For some, big game fish are as enjoyable to hook as they are to eat.

WHETHER SEARED, SMOKED, GRILLED, BLACKENED OR PAN-FRIED, WHEN IT COMES TO FRESH fish, we all have our personal preferences. From ‘ahi to marlin to ono, big game fish such as these are rich in flavor and consistently in high demand in restaurant kitchens both here and abroad. There’s a reason Hawai’i’s top chefs wake up before the crack of dawn to make their way to Pier 38-to place their bids for the freshest catch in town during the Honolulu Fish Auction.

For natural-born fisherman Hugh Foster, enjoying fish begins long before it makes it on a plate or even before it’s sold at auction. In fact, it starts in the middle of the ocean, with him and his 47-foot Viking Sportfisher, the Mahea B. It’s no surprise he captains his own charter boat-brother Ryan is also captain of the Dojo in Kona, while dad Hugh Foster Sr. helms a boat in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. “We’ve always had a boat,” says Foster. Fishing [for us] is a way of life; it’s in the blood.”

Though bottom fish known as the “Deep 7”-which consists of onaga (red snapper), opakapaka (pink snapper), ehu (red snapper), hapu’upu’u (grouper), gindai (flower snapper), lehi (reddish snapper) and kalekale (Von Siebold’s snapper)-usually comes to mind when one thinks of fishing in the islands, Foster says that within the local fishing community, both ‘ahi (yellowfin tuna) and marlin are the fish to be had.

And how does one come to reel in the prized game? Instinct and plenty of experience. Foster lauds the expertise of friend and fellow captain Russel Tanaka: “He’ll know-just by the time of year, the current moon phase-which lures to run, what the fish are eating and where.”

Once a fish strikes, the real action begins. Fish fights can literally last for hours. Foster still recalls the one that got away. Some years ago after winning the World Billfish Challenge with a 411-pound blue marlin, he went on to experience a different kind of fight during the Okoe Bay Rendezvous-an 8.5-hour battle, which resulted in a line breaking and one crestfallen Foster. “[Losing the fish was the] biggest heartbreaker, but she’s still out there.

I look for her every time I go fishing, knowing damn well she could break my heart again!”

But when all is said and done, proper handling is as vital as knowing how to land a great catch. The right treatment is imperative from start to finish. “Once fish is caught, you bleed it, then, it goes right into the ice or brine,” shares Foster. “It’s important to keep it nice and fresh… I mean, there are people who will keep the fish on the deck for hours.”

There are plenty of ways to cook a fresh catch-from dehydrating to smoking marlin, ‘ahi and mackerel to steaming. But purists know there’s nothing like eating tuna raw-though marlin is being eaten raw more and more, these days, too. If you’re looking for a no-hassle fish dish, Foster has an easy mahimahi recipe he swears by: “Cut it, put it on the grill or pan and just put on simple taco seasoning that you would use with meat or chicken; drizzle with olive oil. Cook for seven to eight minutes, then take out from the heat. Pop it into a taco shell and finish with lime and cilantro-instant fish taco.” You can use wahoo/ono in lieu of mahimahi as well. Though ono is a bit thicker, it’s still good. Care to go fishing with the captain himself? Visit www. sportfishingoahu.com for more details.

THE REEL DEAL

Care to see (or catch) some serious game? Pack your bags and head for the Big Island for five days of sport fishing fun. Held in the waters off Kona, the 54th Annual Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament brings the world’s top fishing teams to Hawai’i for a chance to make tournament history. Sanctioned by the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), the tourney runs from August 3-10. www.hibtfishing.com (photo by Gary Graham/HIBT)