Friday, June 29, 2012

Fishing In The Land Of The Rising Sun

                The sounds of Japan's JR East Sobu line rumbling by, and the digitized screams of the near by arcade hardly seem the beginnings of an outdoor adventure of any type. On a recent trip to the Tokyo area it's exactly how a trout fishing venture started. In Japan to take care of a little business I decide after many trips to the country that is was time to get a little outdoors time. I'd gotten a taste of Japan's countryside many years ago when I'd made frequent trips to Nagano prefecture's Matsumoto city, but most of these trips mearly involved driving country roads, and snapping pics of scenic views, save a short hike into an onsen nessecitated by a recent snow closing the main road. A hunter first and foremost I erased any ideas of doing any type of hunting based on the strict gun, and hunting laws, and the fact that I was visiting in May. I'd thought of maybe trying to meet up with an area field trial club, but they dont exactly advertise in mainstream cirlces, making them hard to find. This made fishing the next logical choice. And so it was to be. That said, I now know I've got a lot more research, a lot more travel, and a lot more fishing to do to fully experience fishing in Japan.

                My fishing guide would be my good friend Hiroaki whom I met some years ago when he was living, and studying in Boston. Hiroaki and I frequently fished the trout streams of western and central Massachusetts to various effect. While Tenkara might be the newest fishing craze to captivate the American angler, 15 years ago Hiroaki used this technique with a devastating effect on the local trout population. While I would cast with relative ease on streams allowing a modicum of space, Hiroaki excelled on streams where I was restricted to roll casts, and picking spots selectively.

                Unfortunately, and unfortunate in so many ways, the earthquake, tsunami, and ensuing radiation emergency that devastated much of north eastern Japan has also effected Hiroaki's sporting, and his family's livelihood. A year ago we would have made the drive to Fukushima to fish a now off limits trout stream that ran directly through his brother's dairy farm. The farm is now destroyed in so many ways, as is the stream, the cows all having been destroyed later. A last act of kindness one could reason. I'd rather have happy cows watching me drift flies, but I didn't have a say in the matter. This series of events meant we'd have to fish elsewhere, and appropriately Hiroaki chose a local trout stream in the Tokyo area where he'd sneak off to when he was in high school  Once again we would meet in the city at on ungodly hour of the morning, drive out to a stream, fish all day, and return exhausted. What more could I ask for?

                I arrived in Tokyo  a few days before Hiroaki had a free day, so I decided to investigate a few fishing shops, and any outfitter I could find. I was quick to find that fishing equipment is in no short supply in the Tokyo area. Within ten minutes walking distance from where I was staying in Ichikawa city's Motoyawata neighborhood I found two vastly different, yet well stocked fishing shops. The first I visited was Tackle Berrys, a used fishing equipment shop. The shop carried a small supply of just about everything, from every style of fishing with just a bit more of an emphasis on salt water fishing. Organized by type of tackle, rods and reels of various quality were displayed. As would be expected the shop also had a bargain bin, and the ever entertaining bragging wall. I doubt Tackle Berrys will ever be a shop I frequent, but for a neophyte looking to get started on a budget, this is the place.

                Next I stumbled upon Fly Shop Rocks. Rocks is a small, but obviously serious fly fishing shop. The shop held the usual name brands, plus a selection of home grown gear. Rods, reels, line, tippet, flies, and fly tying materials were all on hand as well as the various accessories that make a day on the water less painful. Rocks also boasted a small selection of fishing fashion, as it wouldn't be right to be seen on the river without the proper herringbone cap. The owner, whose name I foolishly neglected to take note of, was quite cheery, and seemed to genuinely enjoy talking with me about my upcoming fishing trip. Rocks is a shop I will be sure to visit in the future.

                When it comes to fishing in Japan, San Sui is a Tokyo institution. If you've ever been to a serious fishing outfitter anywhere in the states or Canada then you've been to San Sui. So impressive is this shop that I have to admit I felt a little intimidated just browsing its 4 floors of top quality merchandise. But adding to the intimidation factor is the fact that San Sui has not one location, but three all in 200 meter radius, each dedicated to a different type of fishing. The first, and biggest location is dedicated to the freshwater fishing traditions of Japan. This is where one will find a Tenkara rod, as well as various floats and specialty lures. Leave the store, and walk up the street to the left, and you'll find their next location within 50 meters. This location is where they sell their traditional saltwater gear, and boat fishing gear. It was here that I saw the most unique, and beautiful fishing reel ever. Looking like a fly reel, but made of grainy, dark wood, these  reels are used with a regular monofilament line. While I didn't engage in lenghtly discussion about these reels, I did discover that though they would undoubtably look fantastic on a split cane flyrod, their lack of any drag mechanism makes them impractical. Like Rocks, San Sui's third location was cut from the same cloth as our homegrown shops. This locale was where San Sui sold their flyfishing and bass fishing gear. The two story shop was as equipped and comfortable as nay shop geared towards the serious angler. Here, too, was a bragging board with pictures of customers with a variety of huge fish. The pictures over flowed the bragging board and were tacked up in a trail stretching around the store. Surprisingly, most of the photos were of big fish caught in Japan. The employees here were younger than their counterparts in the other location, yet we're enthusiastic about fishing, and I enjoyed talking shop with them.

