As all flyfisherman know, a vacation has to include flyfishing. The question had to be answered, could I flyfish in Japan? Japan is not featured as one of the exotic flyfishing destinations featured in the magazines and flyshops, so information on Japan flyfishing was not readily accessible available. The obvious place to look for me was the Internet. As a regular user of the Internet both professionally and recreationally, the question of flyfishing in Japan was just the type of information that could be found on the Internet. My Internet search soon became more than just information collection as I made email contact with fellow flyfishers in Japan. Soon after, I had received a personal invitation for flyfishing near Tokyo with members of a local online flyfishing forum. The fishing experience itself was fantastic and the Internet connection made the trip very unique. I will share my experience searching the Internet.
The Internet has many different paths that can be searched to get information. At first, I posted a message in a listserver called Flyfish Digest. A listserver allows you to post email messages to everyone in a list of subscribers who share a common interest like flyfishing. People can then reply to a message directly to the posters email address or more commonly to all the subscribers so everyone can follow the discussion and chime in if wanted. I had been tuned in to the Flyfish Digest for 8 months or so and found it to be a great discussion group to pose and get answered questions about flyfishing locations, equipment, techniques, etc. I did receive several replys on my question about flyfishing in Japan. I received a couple indirect responses about fishing in Taiwan and an American tourist in Japan. From these messages, I was not too optimistic about fishing in Japan due to the comments about the overcrowded and polluted rivers in the Far East.
Another source for information on the Internet are the newsgroups which have much higher readership and international distribution. I posted requests for information to several usenet newsgroups that were selected out of the thousands available.to have a discussion topic associated with fishing or Japan. The names of the groups I posted to were rec.outdoors.fishing.fly, alt.fishing, soc.japan, and rec.backcountry. Replies to my post came back in several of the groups, but mainly rec.outdoors.fishing.fly. One good example, was a reply from a fisherperson in Oregan. He replied and talked about beadhead-type flies found in a 40 year old book found in the library about Japanese fishing. It was interesting in that beadheads are very popular now here in the states.
Within a week of my posts to the Usenet group, rec.outdoors.fishing. fly, I received an email sent from Nagano, Japan sent by a fisherman named Tac. Tac, who like many Japanese speaks English, reads the Internet regularly and saw my post. He explained many things about fishing in Japan and specifically trout fishing. Tac was also part of a local online forum of Japanese flyfishers in the Nagano area. Many Japanese own personal computers and those users form online groups. After exchanging several emails with Tac, I started getting very excited about the possibility of going to fish in Japan. Tac forwarded my request for information on flyfishing to a friend that was in an online group centered in Tokyo. Shortly, I received another overseas email from Sigge, a member of an online flyfishing group in Tokyo. He said that there is a growing number of flyfishers in Japan who fish in the Western tradition. In addition, he explained that a very old form of flyfishing native to Japan called Tenkara was being used today by recreational anglers. Sigge graciously invited me to join a group of online fisherman for a day of fishing while in Japan. I could not have asked for a better opportunity, a personal guide by a fellow flyfisher in his favorite waters. Plans for the trip were discussed with Sigge for flyfishing the Yozawa River near Tokyo. We exchanged email everyday for a week which dealt with what equipment to bring, flies to bring, the poisonous snakes found near the water, and information about ourselves. By the time I left for Japan, I felt Sigge was a good friend. Additional messages were exchanged with another Japanese flyfisher, nicknamed Walt, who fished Western style and Tenkara.
The process was made possible by Sigge's and Walt's ability to understand English. They had no problems understanding my writing and could write well in English. Sigge worked very hard to organize the day of fishing. He even had flytyers in his online group tie Japanese style flies that he presented me when we met. I am now working hard to tie flies in exchange for my friends in Japan. The welcome mat has been extended to my Japanese flyfishers to visit California and fish our blueribbon trout streams. The Japanese are wonderful hosts in all matters with flyfishing no exception.
As this story displays, the Internet can serve to bring people with common interests together all around the world. This is the great promise of the Internet. I have made friendships halfway around the world that would not have happened without the Internet in place. The experience has enriched my life. Now what keeps the promise of the Internet alive is contributing back to the endeavor which is why I am sharing my experiences with others. And besides it is fun to talk about!
