Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Unfinished Business Part Six: Zacco/ Pale Chub

April 21, 2018
Along with Donny, Cash was one of the few Taiwanese fly fishermen communicating in English over the internet.  So before I arranged this trip I messaged him to see if he'd be willing to show me around some of his favorite waters.  He agreed.  So when I came back to Taipei after Japan I got in touch with him to see if he wanted to get together and fish.  He said he'd pick me up in the city and we'd fish Yilan.  Since he lives in Luodong, east of Taipei, I told him not to bother picking me up and I'd take the bus to meet him in his hometown.
Cash asked me what I wanted to fish, initially while stateside, I told him I wanted a mahseer but now that I'd already crossed that off my list with Donny I wanted something else.  He suggested Zacco or Pale Chub as it is also known.
I took the express bus out of Taipei and headed southeast to the countryside of Yilan County to Luodong.  This part of Taiwan is much quieter and slower paced than the hustle and bustle of Taipei.  Home prices and incomes also reflect that.  Much of my view during the bus ride there were of paddy fields.
A Cute Pic of Country Life.
I arrived in Luodong and waited for Cash to pick me up.  When he did he told me we'd be picking up one of his friends, Zhi Chun.  After picking him up we drove to the outskirts of town and fished a river loaded with various fish.
On my first cast and with a dry I managed my fish Zacco.  The colorful version.  I'm not sure the difference between the vibrant version and the more silvery one.  Not sure if its a differentiation of sex or another subspecies.  That said as what seemed like a theme throughout this trip, from my first mahseer to my first yamame to now my first zacco, I fumbled the fish and accidentally released it before I could get a pic of it.  Luckily it was caught on the Gopro. 
After fishing a half mile or so the dry fly action seemed to stop and Cash suggested I go subsurface.  I tied on a secret fly my buddy Jacob swore me to show no one.  Cash lead me a section of river in between two boulders and said there's  a drop-off holding a ton of fish.  I stood downstream casting upstream and slowly retrieving the fly back.  It was easy picking from then on.  I lost count how many I landed.  Cash moved below me and tried to get black carp to bite but to no avail.  We gave up after a while and headed out for something to eat.
After lunch we drove to another river that held mahseer.  While Cash and Zhi Chun both managed a handful of mahseer I came up blank.  Cash used the same fishing method as Donny.  Casting perpendicular to the current and letting the fly drag with the current.  The fish would either take upon landing or just after the fly begins to drag.  It's counter-intuitive from how I've been taught but it works.  I've seen it.  After fishing Cash dropped me off at the bus station I headed back to Taipei.  On the bus I was sitting next to an American expat from Wisconsin teaching here in Taiwan.  After a talking with him, knowing we had similar interests, I asked him where in Taipei are all the outdoor shops.  I was looking for some Japanese outdoor gear I didn't have time to buy while in Japan.  He told me to go to Taipei Main Station and from there from there they'd be a ton of outdoor shops just outside a certain exit that I've now forgotten.  Funny it took a white guy to tell the Taiwanese guy where to shop in Taiwan.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Unfinished Business Part Five: Taipei

April 17, 2018
Now back in Taiwan, I hooked up with my friend Peter.  Last year he was kind enough to show me ropes around Taipei.   He tried to get me on a Pacific Tarpon but after two strikes I failed to connect.  This year I had snakehead on my mind and that would be my specific target.  I met Peter at Jingmei station after his work shift at 6:30pm and he was still in a dress shirt, slacks and dress shoes.  Considering we'd be fishing along the filthy banks, you can't say Peter is not fish crazy.  We took to his scooter and rode down the street to the fishing destination.
All fish within the city limits are highly pressured.  Fishing then takes not only skill but stealth.  Peter's first suggestion was to fish off the steep concrete bank and cast from there.  A task much easier done with gear than a fly rod.  It was not long that I realized the 7'11" Sage rod with a foam frog popper was not up to the task I need to get closer to the water.  So I did but it didn't help me get any closer to my goal.  When it started to look like the snakehead were not going to cooperate this evening I switched tactics.  I decided to go subsurface.  It was not longer after Peter hooked into a fish, a tilapia, an African import.  I had at least 10-15 bites but could not get any of them to stick for more than a moment or two.  I even had one what Peter called a "big fish" on until it came loose.
