How Kona, Hawaii’s, Wild Hooker, one of the youngest and most winning professional fishing teams in the world, is now giving back.
Spend any time with the Wild Hooker crew and you’re bound to hand over at least $100 on some side bet—probably on a wager like what kind of fish was hooked and called in on the radio before ever seeing it with absolutely no basis whatsoever, for example. That summarizes this crew—incredibly competitive on every level, obsessed with fish, and an appetite for betting and winning, whether it be millions at the Bisbee’s (the world’s richest marlin fishing tournament in Cabo) or $100 bucks on some side bet. It doesn’t matter to these guys, and for good reason. They win. A lot.
The Wild Hooker, a 68-foot Blackwell sport fisher, is crewed by one of the most winning teams in the world, and by their estimations, rank in the top five most earning teams, reeling in over $6,7000,000 since they joined forces in 2010. “We fish every possible tournament we can make. It doesn’t matter to us how big the pot is, if we can make it, we are there. If it only has one other team fishing for ten bucks, we will show up,” says Shane O’Brien, Captain of the Wild Hooker. The team fishes at least 12 tournaments/tournament series a year from the Gulf Coast to Hawaii and has fished as many as 16 annually.
Made up of four distinct personalities, the team is bonded together with one unified goal: to win.
Allen Stuart, owner of the Wild Hooker, hails from Louisiana. Allen has cashed in big time in the oil business and really drives the competitiveness. Young at heart, but nearly double the age of the rest of the crew, he ensures the team is always focused. He has groomed them to be money-minded businessmen. Allen is also an extremely accomplished angler. He has fished the waters from Hawaii to Africa with experience fishing many hotspots in-between.
Captain Shane O’Brien, the leader of the boat, was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, and grew up on the Big Island in Kona. He comes from a proud lineage of professional fishermen. His father, full of fish stories, boasts being the wireman on the Black Bart when they reeled in a record 1,656-pound blue marlin along with two other granders (marlin that weigh in at over 1,000 pounds) It’s in his blood. He is hard wired for fishing and like a bird dog that can’t quit hunting, Shane, more than often, seems lost on land, as his mind wanders to what he may be missing under the surface of the water. Shane means business and is most at home staring over the helm of the Wild Hooker and monitoring the lines she has out.
First Mate, Charlie Bowman, was born in Texas and grew up in Alabama. If Shane is bad cop, Charlie is good cop. With an Abercrombie model-like smile and the personality of a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, he lights up the deck (and the hearts of any nearby women) with his infectious positivity. Quick with a witty anecdote or affirming comment, he lightens the mood of the highly competitive boat.
Second Mate, Mark Schubert, was born in Kona, Hawaii, and is the grandson of a charter boat fisherman as well as the son of a mother who was a Captain on a fishing boat. Mark falls somewhere between Shane and Charlie. Quiet for the most part but quick to fix you a sandwich and make sure you always have a drink in your hand when on board. He is more eclectic than the others but a dedicated workhorse vital to the team. To put it simply, when the boat needs to be sailed to Cabo from Kona every year, across the Pacific (which is something no other sport fishing boat in the world considers), Mark is the first to volunteer for the 2,500-mile journey. All the other team members fly and meet Mark there. “I started working on boats when I was 11 and then full time at 18 after I graduated high school in 2006,” Shane says. “While crewing on another boat named the Foxy Lady, I met Allen. He wanted to fish the Bisbee’s, and that year, I left the boat I was on and joined him in Cabo.”
Then in 2010, Charlie joined the team. “At that time, if you added my age (19) and Shane’s (20) together, it was less than the youngest Captain that we knew of,” says Charlie.
Allen put his trust in the two youngsters, and his bet paid off. Today, Shane, 33, and Charlie, 32, are a rarity. “It is unheard of to have a crew stick together for as long as we have. People are always changing boats left and right,” says Shane. Talent aside, this dynamic duo’s loyalty to each other may be one of the secret ingredients to the team’s combined success.
Next came Mark. Mark (35) had a desire for adventure, and the water was calling his name. “We were all friends, and I came to Shane and Charlie and offered to work for free—I just wanted to fish,” Mark recalls.
“After a lot of begging,” Shane jokes and jabs at Mark, “we let him join our crew.” It was the right choice; Mark completed the crew and together with Allen, the Wild Hooker has become one of the most feared and famed boats in sport fishing.
But this highly competitive crew realizes that the world’s oceans are a blessing and must be conserved. “The ocean has given us so much. Most of the tournaments we compete in are kill tournaments, so we made the decision it was time to give back,” says Shane.
