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Grander Marlin Sportfishing

At Grander Marlin our focus in on Marlin...the bigger the better. We have the gear, techniques, and experience to help you finally hook up with the fish of your dreams. If marlin aren't your thing, we are also equipped to target any other species you desire, including: ono, ahi, and mahi-mahi. We welcome families, novices, and first time anglers too. Our goal is to make your day one to remember.


Tom Barefoot's Tours Interview with Chris Donato the Owner/Captain of Grander Marlin Sport Fishing

Tom: Good morning, welcome to another broadcast of Tom Barefoot’s Tours Live. Read Full Transcript

Video Transcript

Tom: Good morning, welcome to another broadcast of Tom Barefoot’s Tours Live. We’re a company that deals with all the different tours and activities in HI. We have hundreds, hundreds of different vendors, hundreds of different tours + activities that we operate in the state, and the little program that we’re involved in now is we’re highlighting individual vendors that we have and fleshing them out a little bit and understanding a little bit more of what it is that they do instead of just being able to read about them on our website and see a few pictures, we’re actually gonna talk to the people and get a little bit better understanding of what they do. Today, we’re going to the Big Island, in fact the rest of the week we’ll be going to the Big Island as well, but we’re going to be concentrating today on sportfishing on the Big Island. Sportfishing there is without question the very best that we have in the state of Hawaii for a number of reasons, and today, we’re going to be dealing specifically with a gentleman named Chris Donato, and he’s the owner/operator of a company called Grander Marlin Sportfishing, and we’re going to ask him some questions. So let’s see if we can get him on the line here...Hey Chris…

Chris: Hey Tom, how ya doing?

Tom: So, you’re in Kona today, I can see a beautiful day in the background, that’s always good. So, you’re obviously not out fishing right now, but I want you to talk about it a little bit--the very first thing I wanted to ask you about was what we were alluding to here earlier regarding the Big Island being a great place to fish--and why is that?

Chris: Sure, yeah, so the Big Island of Hawaii is kind of known throughout the world as one of the blue marlin capitals of the world, you know we do have all the other species here, great fishing for ahi/yellowfin tunas, the onos, the mahi mahi, shortbill spearfish, all the fish that you’re familiar with in Hawaii, but what the Big Island is really, really famous for and what kind of draws the people here are the blue marlin and particularly the bigger blue marlin--the ones that they call granders, or the ones that are over 1,000lbs, and to this day there’s been more granders caught in Kona than in anywhere else in the world, so that’s a big thing right there. What kind of makes this place so special and why the fish are coming here really has a lot to do with the island itself--the way it’s set up, where it’s located, we’re a rock basically located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and there’s not much else. These fish are migrating species, so they’re cruising along and they come across this area which, due to the contours of the island itself, it drops off very deep, very quickly from the harbor, so what we get is that deep water pushing up onto the island and it hits these ledges relatively close to the island which will push up nutrient rich water which the small tunas will feed on, all the bait fish will feed on, which becomes like a buffet for these fish when they’re coming along and they’re migrating and they haven’t eaten in a while and they see this really lush area that they can sit at and it’s actually over the years become a spawning grounds for them, for the big female blue marlin, which are coming here in the summer and those are the fish that are 800, 900, 1,000lbs--those are the really big fish, so that’s what’s really put Kona on the map is these big fish and the proximity to the shoreline that we’re catching these fish--it’s pretty mind blowing, and a lot of people who go fishing have to get on a boat ride to go out to the ledge where they want to go where they start fishing and it’s a whole process where here, you leave the harbor, and at any--once you pass the green buoy in front of the harbor, I mean, you’re fishing at any moment from all the day long until you pull the lines up and you’re pulling into the dock you can catch a fish. It’s a pretty special place--I’ve fished a lot of places in the South Pacific and I chose Kona to be my home because of that because of how amazing this fishing is.

Tom: Spectacular. I know that some of the biggest fish that come up there, people, in fact some of the tournaments, you just get out of the harbor at Honokahau, you’re sort of in great water right there. I think I’ve seen it where you’re 3 miles offshore and you’re in 6,000ft of water, just like that.

Chris: Yeah--it’s crazy (laughs).