Details of flyfishing the Yozawa river in Japan will be chronicled in my next post. Chapter two will include what Japanese flyfisherman have in common with Western flyfishing, what is uncommon, the type of fish, the catch and release ethic, and the terrain.
August 15, 1994
The following is a story of my flyfishing experience in Japan with friends met over the Internet. The first of two chapters describes how contact was made with fellow flyfishers in Japan using the Internet and has been posted earlier in rec.outdoors.fishing.fly and the Flyfish Digest listserver. The second chapter below will be a trip summary describing flyfishing the Yozawa River with four Japanese flyfisherman.
The Yozawa River is a small stream that one could cast across at its widest point. The Yozawa is a small tributary of the Aki Gawa river which ends up in the Tama Gawa that flows into the ocean in the sourthern part of Tokyo Bay. It consists of shallow riffles and pocket water with an occasional 5 foot deep pool. One never leaves humanity, buildings are loosely scattered along the 3 mile stream. The rural nature of the area was reflected in the low car traffic along the road, the well-aged lumber mill, and the small farms along the river. While the river could not be considered a wilderness setting, humanity did not make its presence intrusive. One might find this setting in the US while fishing through a rural farm community. Unique to the Yozawa landscape were the intricate stone walls along the river that prevent erosion in the torrential downpours. The well-worn walls conjure up images of a long ago Shogun's fortress. In contrast, the rivers in the Western US are wild, untamed, and expansive. One usually climbs over a barbed wire fence and crashes through streamsideb vegetation, not a down a stone wall when decending into a stream.
The Yozawa Flyfishing Center is managed by a foundation started by an American lawyer just after World War II. The river was used by US armed forces stationed in Japan. The Western influenze is quickly recognized in the log structure that houses the registration office. The lodge would fit just fine on the banks of a river in Montana except for the green tea service on the wooden tables. Yozawa Center is distinguished as the first flyfishing only river in Japan. The foundation purchases the right to manage the river from the fishermans union. Most streams in Japan require a typical 1000 yen fee be paid to the rivers fishermans union. A fee is charged to fish the river to pay for the planting of fish and upkeep. The cost is 4000 Yen, about $40 US for one day of fishing at Yozawa Flyfishing Center. Their is no limit on the number of rods allowed. Sigge informed me that on the weekends their can be 100 fisherman. I was very glad we fished on a Wednesday when their were 15 or so fisherman on the water.
The most common trout planted are rainbows with brown and brook more rare. In the deeper pools, large selective rainbows can be seen in the 18+ inch range. In addition, Japanese native trouts are planted in the river. The yamame is a native land-locked salmon along with the iwana, a char. I don't understand the details of the yamame in terms of species, maybe someone can respond with that information. The Japanese trouts are native to fast mountain streams and are found in the fast runs or channels of the Yozawa. A typical yamame is 6-8 inches. A trophy yamame is over 12 inches. My particular goal was to catch a Japanese native trout. I was warned that the spooky yamame may require selective techniques and flies smaller than #18.
At Yozawa, one can keep ten fish, a number double the present California limit. In Japan, the keeping and eating of fish is an integral part of the fishing experience. Japanese fisherman are showcased in the fishing magazines catching the fish, relaxing in a natural hot spring, and then enjoying an intricate feast of their catch and other delicacies. The Japanese adore fish and are extremely particular about freshness. Couple the Japanese fondness for freshly caught trout with the non-trivial fees charged fisherman, the taking of fish is easy to understand at the logical level regardless of any cultural reasons. I tried to explain catch and release to my host Japanese family and they found the idea of putting back the fish somewhat strange. In all fairness, many Americans consider catch and release strange. I was told jokingly by my host family, that if I did not bring back fish, then I would go hungry! Being that they had been feeding me and my family fresh fishcake, sashimi, and other wonderful food as their guest for a week, I felt that I must bring home a meal to share. In fact, my fellow flyfishers gave me their fish after hearing about my plight! They would have released their fish in general. As Walt-san(Hiroshi) told me, the catch and release ethic is being practiced in Japan. The reasons are the same as in the US, fishing pressure in excess of the resources.