“We know so little about billfish,” says Allen. “I am extremely interested in their migratory patterns and what they do when we are not catching them. So, it was a natural choice to contact one of the most esteemed marine biologists in the world, Dr. Barbra Block and her team as well as make a sizable donation to her research program.”
Dr. Barbara A. Block holds the Charles and Elizabeth Prothro Professorship at Stanford University. Her research focuses on how large pelagic fish utilize the open ocean spanning from genomics to biologging. She and her team have pioneered the successful development and deployment of electronic tags on tunas, billfishes, and sharks. The combination of lab and field research has led to a rapid increase in the understanding of movement patterns, population structure, physiology, and behaviors of pelagic fish and sharks.
Dr. Block was Chief Scientist for the Tagging of Pacific Predators program (TOPP), organized under the Census of Marine Life. This international program succeeded in placing 4,000 electronic tags on 23 predators in the North Pacific to understand how pelagic animals use the North Pacific ecosystem. She is also the co-founder of the IGFA Great Marlin Race.
Block began her oceanographic career at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution with Dr. Francis Carey and earned a Ph.D. in 1986 at Duke University. She was an assistant professor at the University of Chicago and joined the Stanford faculty in 1994. Block has published 200 peer-reviewed papers and has received the National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award, a MacArthur Fellowship, a Pew Fellowship for Marine Conservation, the Rolex Award for Enterprise, and a Benchley Award for Ocean Science. Block founded the Tag-A-Giant (TAG) at The Ocean Foundation to elevate the science and conservation initiatives for bluefin tuna globally. She has also helped produce five films with Discovery, Disney, and National Geographic, and an award-winning film on white sharks in the Blue Serengeti. Her most recent accolade is her induction into the IGFA Hall of Fame in Springfield, Missouri, where she joined 131 other legendary anglers, scientists, conservationists, writers, and fishing industry stars, including Isaak Walton, Michael Lerner, Francesca LaMonte, Zane Grey, Mary Orvis Marbury, Ernest Hemingway, Ted Williams, Bill Dance, Mark Sosin, Lee and Joan Wulff, Flip Pallot, Alfred C. Glassell Jr., Kip Farrington, and Curt Gowdy, to name just a few.
Being on board with these two powerhouses (the Wild Hooker team and Dr. Block and her team) felt electric. Combined in the cockpit of the boat, a team notorious for their angling successes, and Stanford scientists who are at the apex of billfish and pelagic scientific research. It was an opportunity like no other to learn about the fish we were about to catch and tag. And in true Wild Hooker fashion, to take bets on whose swims the furthest before the satellite tags pop off and reach the surface—transmitting their recorded data to space and back to Stanford.
The tags, developed by Block, provide tracking details of where a fish will travel. They use built-in light sensors that derive geolocation estimates of latitude and longitude. This information gives insight into behaviors such as migration. In addition, the tags have depth and temperature sensors that reveal diving activities, habitat preferences, and other behavioral characteristics. They pop off and surface after about a year attached to the fish.
With lines in and four days of fishing ahead of us, we bonded over fish tales and Dr. Block’s immense knowledge of billfish. It was fascinating. What we didn’t know though, was how a group of salty professional anglers and two journalists, were going to mix with a highly accredited group of marine biologists led by one of the leading minds in the space. We quickly found out.
“Left long,” Shane yelled out from the flybridge refencing a line that was taken by a fish. We scrambled to the fighting chair, and with first time marlin angler and co-owner of Hook & Barrel Magazine, Natalie Radzwilla secured, she began reeling. Dragging line with plenty of aerobatics the fish gave her an exhausting fight. Thirty minutes later, the fish was tagged and released. It was the first of four blue marlins caught. But this fish was special.
It truly represented conservation: On one hand we had two groups, the Wild Hooker and Block’s team, hoping to catch marlin for science with decades of experience and on the other a young woman, who had the desire to catch her first marlin. A seed was planted in potentially the next generation of conservationist, while good was done for the current sportfishing and science community—as well as billfish.
At that moment I looked around: the Wild Hooker team was pumped we caught a fish, Block’s team was equally excited to deploy another satellite tag, and Natalie was overjoyed after reeling in her first marlin. High fives were flying, hugs were given, and photos were taken. It was a beautiful blending of the scientific community and the sportfishing community.
The story doesn’t end there though. With just months to go until our tags surface, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and check back for all the data collected from the fish we caught on this amazing trip. Oh, and find out who wins our bet with the Wild Hooker team on who’s fish swam the furthest after it was released. My bet is on Natalie’s. Time to pay up Shane!