Tom: Really dramatic--so, a great place to fish. Now, let’s talk a little bit about you, to start off, let’s talk about your boat--I know you’ve got your boat’s called The Benchmark, it’s a 37’ Merritt, but tell us about that boat and why that boat is a good one to use in this area.

Chris: Sure--it’s actually an old classic, that boat. The Merritt Boat Manufacturing Company is a famous boat company, and from this point on, I believe they only make 70 footers and above--the really expensive, multi-million dollar vessels, but when they first started off, they made the 37 footers. The first, the best sportfishing boats, and they were designed to be extremely maneuverable--back then, they were fishing for bluefin tuna off the Bahamas, back when they used to have bluefin tuna off the Bahamas. So these boats were designed to catch these fish before they could get over the edge and break them off on the ledge over there so they’re designed to maneuver extremely quickly, so the back end of the boat is a bit flatter underneath and the keel isn’t so pronounced so that you can move very quickly in reverse, so the way these boats are set up, they become a perfect marlin fishing boat. They’re actually built out of wood, but they have fiberglass over top of the wood, which is also believed to help with the acoustics, which will help raise fish into your spread of lures that you’re pulling it’s the sound that they hear deep down in the water, so the wood is thought to reduce some of the unwanted vibrations and produce a really good acoustic sound. There’s a lot of little dynamics there that they set up with these older Merritts but the one thing I find great with those boats is that they’re super light and they’re very maneuverable, so when you get a big blue marlin on, or a fish that you need to chase, because you can only hold so much line on a reel and these big fish will pull all that line off so the faster you can get on ‘em and get on top of them the better the scenario so those boats are absolutely amazing for that, and they’re a special boat as well--I think there’s only 11 left and Kona has I believe there’s 3 including mine now, and the rest I think are in Guatemala and a couple other spots. So it’s a beautiful boat, lots of history behind it, this boat was built in 1959 and we’ve taken really good care of it and it’s fished all over the place. I fished this boat in Western Samoa which is way down in the South Pacific before I fished it here in Kona and we fished in Florida a little bit, so even when I’ve been on it, we’ve covered some water.

Tom: So it’s obviously an extremely good boat for fishing--it’s a 6 pax boat, so you can carry 6 passengers , is it comfortable for say a wife who’s not particularly interested in the fishing but wants to be out there, is hse going to be comfortable on the boat as well?

Chris: Oh, yeah of course, it’s really comfortable as well. It’s got a marine head, it’s got the bathroom in there as well, it’s got a little galley downstairs, and then the way that they designed these boats, the cabin area, it’s got a cover on it, but it’s exposed to the air, so you’re not completely enclosed and trapped inside. It’s got a really comfortable area where you can lay out, seats, table--it’s really a comfortable day boat, and for the type of fishing that we’re doing here in Kona, it’s kind of the perfect set up, really.

Tom: Alright, let’s move a little bit away from the boat now, let’s talk about you, specifically. I know that you’ve been in and out of Hawaii, you’ve spent a lot of time in the South Pacific in Samoa or Fiji, tell us what that was about--what was your history there?

Chris: Sure, sure I spent a bit of time down there--I kind of wanted to go to some of the most remote areas I could find and explore some of these fishing areas. I love Polynesia, I love the Pacific islands, so the first stop I did was Samoa and I spent a bit of time there, I did a lot of surfing there but I was running charter boats and doing fishing which was an amazing experience. And then from there I went over to an island called Vanuatu, an island chain that’s in actually Melanesia and that was a great experience--really really very remote, amazing fishing, I think I spent a little bit over 10 years down in that whole area-I did a little over a year in Vanuatu, the rest was spent in Samoa, the fishing I found in Samoa was really, really great.

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Tom: Did you find a lot of crossover in sportfishing in terms of what you learned there in the South Seas in terms of what’s happening here?

