2016 Japan Trip Report

Christopher Bassano reports on a very successful trip to Japan.

Every second year we run a trip to the Akita district of Honshu, Japan, to catch both Cherry Salmon and native Char. It is very much a "dry fly" trip but we have included a salt water aspect over the last two years. An early morning on the famous Tokyo Bay keeps us catching fish after our return to Tokyo from the northern fresh water adventure. 

Connections have always been difficult but with Qantas now arriving at Tokyo's Haneda airport (their domestic airport), a seemless transition followed the short flight from Sydney. Four of us were on the same flight into Haneda and the rest of the party were already there and waiting. Those sitting closer to the nose of the plane on the flight over seemed well rested while those of us in "cattle class" weren't quite as fresh.

Being met by the friendly faces of our guides is always a highlight. They do not see many westerners coming to fish in their area and the video cameras were already rolling as we walked into the arrival hall. The first port of call was our hotel where we headed to our individual rooms to unpack. The guides were keen to have a look at the gear we had brought along in order to do the usual "guide thing" and remove all of our leaders before retying them. A stack of cane fly rods were sitting on a table in the middle of the room. Most ranged from #2 - #4 rods and 6'4" to 8'2" long. Amazingly, they were all four piece rods. I am lucky enough to own three cane rods but they are all two or three pieces. The extra piece tends to make cane rods quite heavy as much of the weight is in the ferrel. Not so with these rods! We were fortunate enough to spend some time with the rod builder later in the trip and he explained to us how he achieved this amazing feat. That story is for another time. Needless to say that we all used cane rods throughout the trip as they provided exactly the action we needed to make slack line casts and protect light tippets.   

After lunch we headed to a local park in order to receive instruction on the sort of casts we were expected to make in the proceeding days. This was a very important hour or so as it also allowed our guides to have a look at our skill sets (or lack of). It was no surprise to hear that most people were taking their rod too far back or not slowing down their tempo enough. Then we all set off for lunch and casting practice. 

Before dinner we were privy to a fly tying masterclass where our guides tied the flies they thought would be most effective over the next five days. 

Dinner was a wonderful event in itself each and every night as we sampled different cuisine in various surroundings. 

We all headed back to the hotel for an early night and in anticipation of an even better day to follow.

The drive into the mountains is always scenic and although many of our participants had been on this trip before, it hadn't lost any of its charm. Beautifully clear streams greeted us after overnight rain and the myriad of bright green colours surrounding the roads and rivers was striking. 

Both cherry salmon and char were our target species. These are equally beautiful fish that simply love to eat dry flies. Small Klinkhammers, caddis and mayfly patterns presented on long, fine leaders are just the trick. As everyone was used to using monofilament around .16 in diameter, I was pleasantly surprised when nobody broke a fish off on .10 all day. In fact, the entire party caught multiple fish (and trees) under the watchful eyes of our Japanese guides who, while concentrating on what was happening, had one eye out for the bears which roam the surrounding woods.

Guides have bells hanging off their fly jackets and knives on their belts "just in case." When one of our guides was asked why he had two knives, his answer was simply, "in case I drop the first one." 

We were supposed to shared one guide between two anglers but such is the novelty of having a group of Australians fly fishing in Japan, that we ended up with a guide each! Their patience was unwavering as everyone attempted to get their flies into the quiet pockets created by rocks in fast currents. Drag is a major issue as is accuracy. This made for a steep learning curve and a real appreciation for the skill set that is required to successfully fish this type of water. The gradient is extreme and the water swift. Large rocks are usually the only things that break the current, giving fish refuge and allowing them an easy spot to lie in and eat any floating morsels. The bigger the backwater, the larger the fish seemed to be. Small pools were absolute certainties to hold fish and provided many memorable takes. 

Equally impressive is the way the guides take care of the fly. Many are CDC patterns and when they become wet, they are meticulously dried. It is almost ritualistic in the way the fly is first dried using a tissue, then a powder desiccant, then another powder (brushed on) and finally a "fluffing up" which is achieved by first blowing on and then flicking the fibres. I have never seen a fly treated with such respect and care. Often, this ritual was followed by a poor back cast that ended up high on a tree, resulting in a lost fly! Even the guides found this amusing from time to time although there may have been tears beneath that laughter!

The amount of fly life found on the rivers is very impressive and rivals that of many rivers I have fished in France and around mainland Europe. Caddis seem the most prevalent although half a dozen different mayfly nymphs can be found under almost every rock. There is no shortage of aquatic life here.

Our lunches had a very Japanese feel to them and on one occasion, a jet boil was brought out to cook a local vegetable which was growing wild in the surrounding forests. Our guides hunted around for what looked like rhubarb before preparing it and cooking it. Like much of the food, it was another highlight of this unique trip. Coffee always followed lunch which was welcomed by all.

Each day we fished a different river or completely new stretch of water. One of these days saw us fishing up a river that had forrest on one side and forrest on the other. Head high grass grew along the banks and on occasion, spider webs were zig zagging across the stream. These webs were strong enough to actually catch the line and prevent it from hitting the water!

Day four does require a special mention as we visited my favourite river in the area. The usual drive through dense rain forrest was followed by a steep decent to the waters edge. This took us past cedars, birches, wild grapes and wisterias and down to the fishiest looking water imaginable. Every pocket looked likely to hold a good char and almost all of them did. The river here is quite wide by Japanese standards and picture perfect at every turn. Cloud seemed to hang low in the valley which produced scenery one would expect in the Congo or on the set of "Gorillas in the Mist." It is actually quite hard to take a bad photograph in these surroundings.

