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Year starts with terrific run of spearfish

By Staff | Mar 3, 2016

Captains Hunter Betts (left) and Jeremy Webb with their 58.3-pound spearfish. PHOTO BY DONNELL TATE.

LAHAINA – There was an exceptional run of spearfish during January with 27 weighed and another nine released, bringing the monthly total to 36 fish. This was the best monthly total of spearfish since January 2014, when 44 were weighed and 14 released, totaling 58 fish.

The February numbers were also looking good, with 18 weighed and another 12 released, totaling 30 fish. There were 55 fish weighed and another 28 released, totaling 83 fish in 2015.

Spearfish are the least known of the world’s billfish. Scientists recognize four separate species of spearfish. The two species of most importance to anglers are the long-billed spearfish of the Atlantic and the short-billed spearfish in the Indo-Pacific Oceans. There are two other species: the Mediterranean spearfish (named because its distribution is limited to the Mediterranean Sea), and the roundscale spearfish considered the rarest of all billfish species. The Mediterranean spearfish is the biggest of the four, with the short-billed spearfish the smallest.

Short-billed spearfish have dark blue backs, bright electric blue and silver sides, and a silvery-white belly. They rarely show the typical vertical billfish stripes on the body. Their bodies are long, slender and lightweight (average weight 30-35-pounds in Hawaii). They have a high bright blue dorsal fin (higher than in marlin, but not as high as sailfish) that runs the entire length of the body, curving as it tapers to join the body in front of the second dorsal fin.

Short-billed spearfish are a pelagic tropical species found offshore or near volcanic islands surrounded by deep-water along current lines, drop-offs and ledges. They feed at or near the surface, mainly on small and medium-sized fishes and squids, including mahi, flying fish and needlefish. Spearfish often travel in pairs.

The short-billed spearfish is one of the most common billfish encountered in Hawaiian waters, consistently producing more short-billed spearfish than any other known area. Hawaii offers unquestionably the best shot at productive short-bill spearfishing because of the combination of underwater structures and cold currents.

They are found in Hawaii’s waters all year long, with the best months January through May, returning to Hawaii’s waters in late winter to early spring to spawn. Short-billed spearfish mature by the age of two and rarely live past three years of age. Maximum age may be four to five years.

Spearfish prefer colder water in a temperature range of 70-80 degrees, but their appearance in most hot spots seem to correspond to the coldest water temperatures of the year. They are often associated with other cold-water fish such as striped marlin.

Due to their small mouths, and short bills, spearfish are harder to catch using normal gear. Anglers should drastically reduce the size of their baits, leaders and hooks. Sharp hooks are essential when fishing this species.

By the late 1950s, spearfish catches began showing up in Hawaii’s commercial logbooks, and anglers fishing the HIBT in Kona began weighing their first spearfish in the late 1960s and early 1970s. On Jan. 3, 1978, the first IGFA record spearfish was caught out of Kona. It weighed 55 pounds, eight ounces and was landed aboard the No Problem with Capt. Bobby Brown.

The IGFA all-tackle record for men on 50-pound test line is 74 pounds, 11 ounces. For women, the record on 80-pound test line is 74 pounds, eight ounces. The non-IGFA Hawaii state record is 76.8 pounds. The largest non-record fish recorded out of Lahaina Harbor since 1983 is a 71.6-pounder in 2001.