The five of us met near 7 am. Sigge presented me with an written agenda for the day starting with an opening ceremony, fishing, lunch, more fishing, and then a closing ceremony. The agenda had a list of the names of the fishers and their email addresses. A group picture was taken along with a quick cup of coffee. The standard outfit among my hosts were 4 weight systems and 6X tippets. Sigge loaned me an extra 4 weight rod while I was there and I brought my vest loaded with tackle. Me and Sigge had exchanged email on a daily basis before I left, informing me the fishing situation, tackle to bring, etc. The only aspect of fishing in Japan that I was concerned about was the presence of poisenous water snakes. It was suggested that I wear neoprene waders, or hippers to protect against a possible bite. When I told Sigge that I did not have a pair and fished in shorts most of the time, he said that he had not heard of anyone ever getting bitten. I decided to go with the wading shoes and shorts and take my chances. I did see one small snake while fishing and avoided it and was generally more careful of my footing through the streamside vegetation. In the Western US, the presence of rattlesnakes is a danger, but it is on the hiking down to the river not near the water that is a concern.
We began with nymphs as their was little surface activity. Several of my Japanese friends took some 10 inch rainbows on nymphs common used in the US like a hares ear. The use of an indicator was common for nymphing. We fished for an hour or two, working our way up the river, each of us using a variety of flies. My first fish caught at Yozawa was a 10 inch rainbow on a #8 Muddler. I was very happy to catch a fish. That first fish caught means you don't get skunked! We fished in close proximity, when someone caught a fish, a whistle was blown and everyone came to look and take pictures. We all wanted to compare notes on what was working. Walt showed me the water that the yamame liked since he knew that was my goal. I was surprised by the swiftness of the runs that the yamame was found in most of the time. The water was so swift, that only highly bouyant dries like Humpy's and elk hair caddis would stay afloat. By lunchtime we had all caught at least one fish. The yamame was keeping to itself that morning. Sigge-san said I had to learn Japanese to talk to the Japanese trout. Since we all knew English, the rainbow was talking to us that morning.
Right before lunch, Walt showed me Tenkara, a traditional Japanese fly fishing method. It uses a 12 foot telescoping rod which is very light. A leader is attached to the end and extends several feet longer in length than the rod. A tippet is then attached of the desired length. Short, delicate forward casts form a forward loop to present the fly. Walt was able to place the fly highly accurately. The traditional fly is fished wet and stays in the water only a second or so and then recast to a different location with one motion. The technique definitely has the fly in the water more than flycasting as we practice here, what I call Western flyfishing. The limitation to Tenkara is distance casting. The Yozawa being a small stream and easily reached with short casts is ideal for Tenkara as seen by Walt catching more fish than the four of us fishing in the western style that morning.
The traditional Tenkara flies are wet flies with hackles that are swept forward over the eye and completely circle the fly. I have never seen anything like that in the US. The closest is the soft hackle flies, which are swept back toward the tail. Tenkara and soft hackles share a simple thread body and the use of partidge or wood duck hackle material. Midori, a flytyer in the same online fishing group, tied several Tenkara flies for me which I will try here in the states soon. The Tenkara flies are also finished with a small red threadhead while the bodies are more subdued colors. Since the Tenkara flies are only left in the water for a second, the fly is mainly an attractor pattern. This makes sense in regard to the fastwater environment native trouts frequent. I was also fortunate that four other flytyers, Tambori, Tani, and Pressure Hull(nicknames) presented me Japanese flies which I greatly appreciate. They are traditional dries consisting of thread or floss bodies and hackle. Varied colors used were red, green, white, and black for the bodies. I believe these flies are particular to Japan in terms of style. More naturalistic flies were actually fished by my friends at Yozawa, such as PT nymphs, caddis emerger, hares ear, adams, ants, and comparaduns.
Generally, the similarity of the fishing experience in Japan to that of the US actually stood out above the differences. I suppose I had a preconception that the experience would be inherently different. At several times while focused on fishing, I found myself thinking that the experience was familiar. My Japanese friends were fishing the same way I would, had the same types of equipment, and even the same types of flies. Beyond that, we all reacted in the same manner upon our successes and failures, we were sportsmen sharing a new experience across cultural lines. The whole day was comfortable and relaxing because we were similiar in personality. My speculation is that people with common traits take up flyfishing and pursue it with abandon. However, we did have a common ingredient, the use of computers. We were all in our 30's, worked in the professional fields, and had leisure time available for our quest for wily trout on a fly. So, I leave further discussions of the philosophy for other days, back to fishing.