Chris: Sure, yeah--we’re fishing for the exact same species and the contours of the island of Samoa were pretty similar to how the Big Island is, very deep waters very close in, we were fishing contours, so we were fishing structure--when I say that I mean ocean floor structure, little areas that hold the bait fish which is really where you want to concentrate your time, so I saw a lot of similarities between the fishing I saw in Samoa to the fishing here. Vanuatu is quite a bit different--we were fishing buoys and fish aggregating devices and some structure, but Samoa was really very similar to this. The difference was in Samoa it would get a little bit rougher, Kona generally is kind of like a lake sometimes cuz we’re in the Big Island here. The other thing I had was in Samoa I didn’t really have any other boats to fish with, every day was sort of exploring and finding this or that, just sort of learning on your own whereas in Kona there’s a network to work with a bit, you know and if the boat’s 5 miles up the coast somewhere, you can get on your phone and someone can say there’s a bite up here--I didn’t have that luxury when I was in Samoa, it was kind of ‘okay, where are we gonna go today?’ and the bite could be way down the coast in some other area and I would’ve never even known. It was a great experience fishing down there because you kind of had to learn a lot about just kind of depending on what you had, so here I feel like it’s a bonus, I have people I can communicate with, there’s certain landmarks that you can base off of--fishing off the Sheraton and certain fathoms so that’s great, but in terms of where you want to put your time and what you’re looking for I found it in the deep South Pacific islands--very similar to what I’m doing out here, so it wasn’t like a complete shock when I got here.

Tom: Well, you’ve got a lot of experience you can bring here, and I’m sure it’s been a lot of translation you can bring here. Let’s talk about the specifics of your charters--I know you’ve got the typical 4 hour, the 6 hour and the 8 hour, the ½, the ¾ and the full day, but you’ve also got, which many boats don’t do, the 12 hour, that you call the Hemingway charter, and one of the questions that I have is maybe you can briefly go over the advantages of doing each. One of the things that comes to mind is that in so many other places like on Maui to get to the good fishing grounds you’ve got about an hour depending on which harbor you go to, so if you’re looking at a 4 hour trip, you’ve got an hour there, 2 hours to fish and an hour coming back and that’s the same with other areas, not always to that degree, but it seems like you’ve got good fishing even for the shorter trips, but how would you delineated between the 4,6, 8, the 12 hour and what would you recommend?

Chris: In terms of how far we have to go to fish, I’m usually putting lures out in the water, depending, whatever your day is we’re usually starting to fish about 5 minutes after we leave the dock, so we don’t have to go too far--so even if you booked a half day which is a 4 hour trip, you still have a good chance, it’s still time to be on the water. I’d say for a 4 hour trip, it’s for your kind of person that’s never really done this before, short on time or not sure they’re going to have the patience to sit out there, because what we’re doing, it does take a little bit of patience, there can be days where it’s red hot and there can be days where you’ve got to hunt before you find the bite, so that’s a good day for someone who’s not sure if they want to be on the boat for a super long time or they have their kids with them--little kids, after 4 hours they start to wonder what else they can do, so that’s a good trip for that, so if you’re really looking to catch a blue marlin I would not recommend the 4 hour trip, not to say you can’t catch ‘em on there, we’ve got several in a 4 hour, but I’d generally recommend the ¾ or the full or the 12 hour day. So the 4 hour day’s pretty short, you’re gonna get 4 hours and then back in, the ¾ day, a 6 hour trip, that’s you’re in between, so if you want to catch a blue marlin, but you still don’t want to commit an entire day to it, plenty of good fish can be caught in 6 hours, that’s ample time for sure. I always say if you’re going to do it, you do the full day or you put in the 12 hours, because if we’re out there, and we find the bait, a lot of times the fish’ll feed on the tide change, then if we’re restricted by time we may have to start heading in so if you’re serious about it and you want to catch marlin then the 8 hour and the 12 hour is what I’d recommend.

Tom: The 8 hour, that’s your most popular one, isn’t it?

Chris: Yeah, we don’t do the 12 hour one very often, cuz that is a very long day, a sun up to sundown kind of day, and unless you’re an avid angler, that is a really long day.

Tom: And you only do private charters, right? It can be 1 person or 6 people, it’s the same price and that’s what’s up.

Chris: Yes, you have the boat to yourself, whether you’re by yourself or you have 5 of your friends with you and that’s 6 people. Same price though if you get people to come with you it’s cheaper because you’re going to split the cost.

Tom: Let’s talk about the types of fish you catch, obviously the marlin is your big catch, especially you guys, your boat’s called the Grander Marlin...but also, what are the other types of fish that you go for?

