It was low tide on the magnificent south western coast of Australia. Jagged reefs and pristine rock pools were exposed for up to 100m from the shoreline and as far as the eye could see in each direction, terminating at a rugged headland at either end. The sea beyond the reef lapped gently at its edges with an effervescent sparkle from the morning sun rising and fading with the waves.
It was still early, not even 7am and I was alone in this glorious setting. All the holidaymakers were apparently still in bed after what was probably a heavy night of festivities for most; Australia Day. Its hard to explain just how happy this precise assemblage of circumstances makes me feel. I think the expression, "Not a worry in the world" goes someway to describing it.
Within an hour I had already landed an array of reef species varying in size, but only one, a western blue groper was worth taking home. I usually keep my catch live in a soft mesh drawstring bag which I submerge in a nearby rock pool.
As I was tying my bag to the side I glanced down through the crystal clear water and was stunned to find a single eye staring right back at me through a crevice in the reef! It was an octopus, and although I had no idea how big it was, his fate was already sealed . "I'm sorry mate, but you're coming home with me" I said sympathetically. And so a challenge had been laid down.
I'd never touched an octopus before though I had seen it done by others while snorkelling.
Based on what unfolded, here is my technique for dispatching an octopus:
1. Octopus have a single beak located on the underside of their body at the centre where all the tentacles join. Use one hand to disturb it until you can identify which part is the head. This may take few attempts. Once you recognise it, do not delay: grab the octopus firmly by the head with your other hand toward the base where the tentacles start so as to avoid being bitten.
2. Each of the many suckers on each tentacle has a firm and powerful grip; as you pry the octopus from the reef use your free hand to prevent the tentacles from re-finding places to grip onto, except your arm. Having 3- 5 tentacles clinging hard to your arm is an extraordinary feeling but at least you know those tentacles aren't entwined elsewhere.
3. With your first hand still firm on his head and as soon as possible, lift the arm away from the reef holding the writhing creature aloft and reach for your fishing knife. The next step was very difficult as I was trying to remember what I once saw in a documentary, while doing my best to use an extremely sharp knife with my left hand.
4. Here's the goal: Slice through the head about 3/4 of the way through, perpendicular to the body and just below your hand. As soon as this is done, discard the knife and turn the head inside out like a sock. The octupus will continue to writhe for about 3-4 more seconds after which it is dead.
I never did reach step 4 quite as I had planned. With the creature writhing around in my right hand, I actually manage to stuff it into my bucket. Quite terrifyingly, it then attempted an escape over not one, not two, but it seemed, every side of the bucket simultaneously.
Where once a tentacle was soft, it would suddently become firm. A firm tentacle on which my fingers had a hold would suddenly vanish and slip through. Multiply this by eight and you have a challenge on your hands!
I again grabbed it by the head and this time, taking my knife managed to make the required cut to dispatch it almost instantaneously. I did it, I landed myself an octopus.
Triumpantly I marched back across the reef, up the cliffs and 45 minutes back to my truck. Half an hour later and one of the most dramatic episodes of "show and tell" you've ever seen took to the stage.
Before you do anything the octopus must be cleaned and tenderised. Traditionally, Greek fisherman would take their eight legged catch and first rub it on the boulders that lined the shore before repeatedly hurling the creature against the hull of their vessel to tenderise it. After this it would be pegged onto a rope to dry in the sun for several days before being pickled or grilled.
Our method was a little less flamboyant but equally as effective. Read about How to Tenderise and Octopus here.