It quite possibly was the snakehead I was looking for.  Then when we moved spots and I managed to hook a tilapia and fought it right at my feet before it popped off and swam away.  Afterwards I checked my fly only to discover that the hook was bent out of shape.  No wonder I was failing to connect.  I moved toward the inlet  that was flushing water into the system and noticed carp clopping.  I've only seen carp clop a couple of times here in the states and yet now I've seen it twice in a row in Asia in two different countries.  Because it was so dark and a bit lazy I didn't bother switching to a dry fly I just floated my wooly bugger on the surface.
Attempt after attempt it looked as though I wouldn't get my first Taipei fish after all.  Then I finally hooked up on a nice common carp. When I noticed more clopping carp I cut off the streamer and was about to tie on a dry when Peter received a call from the wife. He asked if we could end the night in 10 minutes. I asked him if I got him in trouble. He replied no I only got a "friendly reminder." I know what that means, I told him we could leave and I was satisfied. I finally got a fish in Taipei city which Peter says is extremely difficult since these fish are highly pressured. Even though I've caught hundreds of common carp stateside this one was special. It was my first Taipei fish while not native to the land it was at least an Asian fish in Asia.
My Favorite Taiwanese Soda.
A Post Fishing Meal at Asia's Best Fast Food Chain, Mos Burger 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Unfinished Business Part Four: Suzuki

April 13, 2018: Last day in Japan
After failing earlier on this day to get my maruta or even my clopping carp, I left the river to run errands before meeting up with Koji at Yokohama Bay at 10PM.  Last Spring Koji attempted to guide me to my first suzuki (Japanese Seabass) but we failed.  We didn't hire a guide and fished the canals on foot.  It proved a fruitless endeavor despite favorable tides.  This year we would increase our chances and hire a boat.  Koji hired his friend Masuda (Masa), the captain of the Seakuro, arguably one of the most famous seabass guides in Japan.
Just before 10 I arrived at the entrance of the Higashi Kanagawa Station to meet Koji at the entrance.  He'd pick me up and we'd drive a few blocks to meet the captain.  When we reached our destination I started to rig up a Sage Smallmouth Bass rod I borrowed from Luc.  Koji asked if I wanted to use his spare 8 weight instead.  I declined as I figured I brought this rod all the way from the states and I should at least fish it.
In no time Masa appeared and we entertained ourselves with our past fishing conquests.  Masa told me he'd fished Hot Creek years ago and only managed a few small fish.  We waited at the dock for the boat to arrive.  Masa's partner was on a charter with a couple of Minnesotans who were gear fishing.  When they docked they let us know they made a killing on rockfish and said the fishing was fantastic.  Once they offloaded their gear we loaded ours and made our way to the fishing grounds.
Yokohama bay is quite a sight at night especially by boat. On the ride Koji would let me know that anglers all over Japan come to Tokyo Bay to fish for Suzuki. In most of the rest of Japan catching a handful of Suzuki or so would be considered a good day but in Tokyo Bay a handful would be a disappointment.  If commercial fishing numbers are any indication of how many fish are here, then if you don't get onto fish it might just be you.  I don't recall the number exactly but Koji told me something like a ton a day of seabass are caught by commercial boats and its a 250 (or thereabouts) season.
We made it to our first location and Koji gave me the helm. After a few casts Masa gave up on this location and moved us to the next, a well lit section along a walkway.  Within 30 minutes of our launch I was on my first seabass.  While not a big fish by any means it was my first Japanese seabass but not necessarily a suzuki.  You see not all seabass are suzuki but all suzuki are seabass.  Most westerners misspeak in referring to this fish, colloquially referring to them as Suzuki.  The Japanese seabass changes name in accordance to its size.  For any fish up to 30cm (roughly a foot) they are called Seigo.  Any fish in the range of 30cm to 60cm (roughly 2 feet) they are called Fukko.  Any fish larger than 60cm is a Suzuki.
My very first Japanese Seabass, the smallest of the bunch.
To increase your chances of catching a seabass at night look for lighted areas.  These predatory fish hide in the darkness and attack prey moving through the lighted areas.  We used floating lines with sinking flies.  Flies that proved successful were my ASSFly and a zonker style fly that Koji gave me.  Koji tied me and gave me  a 15 foot 16 pound leader.  With a slight wind it proved somewhat difficult to cast with the 7'11" Sage Bass rod.  Eventually about an hour and after struggling to get long enough casts I switched to Koji's spare 6 weight Echo rod for the remaining time on the boat.
