STEPHANIE CHOATE CELEBRATES HER INDEPENDENCE BY WINNING THE WORLD BLUE MARLIN CHAMPIONSHIP
By Stephanie Choate
I came to Kona, Hawaii with the understanding that it had fish – and big fish at that. I had previously fished the World Cup in Cape Verde and Madeira, but I never saw a fish over 500 pounds when it counted. Still, I thought of the Blue Marlin World Cup Championship – one day of fishing for blue marlin over 500 pounds with boats competing from all around the world – as the greatest tournament of all. When I first heard about it, I knew all my Fourth of Julys would be spent fishing.
This past year I was lucky enough to catch a 1,018 lb black marlin with Captain Jason Holtz off Mozambique, Africa. Jason normally runs The Pursuit out of Kona, but he was already booked for the World Cup. He recommended Captain Steve “Stymie” Epstein on the Huntress. I knew it was fate, because I had just shot a hunting/ fishing TV show concept called “The Huntress,” which I hope to pitch this year. The Huntress (the boat) has an incredible history (it was formally the Black Bart) and has caught multiple “granders” under Stymies’ stewardship. I booked him immediately.
I brought my best friend, Lindsea White, with me as my teammate. We arrived to the boat July 1st to do some pre-tournament fishing. Although impressed with our crew, including mates Mitch Lattof and Nate Cary, we fished for two days without seeing a fish. I could tell the crew was getting nervous, as Kona fishing can turn on and off erratically. But over the next two days Lindsea and I eventually hooked up with some big blue marlin.
I prayed all night that our luck would survive on the 4th. We woke up while boats were fishing on the other side of the world, but no one had reported any fish yet. As we took to the seas at 8:30 a.m. there were still no fish taken and the bite was slow in many of the competing fisheries. Things were looking up for Kona as one by one, each of the earlier time zones were out. When Bermuda (the previous winner) still hadn’t caught a fish at lines out, I knew we really had a chance.
It came down to Kona with 45 boats fishing. The final hour was upon us and so were the grapefruit and vodka cocktails Lindsea made to calm our nerves and bring up a fish…or just a bite. As we stood behind the fighting chair sipping our drinks, I told her “Happy Independence Day,” and she replied, “How beautiful it is to celebrate our freedom fishing in a beautiful place like…” and before she could finish her sentence a HUGE bite piled on the left long. We knew immediately we had a contender.
The fish made its initial jumping spree, giving us a good look at her, but never took a long run. The fish decided to go straight down with all the energy we were hoping it would spend swimming away from us. I had the drag in the corner and Stymie and I started planing her up for 45 minutes. We went through multiple theories throughout the fight: Was she tail wrapped? Even dead? When she finally let up a little, we knew we had a tough girl on our hands.
The radio called lines out and we heard the other fish weighed in at 597 lbs. We were confident ours was bigger. A few boats heading in stopped to watch the fight with the potential winner. An hour after the bite the leader came up and, still sitting in the fighting chair, I heard the other boats cheer as Mitch and Nate handled the fish. I got up and we all grabbed rope hitched on the bill, pulling in what we were confident was the World Cup winner. Once the tuna door was closed, we all got to look at each other and scream in utter disbelief. We just won the World Cup.
Headed into the marina, we hugged each other repeatedly and I called my father, Tim, to tell him the news. There was a lot of screaming but in true fisherman fashion he waited to really celebrate until we had our official weight.
We arrived to a surreal crowd at the dock clapping for us as we tied up. The fish was weighed and the moment we heard 656 lbs we all started jumping and hugging, our smiles were ear to ear. Champagne flowed. Pictures were taken. It was the biggest purse in the history of the Cup and I was the second female to ever win it.
I’m incredibly lucky to be able to fish these tournaments and blessed to have won this one. I’m honored to have fished with the captain and crew that I had. They are not only incredible fishermen but true gentlemen and great friends. They deserve their portion of the prize money. However, a major portion of my winnings is going to Wild Oceans, a conservation group dedicated to the future of ocean fishing and of which I am a board member.
There will always be back-lash to killing fish – the marlin was not wasted, by the way, it went into the local food chain – but through my work with Wild Oceans, I am dedicated to promoting better fishing practices and stopping longliners from destroying the billfish population. As far as tournaments, the Rock and Reel, Marlin Magic Lure, Kona Kickoff, and Firecracker tournaments tagged over 110+ fish in Kona in July and weighed only 4 – a 96% release rate. [In contrast, the Hawaiian commercial longline fleet alone caught 3,391 blue marlin in 2012 and released only 21.] The very few marlin that were killed in the World Cup from all the 100+ boats fishing around the world generated many millions in recreational fishing dollars in many economies. On the other hand, if those few fish were killed by a longliner, they would have generated about $1,000.00 in cash sales, maybe.
Whether you’ve been around a while or just starting out, a real sports fishing conservationist shouldn’t be dissuaded from entering a “kill” tournament, they should simply plan on using any proceeds to promote policies for really effective big scale conservation of these great animals.