The search for tako
Landing an octopus and how to find them (graphic illustration)
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
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Fishermen who hunt for octopus, or tako, in Hawaiian waters certainly do. But that's because they know how difficult it can be just to find the eight-legged creatures, much less catch one.
"It's not something you can learn in a couple of days," said Lionel Keahi, who has been fishing for octopi off O'ahu for nearly 40 years. "It takes a lot of practice and experience. Sometimes, when you go for fish, the fish find you. If you're going for tako, you have to go find the tako."
By most accounts, finding an octopus is not an easy task.
For starters, they have a chameleon-like ability to change colors and blend into their environment. What's more, most octopi dwell in caves or holes within the reefs. And because an octopus does not have a skeleton, it can crawl into some very small caves and holes.
The "tako season" in Hawai'i is generally considered to run from October through December, although Keahi said: "There's a lot of 'em out there pretty much year round. You just have to find 'em. I think that's why a lot of people like to go for tako. It's a real challenge."
Most local fishermen hunt for octopi as divers equipped with spears. Others use trolling methods dropping a baited line into deep waters to lure an octopus out of the reef though that is considered more difficult because of the inability to see the octopus from above the ocean surface.
"You have to train yourself to look for certain clues," said veteran spearfisherman Henry Ayau. "Sometimes you can see the eye blinking through a hole in the reef. Or if you look closely, you can see sand particles moving around near a cave ... that's the (octopus) breathing."
Of course, locating the octopus is only half the battle. Because the octopi are slithery and elusive, spearing one can be a trick in itself.
"I kind of stick my spear under it and tickle it so that it comes out of the hole," Ayau said. "You just have to be patient."
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"It's fun once you learn how to do it," Keahi said. "But when you're learning, it can be frustrating."
It can also be dangerous. All octopi can wrap around objects with a vice-like grip because of the suction cups on their tentacles. In the larger species (most octopi in Hawaiian waters range in size from 1 to around 15 pounds), the tentacles can be lethal.
"They can choke you if they get around your neck," Keahi said. "They're so powerful, they could probably break your arm if they squeeze hard enough."
Added Ayau: "The big ones really should be left to the experts. I've heard stories of guys almost drowning because the (octopus) grabs their mask or grabs a hold of their leg and tries to pull them back down."
Diving for octopi can be dangerous for other reasons as well. Most divers fasten their catch to a tag line that drags behind them. An octopus apparently leaves a scent that attracts larger prey.
"One time I felt a tugging on the line, and I looked back and there was a big hammerhead shark eating the (octopi)," Ayau said.
Because of that apparent attraction, many fishermen like to hunt for small octopus in shallow reefs and then use it as bait later for bigger fish.
However, most fishermen like to eat the octopi themselves.
"There's so many different ways to eat it poke, dried, smoked, squid luau," Keahi said. "It's like a delicacy."