This story featured in the 2013 Buyer’s Guide issue.
Man: Andy Cho
Mission: Land the biggest fish ever caught from a kayak, and feed his family
By Paul Lebowitz
Andy Cho is the four-time defending champion of the grueling Aquahunters Makahiki Pro kayak fishing tournament. The goal of this eight-month-long Hawaiian marathon is to beat the largest of blue water bruisers from the smallest of human-powered craft, and do it consistently, trip after trip, landing big, powerful fish—ripping tuna, razor-beaked ono, and menacing billfish. Cho's sterling chronicle of catches includes a 226-pound blue marlin, the reigning unofficial world record for heaviest certified kayak-caught fish.
To Cho, the combination of small boat, big fish and bigger ocean comes naturally. It's a way of life for the Big Island local; it's his heritage. "The Polynesians, that's how they came over. Everyone here grows up surfing. You're always in the water, always around fishing. People been doing it forever," he says.
The ride: Hawaii's tumultuous ocean demands a speedy yet stable sit-on-top fishing kayak. Cho's choice is the Ocean Kayak Trident 15. "It can make it back home when it gets choppy," he says of the capable offshore cruiser. The Trident is built around the Rod Pod, a large easy-access cockpit hatch. "Most of the anglers I talk to like kayaks with internal storage. I can put a 50-pound tuna in there no problem." Cho fishes with live bait he catches himself: "Dragging around a dead one, you never get bit," he says. Making bait is a lot easier with a fishfinder. Cho uses a Humminbird 788ci. "I like that my boat has a built-in spot for it."
The Paddle: During Makahiki season, Cho is on the water at dawn four to five times a week. The long days require a rugged, efficient touring paddle that can stand up to heavy use. "My Carlisle Expedition Angler is lightweight, super strong, fiberglass. When I'm paddling good, I can reach some of my deep water spots in 10 to 15 minutes," he says.
Tackle and Special Equipment: "For big fish, it's all about the right tackle. If you're not geared up, you're going to have trouble, especially with tuna if they go deep," Cho says. He relies on Okuma Cedros 15s lever-drag saltwater reels. "They generate good torque, hold a lot of line and have good cranking power." Cho mounts his reels on stout 5-foot, 6-inch rods rated for 50- to 100-pound line. "When I start to boost on 'em, I can turn a head pretty quickly. When I got the 103-pound ahi in July, it took 20 minutes." Safely and quickly landing heavy, muscular fish in the cramped confines of a kayak is a specialized skill. Cho uses a kage, a handcrafted straight-bladed spear—"Like a harpoon almost"—as well as a gaff, and takes pride in preserving his catch in prime condition. "I sell a lot of my fish to local restaurants. I like to keep it the best." Plenty goes home, too. "My family loves fish."