We covered quite a bit of distance as Tokyo Bay is quite large.  I forget but I think we areas around Yokohama, Kanagawa and Kawasaki, maybe even Chiba.  The original plan was to fish from 8pm to midnight but Koji let me know he'd have some late meetings so he had to push it back to 10pm to 2am.  This actually worked out much better as the tides were to shift at 11pm.  Overall we had a great night, I lost count how many fish we ended with but I can say it was easily at least 20 to hand.  Koji even lost a few big ones.  Most of the fish were in the Fukko range.  So I will need to come back and actually get my "real" Suzuki.  That said at least I got my species I was wanting to add to the list albeit it may not be the name I wanted.  I did manage a rockfish that impressed both the Captain and Koji.  While not impressive in size, they are extremely rare on the fly.  We were only scheduled to fish for four hours Masa graciously added another hour without charge.  I didn't get home until past 4am only to get a few hours of shut eye before catching a 10am flight back to Taipei.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Unfinished Business Part Three: Maruta Fail

April 13, 2018
Photo of a Maruta used with permission and courtesy of David of David's Fishing Blog.
Tama River runs from Yamanashi 86 miles down through Tokyo and into Tokyo Bay.  In the upper stretches trout dominate whereas closer to the bay in the urban areas bass, carp, ayu, and maruta are found.  Maruta or Far Eastern Dace/Pacific Redfin are anadromous and in the spring they make their up the freshwater rivers to spawn.  And as any spawning fish they are in full color mode of blacks, oranges and whites.   Last year I had intended to fish for them but simply could not find the time.  This year I planned to catch one.
This would be my last full day in Japan before heading back to Taipei.  While maruta was never a primary objective for this trip it was on my radar as a secondary one.  My schedule to fish for them was open for two days only, the Monday I returned from the yamame trip, and the  day before I left Japan.  When I came home from Yamanashi I was too tired to head out and explore the Tama River despite Koji giving me some locations to fish.  So I would wait until Friday.  When I awoke that day at 6am I was debating whether or not to actually head out.  I looked out the window and the winds had already began to pick up.   After packing my luggage and then eating breakfast I left for the train station by 8.  Having only used this particular train station a handful of times years ago, I mistakenly took the wrong platform when my train arrived I realized my error and made my way up the stairs to cross the bridge to the other side.  One thing I soon will realize that it was a costly mistake not only as it cut into my fishing time but this train was only 30% full when the next train came it was already 60% full.  Meaning by the time I reached my destination 11 stops later it was going to be capacity.  By the time I reached my station it was at capacity I could barely exit the train.  I almost didn't make it out but I did and I walked the quarter mile or so to the water.
I walked through the field and under the shade of trees I started to rig up and put on my waders.  By now the winds are howling and I now realize that this may be a act of futility armed only with a limp slow action 4 weight.  Desperately I searched the water for any signs of maruta but ripples caused by the winds would make that difficult.  On my first 100 yards I did see a fish cruising the shallows near the bank.  After several feeble attempts to make an accurate cast in the winds I soon realized it was a carp.  So I moved on.  I wanted a maruta and so carp would have to wait.  On my way up I found a dead fish in the shallows, at first I thought it may have been a maruta only to find that it was a fellow American, a smallmouth.  At one point I finally found a maruta (pictured above).  I must have made a hundred casts to him, some fairly decent ones despite the wind) but could not get him to bite.  I switched flies over a dozen times from various egg patterns of different color, size and weights then to streamers.  None entice the fish enough to even consider taking my offerings.  Eventually it moved in the depths and I could no longer track it and I moved on to the dam.
The dam is the end of the line for these spawning fish.  I had no intention of catching bedding fish but I decided to head that way as that was where all the fishermen were located.  I wanted to see if anyone had any luck.  Most of these anglers were ayu fishermen.  Ayu is a Japanese delicacy and once cooked is eat whole, innards and all.  How they are fished is typically using a caught ayu fish that is hooked and baited and thrown into a mix of them.  Since these fish are extremely territorial any fish that enters its territory with be met with a charge.  This how it hooks itself to the baited ayu.
But before I reached these fishermen though I managed to see a pod of clopping carp.  These fish were actively feeding without regard.  I've only seen clopping carp Stateside once before and it was for a very short window.  So I cut off my streamer and tied a black size 14 emerger fly that I hoped that I could see in the white foam line.
It was not long that I hooked on my first clooper in the over twelve pound range.  After battling it for several minutes and a number of times I nearly netted it it eventually came loose after I got too impatient and tried to pull it too hard.   This would continue three more times, all fish in the ten pound range before I had to call it quits.  Again all of these fish could have been landed easily had I had more appropriate carp gear.  One of my stiffer five weights could have made my life much easier not only with fighting the fish but also casting to it as well.
