KAILUA-KONA — It didn’t take long for the world’s most populous country to catch on at the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament.
China Sea Wolf Club tagged and released a blue marlin on Friday – its fourth marlin of the five-day tournament – to capture the team championship. Not bad for a team that struggled with some of the nuances of the tournament in its debut last year.
“I thought that, for having started with practically zero experience, they worked very hard and trained very hard,” said Peter Fithian, founder of the tournament, which is in its 55th year. “We took them out and trained them when they first came here, took them out on the boats and made them do all of the things last year.”
Shen Wei, the captain of the Sea Wolf Club, was making his debut. The team also included anglers Lu Jingtian, Liu Ming, Ji Xinhua and Xie Tianshun.
“I think they’re very, very formidable at an early stage,” Fithian said. “I’ve been to China to meet with them and with the Chinese officials in fishing. I’ve gone through all of the rules with them. I think they’re a very quick study and, frankly, they’ll be very competitive with us.”
They certainly were this week. Fishing aboard the Ohana with Capt. Chris Cawthon on Friday, Liu caught and released a marlin estimated at 250 pounds – only those weighing more than 300 pounds can be kept – to capture the championship. China Sea Wolf Club finished with 2,086 points while second-place Team Friends of Kenya had 1,425.
“I’m so happy and excited to be here,” Shen said. “I’m very proud of my team and the Chinese team to win the tournament. It’s the first time we have ever won first place in this tournament. I’m very proud.”
He said that winning the tournament can help put China on the global sport fishing map.
“This shows that China can do well in the worldwide fishing game,” Shen said. “We have learned and tried to improve, to be ready to do well. Not to our surprise, a Chinese team has won.”
Three other Chinese teams – Hui Hai Hong Jin Club, Yi Zhuo Club and Zhou Linhua competed the event this year – and Shen is hoping his country can repeat its success next year.
Team Friends of Kenya, which finished second, was making its tournament debut. Mark Allen caught his third marlin of the tournament, this one estimated at 250 pounds on Friday, when he was fishing aboard the Kona Gold with Capt. Mark Schubert.
Allen said he was pleased with the second-place finish.
“We can’t complain, can we?” he said. “If we did, that would be very, very silly.”
Allen was impressed by what he saw at the tournament.
“It’s been a hell of an experience to us,” he said. “Fantastically run tournament. That’s what we don’t get back in Africa. We don’t get the quality of the running of the tournament like this. We’re still very amateurish. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve come over – to see how it’s properly done. To see it done, and the way it’s done, it’s brilliant.”
A charter boat captain in Kenya, Allen plans to take some of the HIBT experience with him when he returns.
“We have learned, always,” he said. “We’ve learned from the boats – the standard of boats is very high – the tournament standard is very high. It’s been an eye-opener and a good learning curve.”
Fithian, who is already making plans for next year’s tournament to be held Aug. 8-15, 2015, said it went well this year.
“We’ve all had more congratulations than we can ever remember, and it wasn’t an enormous fishing event,” he said, “but it was an event that people really liked. That’s so gratifying.”