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Lahaina Harbor boats enjoy March spearfish run

By Staff | May 4, 2017

Capt. Hunter Betts (left) and Capt. Jeremy Webb caught this 58.3-pound shortbill spearfish in January. PHOTO BY DONNELL TATE

Today, the shortbill spearfish is one of the most common billfish encountered in Hawaiian waters, where they are often referred to as “chuckers” or “natagi” marlin that, in the early 1960s, were always considered to be young striped marlin. These early catches of short-nosed spearfish misidentified as young stripers and sailfish could really have been chuckers.

By the late 1950s, spearfish catches began showing up in Hawaii’s commercial logbooks, and anglers fishing the HIBT began weighing their first spearfish in the late ’60s and early ’70s. On Jan. 3, 1978, the first IGFA record chucker was caught out of Kona. It weighed 55 pounds, eight ounces and was landed aboard the No Problem with Capt. Bobby Brown.

This minuscule little billfish has not only become a new light-tackle favorite for many, but they fill an important season-stretching void for the local charter fleet. These aggressive little billfish win angling converts wherever they are encountered, thanks to their surface-happy battle antics, fearless demeanor and sheer beauty.

The fish can easily be targeted when seasonal aggregations bring increased strikes, they are aggressive enough to pursue a teaser right to the transom, they put up a gallant fight and they seem to revive easily, assuring successful release.

There are actually several varieties of spearfish. The longbill spearfish (Tetrapturus pfluegeri) occurs throughout most of the Atlantic Ocean and apparently attains larger sizes than its Indo-Pacific cousin, the shortbill spearfish (T. angustirostris), which rarely exceeds 50 pounds in weight (average weight is 20-30 pounds in Hawaii). A third species, T. belone, occurs only in the Mediterranean Sea, and there may be a fourth variety, T. georgei, a unique Mediterranean species known as the roundscale spearfish, which apparently only occurs around Sicily, Portugal and Spain. This species could simply be deformed longbill spearfish or white marlin.

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.

Spearfish prefer colder water in a temperature range of 70-86 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.

Hawaii consistently produces more short-nosed spearfish than any other known area, and unquestionably, the region enjoys the best shot at productive shortbill 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), with them returning to Hawaii’s waters each spring to spawn.

During March, the spearfish numbers were the best since January of 2016. There was a four-day run the middle of the month with 14 spearfish landed. There were 24 weighed and another three released, with the monthly total at 27 fish. April also produced some good numbers, with nine weighed and six released, with a monthly total at 15 fish.

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.

Due to their small mouths, spearfish are hard to catch using normal gear. Anglers should drastically reduce the size of their baits, leaders and hooks. Sharp hooks are essential when fishing ultra-light tackle. Using ultra-light tackle and a bait-and-switch technique is the way to go if you want to see what these fish can do.

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