Mike Sakamoto hooks a tucanare, a type of freshwater bass from South America, stocked for Lake Wilson's catch-and-release program. His fishing TV series has had a catch-and-release philosophy from its conception and he says it's rubbed off on kids who have written letters to him saying, in effect, "I caught a fish today but I let it go and I feel good about it." "Fishing Tales with Mike Sakamoto" has gone national on the digital cable Outdoor Channel.

Everybody likes Mike

Exotic locales and sunny seas
have hooked a wide fan base
for Sakamoto’s fishing stories on cable TV

By Shawn "Speedy" Lopes

Years ago, Mike Sakamoto began receiving fan mail on his Hawaii-based fishing program, "Fishing Tales with Mike Sakamoto," from snowed-in viewers in England, and he knew he had something special.

"(One viewer) told me it was raining sleet and freezing cold outside," recalls Sakamoto, who has produced the show for 15 years. "He was sitting on the couch with a dog in his lap to keep him warm. The weather was miserable all around him, and there we were on the TV, walking in the sand in our shorts and fishing around Midway and Bikini Atoll."

Exotic locales and insightful information on fishing tackle and techniques have made "Fishing Tales with Mike Sakamoto" both a local television staple and a favorite among fishermen in foreign markets like England and Japan, where the program has also aired.

"Fishing Tales" can now be viewed three times a week by a national audience on the Outdoor Channel, fulfilling a longtime dream for Sakamoto. The program began airing nationally on Tuesday.

He's already heard from ex-Hawaii residents across the nation saying they're glad they no longer have to wait for friends to send them tapes of the series.

As a grip and news cameraman at KOHA in Hilo in 1984, the lifelong fisherman met producer Arnold Douglas "A.D." Ackerman, who suggested they produce "Fishing Tales" when KOHA folded the following year.

"He called me up and said, 'Hey, you know, we should try and get together,'" recalls Sakamoto. "'You're a fisherman. You know cameras and video. Why don't we try and put together a fishing show?'" The pair quickly assembled three eight-minute vignettes to test-run on another Big Island station.

Encouraged by the results, they ventured to Honolulu to hand-deliver the finished product to Phil Arnone, former program director at KGMB. "We sat down and talked with him all of 15 minutes," he remembers. "It was a 'Don't call us, we'll call you' kind of thing. It just so happened he called back the next day and said, 'Why don't you come back to Honolulu, and we'll talk money.'"

Mike Sakamoto hooks a bluegill, a type of freshwater bass, stocked for Lake Wilson's catch-and-release program. The biggest fish he caught was a blue marlin weighing approximately 650 pounds. The marlin was released without being weighed.

Arnone initially requested five half-hour programs for KGMB's weekend slate. While the long-running and popular "Let's Go Fishing" with Harry Kojima and Stan Wright -- old colleagues of Sakamoto -- had already established itself on a rival station, Sakamoto says there was never any competition between the shows. "In fact, Stan helped us in the beginning. We're still really good friends. He's the only guest that's been on our show six times." There were also fundamental differences in the shows' formats, he adds. While "Let's Go Fishing" had secured a loyal local audience by giving its show a laid-back, homegrown feel, Sakamoto and Ackerman set their sights on national syndication from day one and followed a much different MO. "We created the show in such a way that each program, whether it was program No. 1 or No. 475, could air independently. Standards had to be extra-high."

As he explains, their format gave viewers a voyeur's look at one-of-a-kind fishing sessions from locations as far flung as Mexico, Canada, Bora Bora and Christmas Island, using remote microphones and an "invisible" cameraman who is never acknowledged. Guests are selected in part, on their candidness and ability to entertain. "Our target is to get people being spontaneous, being themselves," Sakamoto says. "That's the hardest part."

"Fishing Tales" now produces 26 shows a year, with each shoot planned three to four months in advance. The program pays for all of its expenses out of pocket. "We're subcontractors, so we assume all costs," he explains. "Because we do it that way, we also assume all production and direction concepts." As president, producer and executive producer, Sakamoto edits the program from his Hilo home and delivers a finished master to Ackerman in Kona, who in turn sends it to the appropriate stations.

After a successful run on KGMB, the show aired for a spell on KHON before landing on Oceanic Cable's OC 16 in 1997. In between, distributors in Japan and England came to agreements with Sakamoto and Ackerman over overseas syndication rights. Several years ago the Outdoor Channel approached Sakamoto and Ackerman with an offer to air the program on its network, but an exclusivity contract with OC 16 precluded such an arrangement. "They waited five years," says Sakamoto, who resumed talks with the network this summer when it appeared "Fishing Tales" would no longer air on OC 16. "They were still interested and said, 'If you want to do it, let's start moving ahead.'"

An archive of 478 programs made "Fishing Tales" an attractive option for the Outdoor Channel, which reaches 65.7 million viewers. However, a greater viewership means greater responsibility, attests Sakamoto. Whereas "Fishing Tales" once relied on local sponsorships to generate revenue, he says it must now attract national advertisers to stay afloat. "In this kind of business, (stations) don't pay you, you pay them. That's really tough. If you don't like rejection, don't get into TV sales. National sales is, in my opinion, even worse." He then lets escape a soft chuckle. "So be careful what you wish for."

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