In 2009 I was fortunate enough to have Ken Turusaki and Noboru Endo join me in Tasmania. They told me tales of trout and Char fishing that I was unaware of and after looking at Ken's photography book, I simply had to go to Japan.
Being in the northern hemisphere, the best time to fish in Japan is during the middle of the southern hemisphere winter and when our fishing season is closed.
While in Japan I also wanted to take the opportunity to promote Tasmania and my business to all of those fishermen who don't know what they are missing out on! Everything fell perfectly into place when Masako Sawada, a Japanese lady who runs "Impressive Tasmania", was going to be in Tokyo during my potential trip at the end of June and start of July. Masako now lives in Tasmania, organising Japanese tours to the state and acting as an interpreter. As I speak no Japanese, she was extremely helpful and able to organize meetings, fishing, accommodation, etc for me during my stay.
My trip started on Lake Akan where I was staying at Tohokan. I was fortunate enough to have the Saeki brothers from FF media with me for the duration of my Hokkaido trip. They filmed almost all day every day and I am looking forward to seeing the footage. I will try and get some posted onto the web site in the near future. You will love it, I am sure.
We fished the area for three days with very little success. Although mayflies were occasionally hatching, the fish were not rising regularly. Most people were intent on fishing dry flies or streamers 'blind' over the drop offs which is certainly not how we would have fished it in Tasmania. Rain constantly fell over the duration of the trip which added a wonderful cloud to the spectacular landscape. No one in our group managed to catch a fish until late on the last day when I waded well off shore to a slick and caught a Rainbow trout of around two pounds followed by a smaller fish a few casts later.
It appeared to me as though many Japanese fly fishermen are intent on drifting dries around 'blind' or fishing streamers over rocks and drop offs. Although this works well from time to time, this seemed to be their default position. Looking at the water and terrain, I am convinced that more of a 'sight casting' approach would pay dividends.
The water is generally very clear and fish are certainly willing to go into shallow water to find mayflies and other food. It is easy for me to say that a more hands on approach to searching for fish would reap rewards but I am convinced that the fishing could be far more productive with fewer casts made in the day. Polaroid sunglasses and a stealthy approach with short, quick casts will surely easier than blind casting. I am looking forward to my next trip to this area to try and practice what I am preaching.
I love river fishing too and the next day I was given the chance to fish the Akan River. I met Hiroshi, a young man wanting to make his career out of guiding who was to be my guide on this beautiful river.
The water was clear and running at the perfect speed with wonderful dry fly drifts, superb nymphing runs and hard fighting Rainbows. I lost count of how many fish we caught and saw that day. Yes, there were people everywhere and for me, this was a little off putting but that was part of the experience.
In Tasmania, we would not consider fishing a river if there was another fisherman even four kilometers away! I am used to fishing for wild brown trout that spook at any sign of a person and here I was, standing almost next to fish that were still feeding and I was catching them! That could never, ever happen at home.
A San Wan Worm style fly worked very well fished with tungsten putty on the leader a few inches up from the fly. A large strike indicator did not seem to spook the fish and helped with bight detection. I managed a few fish on a large sedge as well as small Hares Ear Nymphs. The fishing pressure was such that I am sure the fish were used to human presence and if they stopped feeding every time they saw someone, they would soon die.
I broke off a few fish, which was rather embarrassing. The fish fought hard and coupled with the scenery and water clarity, this part of my trip was simply outstanding. Would I return to the Akan River… yes indeed!
Hiroshi is a natural and I would have no qualms in recommending him to anyone wanting to fish the area. His English is not very good but with a little bit of finger pointing and well known gestures, communicating will be easy enough.
From Hokkaido, I travelled back to Tokyo and drove through the night to fish with Mr. Yachita. He took me to the Hayakuchi River where we were chasing Char. The scenery was once again spectacular and the river looked superb. I was constantly impressed by the grandeur of the mountains and clarity of the water after pouring rain.
I can see why the Japanese are not very keen to cut their forests down and would rather rely on us doing so to ours.
Mr. Yachita was a great guide and a very good fisherman from whom I learned a lot about different types of mends, casting slow fly rods and where to cast when chasing Char. These fish are simply beautiful. Maybe there is an element of 'something new is better than the same old, same old' but they were very pretty. The most similar fish that we have are Brook Trout but trying to find them in flowing rivers is almost impossible in Tassie.