As if God looked down on us in favor, the torrential rain storm started as we reached the creekside restraurant. The Yozawa Tateiwa Lodge was set-up for fisherman with a covered barbeque area with rows of seats in a square around a firepit. We each paid around 1000 yen(US$10) for a feast of foods. A bag of charcoal and a large iron hotplate was set in the firepit. Soon we were placing strips of beef and pork, onion, eggplant, and other treats on the grill. We each served ourselves, chopsticks of course, Teppan style to the mouthwatering treats. A case of Heiniken topped it off. All this while the rain was just pouring and the mist was forming in the canyons. This lunch was certainly different than what I am used to in the US. Usually, I have a warm, smashed sandwich that rode in my vest with a bottle of water. For dessert a melted candybar. I like the Japanese way a whole lot better!
After a fine lunch we headed back up the river and started fishing as the rain was still coming down, lighter than before. The high humidity sat a mist above the water making the experience somewhat dreamlike. As we passed a section thick in bamboo trees, the experience changed to one of uncommon experience for me. Walt-san guided me through a beautiful section of gentle pocket water with overhang trees on the farside. We sight casted to fish located right on the far edge. Only perfect drag free casts had a chance. We heard a whistle and found Creek-san had landed a 10 inch yamame that was just beautiful. The yamame has a greenish color with dark paw marks along the red hued sides. The top had black spots. The rain had colored the water a greenish hue and left overcast skies which helped the fishing conditions for the selective yamame. At a bridge crossing, we spotted some larger, 12 inch yamame and tried unsuccessfully to entice them with many flies. The blood was flowing with anticipation which finally paid off when I hooked and landed a 9 inch yamame on a adams parachute. The whistle was blown and I was joined by my Japanese fishers who congradulated me and took pictures. I was so thrilled with the experience as seen on the cheek to cheek grin in the pictures.
Feeling as if I could do no wrong on such a fine day, I soon got stuck, literaly. As I was untangling my tippet, I drove a hook point deep into my right index finger. Of course, the hook was one of the few flies without a crushed barb! The depth was deep enough to really hurt. I told Walt and we walked a short distance back to the only store along the 3 mile stretch. The storekeeper was shown the finger fly and a search was commenced for a pair of dikes strong enough to cut the hook near the entry point. We sat down, purchased a drink, and waited. I tried to pull it back out, the depth seemed to be right on the edge of the nervy part. We tried a pair of dikes, but were not strong enough to cut. Walt suggested we go to the hospital, but I was very hesitant. I had already been to the hospital for my son while we were in Japan and did not want to find myself returning. Sigge then went down to the lumber mill and asked the millworker, a older man for a pair. He was able to cut it, and we thanked him. Now I was feeling stupid, the big dumb American with the whole village helping me remove a little fly from my finger. I then tried to force it through,but the point was hitting nerve ending and was hurting. More talk of the hospital and the stopping of fishing for everyone was too much, so I gave it a hard push and reversed it out. Thus, my nickname is now finger fly!
We fished all the way up to the end of the flyfishing boundary with little more success. We stopped and presented the millworker the rest of our beers and gave a respectable bow for his help. As dusk awaited, we drove down to the lodge to fish the large pool together. After dusk a very large, #8 mayfly was hatching and resulted in some surface activity. The darkness was complete and little success was had. We walked back to the lodge and cleaned up. We then had closing ceremonies. We all exchanged thank you's and Sigge drew the meeting to a conclusion Invitations were extended to my friends if they ever visit the western US. We all had a great time and learned a little about each other. The fishing experience was very special for me. The fishing was the best part of the entire visit to Japan. Japan was my first international fishing trip and hopefully the start of a lifetime of flyfishing the exotic and different. I recommend Japan to my fellow flyfishers this side of the Pacific! Happy angling both near and far.
August 28, 1994