Mike Sakamoto: More Than Just A Fisherman

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - September 30, 2009
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Mike Sakamoto with a peacock bass at Lake Wilson

Mike Sakamoto would have wondered, “What’s all the fuss about?”

And local fishermen and women would have answered, “You!”

More than 160 people recently participated in the inaugural Mike Sakamoto Memorial Scholarship Fishing Tournament. The three-day shoreline tournament was organized by the Pacific Island Fisheries Group to help raise funds and award selected students $10,000 in scholarship funds.

“I think he would have been very proud. It would have been great for him, but he would have been probably a little amused too because he never saw himself as a celebrity,” giggles his daughter Stefanie Sakamoto. “I think a part of him would be like, ‘Wow what’s all the fuss about?’”

Dozens gathered at Pier 38 Domestic Fishing Village for the tournament weigh-in. Stefanie says the competition was exciting and adds with a laugh, “Seems like everyone had a lot of fun, even though some people didn’t catch.”


 

Sakamoto’s long-time friend, entertainer Audy Kimura, hosted the event.

“Almost everybody there knew Mike personally,” says Kimura. “The tournament was done on volunteer labor and on short notice. You could feel the spirit of the event.”

For many years, Sakamoto and his warm smile greeted viewers during his weekly fishing show. Sakamoto was the host and producer of the popular Fishing Tales television program.

In January, Sakamoto died from complications of Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“It was far too soon,” says Kimura.

Kimura remembers a powerful conversation he had with Sakamoto just a month before he was diagnosed.

“He said, ‘I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my whole life,’” recalls Kimura. “He said, ‘My wife is my best friend, I have two great kids and I love my grandchildren. I have everything I ever wanted in life right now.’”

Kimura says Stefanie once told him, “I wish my dad could have had that longer.”

“But I’m glad that he found that when he did, because many people never get a chance to say that in their entire lives.”

Most island residents knew Sakamoto as “the fishing guy” on television. But Sakamoto was much more than a local celebrity.

And believe it or not, fishing wasn’t his first love.

“It was probably his painting and his art work,” says Kimura. “He told me the fishing show was really hard work, and selling ad time took him away from his family, which was a real strain and conflict on him personally.”


Sakamoto often told his friend he wished he could spend more time with his family and more time painting. But the demands of being on the road producing a weekly television show and selling commercials kept him away from the things he loved most. Later in life, he was able to do that and so much more.

“We think of him as a fisherman, but he was far more than that,” says Kimura. “He was an author and a teacher. He taught art and an adult education class on fishing.”

Sakamoto also dedicated much of his time to the protection of fishing traditions and rights, and was one of the first to stress “catch-and-release” as a viable option. Since then it has become an everyday practice for many.

So what’s all the fuss about? Mike Sakamoto earned the attention.

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