                 The fact that Hiroaki and I were going to be fishing an area he hadn't fished for many years, and me not having a fishing license led to the decision to fish at a tsuri bori. Not having a fishing license  doesn't disallow one from fishing, but does limit where you can fish, so it would have to be a tsuri bori, or one of a few select ponds.  What is a tsuri bori you ask. I actually wondered the same thing. I knew it was someplaced with stocked fish, and I had an image of a large pool with multiple docks extending out from which people chucked bait. It is, however, nothing more than a privately held section of river which is stocked with fish. One pays a daily fee to fish, and goes to it. Fishing a tsuri bori is not a quiet affair. Tsuri bori are good healthy family entertainment, and offer a variety of Streamside amenities. The one we fished had a section of the river where canopies were set up to provide a bit of shelter, seating and campfire pits. Families picnicked beside fires while their children fished. Being a stocked river several time during my day there I observed buckets of rainbow trout being dumped into the river, spurring a renewed interest in many of the children who'd grown bored.  I had to wonder how many times a trout would go from a bucket, to the river, then directly to the grill. The river itself was stunningly beautiful with small deep pools interspersed among the many boulder strewn rapid sections. Steep cliff like hills, with tall slender pines and rocky outcrops lined the banks of the narrow river, and upstream a waterfall filled a prehistoric cliff lined pool forcing the water around in a circular motion before draining into the river.

                Despite not having been Streamside with Hiroaki for about five years, the inevitable pattern of success still held true. Hiroaki excelled at fishing rivers such as this where the fish would be caught right under your nose, while I preferred casting to their distant hides. This river had no such distant hides, many sections barely wider than the length of (a good long) fishing rod. Like always we quickly slipped into serious mode and got to it, cruising the banks, and casting or dabbing promising looking spots. Not knowing what to use I cast a variety of small Mepps spinners about while Hiroaki alternated between his spinner, and Tenkara rod. Before too long success was to be had by Hiroaki, a wild Iwashi, native to Japan and not a stocked fish was brought to hand. His luck did not stop there. While I experimented with color changes, and streamer fly droppers Hiroaki continued to fill the fish cooler with two wild Yamame, brook trout like fish also native to Japan. Like many anglers, I enjoy all the time I spend on the river, and despite not catching any fish this day was no different. The anticipation of what the next pool held, or the results a different color spinner would achieve was exciting and enjoyable in itself. While I brought nothing to hand I felt comfortable knowing that I was slowly learning the language of the Japanese trout, twice having been hit and shaken off.

                I've always believed that things go smooth if one adheres to the principles of the six P's; Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. I dropped the ball somewhat in this respect, as I threw the fishing segment of this trip together rather haphazardly. My first mistake was bringing new equipment I was unfamiliar with along on the trip. I ran into a few snags, and knots while getting used to the new light weight travel set up. I also forgot my Furidashizou, which is a collapsible/extendable Tenkara rod. When collapsed it fits easily into most luggage. The river we fished begged to be probed in the tenkara fashion. While I'm on the subject of tenkara, which is quickly making its way into the American anglers vocabulary, I can't help but note that Tenkara is quite a standard method of fishing in Japan. While the angler stateside has adjusted the rod, and some of the method to better facilitate the use of a fly, in Japan it is usually used to dab some type of bait, rigged with a float or some type of strike indicator. The license issue too, was a bit of a problem, mostly because Hiroaki just couldn't figure out a licensing station that would be open on a Sunday. Though having a license would have been nice, it wasn't nearly the problem it would have been stateside, as Hiroaki explained that a license isn't necessary on some bodies of water. Without a license we could still legally fish a number of places. Having one would have widened our choice of destinations. While packing excessive amounts of fishing gear for a flight around the globe can be problematic, no doubt I will sacrifice some convenience, and a bit of cash to see to it that a pair of waders and a flyrod make the trip, as well as my Furidashizou.

                While I would have liked to have landed my first Japanese fish, I've no hesitation saying that my first fishing adventure in Japan was enjoyable, and successful. A day on the river with a good friend, beautiful scenery, the sights and sounds of a beautiful river are all things one should enjoy, as well as the efforts put forth to catch some fish. I'd do it all over again. In fact I will. I know now that I'll need to be a bit more prepared, and having gotten a taste, I know it can only get more exciting and enjoyable.

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