 pounds) brought to the scales? Also, no tournament in the state has ever had two “granders” win the event.

The 1993 tournament saw its first grander with a world record 1,201.8-pound blue marlin by Doug Jorgensen. He was fishing aboard the Cormorant with Capt. Bruce Matson from Oahu. This marlin is the largest to win the Jackpot Tournament, and this fish stands as the largest marlin ever weighed in Maui County.

The 1997 tournament again gained both state and international fame and recognition with double “granders.” Nowhere in the world had there been a pair of 1,100-pound marlin weighed on the same day. The tournament winner was a 1,106.0-pound blue by Rodney Kam. He was fishing aboard the Magic with Capt. Russell Tanaka. The second place marlin weighed 1,101.5 pounds and was angled by Andrew Mau. He was fishing with Capt. Rahn Yamashita aboard Shirley-Y.

The Shirley-Y would have won the tournament, but as they were bringing the marlin to the boat, it threw-up an estimated 20-pound spearfish, which would have given them the five pounds they needed to win. Upon inspecting the fish after weigh-in to see what it had been eating, it had a very fresh 20-pound mahi in its throat and another 20-pound spearfish in its stomach.

Only two wahine have won the Lahaina Jackpot Tournament. The first was Debbie Pezman in 2001. Her 237.2-pound marlin was captured aboard the Maggie Joe with Capt. Mike DeRego. It is the smallest marlin to ever win the tournament. Her team was also the first all-wahine team to win. The second was Renee Miklethum in 2004 with a 355.6-pound marlin aboard the Secnarf with Capt. David Young.

The first all-wahine team was in 1988 with the Laguna Nagel Billfish Club of Southern California. Team captain was Robin Weiner, and the crew was made up of Ellen Regan, Mary Graus and Sharon Handgis. They were fishing aboard the Ihu Nui with Capt. Freddie Rice. The “Largest Marlin by a Wahine Angler” trophy is the Robin Weiner Award.

Two boats have won the tournament three times. Capt. Kalei Luuwai aboard the Pualele won the Jackpot in 1998, 2002 and ’05. Capt. Mike Derego aboard the Maggie Joe won the Jackpot in 2001, ’07 and ’09.

Three other boats have won the tournament twice. Capt. Chris Rose aboard the Aerial took back-to-back wins in 1988 and ’89. Capt. Matt Kahapea aboard the Ah Tina picked up wins in 1984 and ’95. Capt. Bruce Matson aboard the Cormorant scored wins in 1982 and ’93 (world record).

Two anglers have won the tournament twice. Kalani Tom won the tournament in 2002 and ’05 fishing aboard the Pualele with Capt. Luuwai. Mitch Tanaka won the tournament in 2007 and ’09 aboard the Maggie Joe with Capt. DeRego.

Oahu teams have won the tournament 16 times, followed by Maui with 14 wins, Kona at two and Molokai with one win.

Over the past 33 years, the tournament has had a total of 3,179 boats, with a total Jackpot pay out of $1,599,210.

Registration for the 2010 Lahaina Jackpot will be held Oct. 25-28 from noon to 6 p.m. at Lahaina Yacht Club. Contact the club at 661-0191 or 667-6211, or visit www.LahainaJackpot.com.