Good sized Char were regularly seen and hooked and some pools held multiple fish. Polaroiding was excellent in this section of water as fish stood out well against the rocky cliff faces, even in the rain. 

By this stage of the trip, everyone had a good handle on the casts they needed to perform and where the fly had to land. They had all slowed down their casting actions and found fly lines that best suited their rods. The #3 S.A. DT Trout Taper and WF V.P.T. seemed to do the trick well. Although all of these things helped, nothing was more important than the time we had spent on the water.

The steep nature of the surrounding hills meant that landslides had occurred at regular intervals but this had put more structure into the river around which, the char were living. It would not be quite as friendly a spot in the middle of winter when the snow is falling and avalanches are common.

The walk out of such a beautiful spot was never going to be easy but traversing across the steep slopes and winding up dried out creek beds soon led us to the precarious road that runs across these hills. Dry fly fishing does not get a lot better than that which we had on this day.

Our final day started wet with the promise of a Tasmanian like downpour at lunch time. "Top Gun," a former Japanese fighter pilot turned cane rod builder, joined us for the day. He had built the rods we were all using and has been responsible for many of my clients' love of these tools of the trade. 

Rain threatened to ruin the day and it did affect the afternoon session, cutting it short by an hour or so. Fortunately, the morning produced some very hungry fish in the milky water before it became too discoloured and we all decided to retreat to the hotel.

On the way, we were able to stop and wash down all of our gear to ensure there could be no spread of unwanted organisms to our own pristine waterways. Although there does not appear to be any "didimo" like issues in Japan, you can't be too careful.

A farewell dinner with our guides ensued that evening and everyone packed their fresh water gear away.

A short flight to Tokyo the next day followed by a trip to one of the many Sansui fishing stores kept us busy. Sadly, we had to say goodbye to one of the group members in Peter Hawkey, who was off to spend some time with a Japanese family for a week longer. Peter has attended every trip we have run to Japan and the increase in his skill and ability is very evident. 

The highlight of this day however must have been the visit to a knife shop that had been selling knives for more than 270 years! A couple of knives were purchased and this involved the manager of the store sharpening them in front of us, just in case they were not sharp enough to start with. I can honestly say that I have never seen a knife that sharp.... ever! He was a true craftsman and the concentration he showed as he moved between stones was remarkable. 

The second last day of the trip saw us up and out of our rooms at 3:15am as we met Captain Kei (pronounced "Kay") at the front of the hotel. He and one of his guides were to take us fishing on Tokyo harbour for Sea Bass and Sea Bream. A couple of Bass were landed but the amount of dead plankton from rising water temperatures, made catching them difficult. Seeing a Bass cruise behind your fly popper as you strip it across the surface and engulf it in a massive vortex is rather fun. Their fight is equally as impressive, even on the eight weight rods we used for the day.

As the tide rose, Captain Kei changed out flies and location and we went in search of the Sea Bream. I had seen many photos of these huge bream before and assumed that they were a different species to our Black Bream as they were so big. Having held one now, I think they are the exact same species but just a massive version. I may well be wrong about this and quite frankly, I don't care, but what I can say is that when you are polaroiding them in inches of water as they tail, it is exciting! 

I had paired with Don Wilkinson and he set about catching a Luderic on the fly before I managed a large bream. By the end of the session, we had a few huge bream and a Luderic each. We saw a lot of fish and were basically casting at them non stop for a couple of hours. The takes are so subtle but the fights quite humbling as they pull line off the reel with ease. 
Most fish were 49 - 50cm with a small fish being 45cm and a large specimen being 55cm. We defiantly saw fish in excess of 60cm!! I loved this fishing and will be happy to make a special trip over there one day, just to catch these fish.

The boys spent that afternoon recovering and catching up on some sleep as I went back to Sansui to run a fly tying session and promote Tasmania for three hours or more. It had been advertised for some time and the turn out was quite impressive.

Our final day in Japan included taking the bullet train to Kyoto. Most of us had not been on the train before and we all enjoyed the quiet, fast ride that took us past Mount Fuji. With very little time before having to be back in Tokyo for a booking at a sushi restaurant, we raced around and saw what we could before taking the train back. Although these trains are more comfortable than their flying counterparts, they have not been designed for the taller person. On the way back, Ray was sitting near the automatic door between the carriages. Every time he moved his legs, the doors would open, much to the disapproval of other carriage members.

Dinner on the final night was well received as we visited a wonderful sushi restaurant before heading to the airport. The overnight trip and one hour time zone difference helped us all to quickly settle back into Australian life. 

All in all, the trip was a huge success all round. The fishing was very good wherever we went, as was the food and every other facet of this memorable experience. Most importantly, the entire group got on extremely well and life long friends were made. 

This trip could not have taken place without the help of Masako Sawada from "Impressive Tasmania." Her tireless work and interpreting enabled the rest of us to relax and enjoy every part of the trip. Many thanks to Masako. 

If anyone is keen to join the next trip to Japan, please send us an email and we will be sure to send you some information when we are planning the next trip or you can go to the Japan Trips page for information.

Christopher Bassano

Rainbow Lodge Head Guide

To see some more photos and some video footage of fly fishing in Japan please click on the link below:

Rainbow Lodge Japan Trip Gallery

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