I enjoyed watching 'Yachi' catch fish as much as I enjoyed catching them. We went 'fish for fish' up the cascading river casting long leaders and small dry flies into pocket water where the fish were waiting. In most parts of the world, this sort of water would suit nymph fishing but because Char sit out of the currents and dry flies work best we did not even consider a nymph.
Hiroshi is a natural and I would have no qualms in recommending him to anyone wanting to fish the area.
Japanese flies are, as one would expect, beautifully tied. They are fine, well proportioned and scream fish. Once again, fly tying materials and hooks were being used that I had not even dreamed about. Fly tying accessories are taken to a whole new level in Japan.
Although it is not normal practice for a guide to fish with a client, I always insist on my guide fishing. I find it much easier to learn from them by watching rather than having them try to explain things to me. I never fish to simply catch fish but rather to learn, so as that I can catch more fish at a later date.
We usually use fast action rods in Tasmania because the fish can be large and the wind often blows. Mr. Yachita showed me the importance of using very soft rods to make mending easier. Vertical mends are also very different to our horizontal mends and in close, tight situations, the up and down movement of the rod certainly gives a longer drag free drift than the traditional, up stream mend.
Coupled with a negative or positive hook cast, this worked well. Since being back in Tasmania I have spoken with many of Australia's best fishermen about it and they are all very interested in giving it a try this season. Almost all of our river fishing is casting upstream in shallow, clear water. This technique should work very well but as many of rivers are wider, we may have to use longer rods to obtain the same amount of control.
I look forward to showing anyone who is interested when next we fish together in Tasmania.
I had seen photos of Cherry Salmon and always wanted to hold such a beautiful fish in my hands. The next day, my wish was granted as Mr Yachita took me to a different river which was full of these delightful fish. Again, we waded and cast small dry flies up stream to hungry fish.
The Cherry Salmon were holding in different water to the Char and preferred much faster currents. This was much more like the fishing I was used to with fish eating dries and stealth required. The river was tight and casting not always easy and that made it even more enjoyable. These tight spots are nothing new to Tasmanians!
Getting used to casting eighteen to twenty foot leaders on a three weight rod was interesting and I know that I left Japan a much better fisherman than when I arrived. Long, fine tippets and repeated mends to reduce drag was the key to success.
I had arrived in Japan not knowing what to expect. The culture is very different and this added to my experience. The lake fishing was enjoyable although I feel as though there is plenty of scope for improvement in the way many anglers approach these waters. I am sure that lake anglers would enjoy and appreciate a trip down to Tasmania to see how we fish this type of water.
It was the small rivers that fascinated me the most. I feel as though the Japanese are some of the best small river fishermen I have seen. The level of attention to detail is tremendous and I know that they have a lot to give to the world of river fly fishing. From hooks to tippet material and from mending to rod selection, the thought processes involved in selecting the right tools for the job and the execution of those plans was wonderful to watch.
I love travelling to fish and when I do, I like to do things that are different to what I am used to. I want to learn and take things home to improve my own knowledge and fishing ability so as that I can pass things on to my clients. Japan provided me with that. Yes, the fish are small but I don't care. It is not about the size of the fish but rather the refinement of skills and over all experience. To not visit Japan for this reason would be a huge mistake as an appreciation for all that is new and 'cutting edge' will soon be found.
I am looking forward to my next trip in 2011. I love the country, made some great friends and adore those small river fish. A huge thank you to everyone for making my trip so enjoyable and I hope to see you in Tasmania soon!
If anyone is interested in a trip to Japan, please do not hesitate to contact me as I am planning on hosting a few trips during the southern hemisphere winter over the next few years. Trying to find guides, good fishing, etc is very difficult if you do not speak Japanese. There will only be limited spots available on a first come, first serve basis. Please go to the Japan Trips page for information on our next trip to Japan.
To see some more photos and some video footage of fly fishing in Japan please click on the link below:
I love travelling to fish and when I do, I like to do things that are different to what I am used to. I want to learn and take things home to improve my own knowledge and fishing ability so as that I can pass things on to my clients. Japan provided me with that.