For most anglers, getting a catch in the boat marks the end of the battle. For Hawaiian fisherman Michael Matsunaga, who reeled in a 25.95-pound state-record octopus on Oahu’s north shore in late August, it was just the beginning.
Unconventional Rig Leads to Unconventional Catch
Matsunaga was chasing pink snapper in 400 feet of water, using a bottom-fishing rig that employs a chum bag and four hooks. A heavy lead weight is wrapped with a plastic bag that holds chopped squid and baitfish, and two hooks are arrayed inside the bag. The remaining two hooks are deployed on the main line outside the bag. The hooks are baited with chunks of squid or fish, and as the rig is lowered to the bottom, water pressure keeps the chum from spilling out. Once the desired depth is reached, the angler jerks the line several feet upward and then lowers it again, opening the bag. The idea is to deliver the chum intact to the bottom, where it can be released in close proximity to the target species.
Matsunaga, 69, says the rig is highly effective on snapper, sometimes producing multiple fish in a single drop. “If you’re in the right spot, and they are hungry, you can get four to bite at once,” he says. “You can feel there’s one, then two, then three. You can leave it a little longer [to catch a fourth fish], but not too long, because the sharks can come and take all your fish.”
Turtle Bay Record Breaker
On Aug. 30 Matsunaga was fishing near Turtle Bay and had made two drops in about 15 minutes, catching a pink snapper each time. What he felt on his third drop was something else entirely.
“Not really fighting, just heavy. I figured it was either a moray eel or an octopus. It was heavier this time, and coming up kind of slow,” says Matsunaga, who uses a Shimano electric reel. “When it came to the surface, I was really surprised. It was a big octopus.”
The Wahiawa resident has been fishing Hawaiian waters since the 1970s, venturing out two or three times a week, if the weather is good, in a boat he built himself. He has set multiple state records. While some have been broken, three still stand: Soldierfish (yellowfin), caught in 2012; red snapper, 2005; and many-whiskered brotulid, 2001.
Battle Above Decks
But none of those experiences prepares an angler for wrangling a creature with eight 5-foot-long legs into a net, then into a boat, and, finally, into a cooler.
“It’s not like when we go diving and spear them in the head,” Matsunaga says of the octopus, which many Hawaiians refer to by its Japanese name: tako. “He was really strong yet. He wanted to get out. I tried to put him in the cooler and the legs were all coming out, sucking everything. I peel one leg off and two more come out. It was crazy. I was panicking. I sat on the lid and shoved the legs in, but he kind of lifted me up. Finally I got all the legs in, and I sat on the cooler for a while. Then I tied the lid down with rope.”
He kept a wary eye on the cooler as he continued to fish, but the uniqueness of the catch was too much. Eager to show the octopus to his grandson, Ryden Matsunaga, he motored back to shore. The massive beast caused quite a stir when he stopped by Hana Pa’a Fishing Company to weigh it on a certified scale. Their Facebook post went viral, and greetings rolled in from around the islands and around world congratulating Matsunaga on his big Tako Tuesday.
“Every so often if I catch something big, unusual, I just put it in for the record,” Matsunaga says. “That’s all I wanted. But then the people at Hana Pa’a made a video. If it wasn’t for them, nobody would’ve seen it. But it’s nice that everybody got to see it, because it’s kind of unusual.”
New State Record Octopus
At 25.95 pounds, the octopus blows away the previous record of 19.01 pounds, a mark set in 2000 by none other than Michael’s brother, Stewart Matsunaga. “Twenty-two years ago, that’s how my brother caught his record octopus,” he says. “With the same kind of rig I was using.”
Matsunaga submitted his state-record application and supporting materials to Hawaii Fishing News, which maintains the state’s fishing records. He doesn’t know what Stewart would think of him breaking his tako record—they haven’t spoken for some time—but he considers himself fortunate. “Just lucky,” he says. “I was delighted. Really excited. I mean, if you see that thing in the water, you know, that’s something else.”
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