Chris: Sure, the blue marlin’s the biggest one here, the other fish that we’re gonna go for as well are the ono/wahoo, really good eating fish and there can be times in the summer where you can catch a whole lot of them, and they’re great if we have kids on the boat, it’s not a super hard fish to catch, to reel in and it’s a great eating fish, so ono’s a real popular one. Ahi/yellowfin tuna, that’s a really popular fish here, the meat is amazing, the steaks on those are great and they get really big here as well, and that’s a species that we do target. The mahi mahi, and I think when people think of Hawaii they think of mahi mahi because when you eat at restaurants that’s a lot of what you’re getting because of how delicious that meat is. They’re great, they can be kind of seasonal here in Kona, more of a winter species, but they are caught all year round. Then you have a really rare species of billfish known as the shortbill spearfish. Kona is one of the only places you can go and actually consistently catch these fish, it’s a seasonal fish but right around this time, April, May and through the summer you can catch them, they’re also really good eating fish. We get guys that come and fish with us strictly to catch that because they’re trying to catch every species of billfish in the world, and a lot of times the spearfish is one of the hardest ones to catch. We just had a lady that came all the way from Florida just to catch that spearfish. It’s called a billfish royal slam so that means you’ve caught every billfish species and she caught her spearfish luckily on the first day, so that’s a cool little rare species that Kona has on offer. That’s really like the prime species we’re gonna be going after: the ono, the ahi, the mahi mahi, the marlins, there are striped marlin here in the winter time, occasionally there’s sailfish caught here, but those are pretty rare, there are also black marlin, but they’re very rare here..

Tom: You sort of alluded to it, but let’s talk about the seasonality, generally speaking I thought that the summer time is the best time of year to do this, is that pretty true?

Chris: Yeah, I think it is, summertime is when the marlin is most abundant, you get the ahi/yellowfin tuna are here, the ono fishing can be really good, and then you have your chance at shortbill spearfish so a lot of the species are here--wintertime is a lot more active with mahi mahi and we get a lot of debris that comes over from Japan and the mahi mahi like to hang out under that debris, you can find a lot of big nets and ropes and a lot of times there’ll be fish under there, so winter’s definitely a different style of fishery, it’s generally lighter tackle, you scale down because there’s not as many bigger fish here. There are days in the winter where you can catch a lot of fish, but it’s definitely a different style of fishery. You can get a lot of meat fish that time of year, whereas Summer’s kind of your trophy fish. If you want a chance at a really big marlin, Summer’s a great time to be here also.

Tom: So, generally speaking Summer’s are better but if you’re here in the Winter, you’re not gonna like ‘I’m not gonna go sportfishing’ because it’s still worth it to do it and different species are still running during that time.

Chris: Exactly.

Tom: Let’s talk about the catch, and this is something that people are always curious about, you know, I rented the boat I paid for the day or whatever it is, and do I keep the fish, or not? Generally speaking throughout Hawaii the fish belongs to the boat, you may or may not get some filets off of it, but how does it work with you guys?

Chris: Sure, we do it a little bit differently, and everyone’s different so I recommend if you’re gonna charter a boat in Hawaii and that’s a concern of yours you should ask before you book because everyone’s got their own policy of what they want to do with the fish...Our policy is we do let you guys keep the fish, to an extent--we’ll cut you steaks, but if we catch 400lbs of ahi and you’re only here a couple days and you want every single fish to take back with you, we don’t really do that, we’ll give you enough that you’ll have dinner as long as you want, while you’re here and if you want some to pack up and take home with you, but we do keep some for the crew and for the boat, but if it’s 1 fish, we’ll cut you as much steaks as you want…

Tom: We’re sort of winding down, the last question I have for you, as far as a private, if someone’s doing fishing and they kind of want to split up the day a little bit and sort of jump overboard a little bit, is that something that’s possible for those special people that have that kind of an interest?

Chris: Yeah, that’s definitely an option, we can do a fish down South and then jump in at Captain Cook area and do a little snorkel and then go back out and fish, we can definitely do that--the only thing w/that is you’re gonna have to at least a ¾ day to get the time to fish down there, get in the water, get out, fish back and the other thing too is that while we’re fishing there’s always the chance you’re gonna see whales, dolphins…

Tom: I’d like to thank you very much for showing up with us today on Tom Barefoot’s Tours Live and explaining a lot about fishing over there in Kona and particularly about your boat and we look forward to getting some more people on with you here in the near future.

Chris: Okay, thanks Tom.

Tom: Thanks. Aloha.

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