I ended the session at around 11 as I had many things I wanted to do before I fished later that night with Koji at Yokohama Bay for suzuki (Japanese Seabass).  So I made my way back to the shoreline.  While there I watched gear anglers attempt to catch maruta and the group of ayu fishermen patiently waiting for a bite.
As I was leaving the carp continued to tease me clopping without a care in the world.   I wish I allocated more time to fish here as there were literally hundreds of carp everywhere but it would not be this day.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Unfinished Business Trip Part Two: Yamame Quest

April 7-8, 2018
After about a week in Taiwan it was time for the next leg of the trip, nine days in Japan.  I contacted Koji months ahead of this trip to let him know there as a very good chance I'll be stopping by his neck of the woods in the Spring.  Koji no longer leaves in Yokohama but twice  a month he returns to Tokyo for business meetings, so I have to give him a fair warning to give him ample time to arrange his schedule to make it back to the Tokyo region while I'm visiting.  Unlike last year which was more of an impromptu trip this one was far more planned and this year I came much better prepared.
For over 20 years I've been visiting Japan and for all that time I've wanting to land some of their native trout.  Last year I had my first chance.  Koji gave me the option of fishing for their most famous trout, the yamame, or try another area where we could knock out two species at once, the amago (a subspecies of the yamame) and the iwana (a char similar to our brookies).   Not knowing when I would return I chose to knock out two of the three in one trip,  leaving the yamame for another time.  Well that time was this spring.
I arrived Friday night and planned to hit the fly shop in Yokohama to pick up some supplies.  Unfortunately getting out of the airport took longer than anticipated so I had to cancel that plan.  After dinner I unpacked my fishing gear for tomorrow's outing.  I noticed the winds were steadily increasing and by late night I was worried that I'd get a call from Koji canceling the trip.  I would later learn the winds were typhoon grade.  At 4:30am I made my way down from the 17th floor our residence to meet Koji outside in front of my building.  When I walked out I noticed a Land Rover Defender 90 parked in front.  I wondered if Koji got himself a new rig.  But when I cleared obstacles I saw Koji's Honda "mini" van.  Not the soccer mom minivans we are accustomed to here in the States but a "mini" van that is  more like a "micro" van.  The D90 parked in front of his van was owned by his friend Taka who was joining us for the day.  After initial greetings I put my gear in the back of Koji's van and we headed toward Yamanashi Prefecture.
Our destination was the city of Tsuru, in southeastern Yamanashi Prefecture, in the foothills of Mount Fuji.  It would take us about 3 hours to reach our destination not because it is far in terms of distance but rather we would avoid the Expressway and take surface streets all the way there.  Japan's highway tolls can be quite high so most avoid them when they can.  Koji's thinking was use surface streets on the way there as the streets would be empty at this time of day and use the highway system on the way home.  On the way we'd stop at a convenience store for coffee and breakfast.  While there Taka and I bonded over our love of Land Rovers particularly Defenders as they've not been imported in the US since the 90s due to airbags laws.  Taka was shocked that with all the freedoms the US has that we couldn't get them.  He let me know that he actually self-imported his rig from South Africa.  It was his vehicle while he was working there and couldn't part with it.  He told me that no insurance company would insure the truck while in cargo so he added as much armor to it as he could, fender flares, roof rack, bumpers, sliders, etc.  He figured if anything would fall or drop on his rig the additions would take most of the brunt.  At least that was his rationale.  But his theory went unproven as the D90 made it to japan in perfect condition.
After our brief breakfast and discussion we were on the road again.  We drove the few hours through the mountains with views of Mount Fuji until we made it to Koji's first location on the Sueno River.  Unfortunately it was already taken by an angler so he changed his plan.  After locating the next spot and finding no anglers nearby we made our way to the local 7-11 to pick up lunch and our fishing passes.  Once we were done we hit the river and began rigging up.  Koji would guide and fish with me upstream, Taka armed with his bamboo rod would head downstream and fish alone.
The river flows straight through town and is the sidewalls are fortified with concrete.  While it is not the most scenic of locations it's definitely not the LA river.   It was springtime though which meant the sakura (cherry blossom) were in bloom.  While the Tokyo region was now past blooming time, the sakura were just past peak in the Yamanashi area.  So at least that would be scenic.   I rigged up my new rod, an Orvis Superfine carbon 8 foot 4 weight that I bought specifically for Japanese trout.  I learned from an Japanese guide and later learned firsthand on my trip last year that most modern rods are way too fast for these fish.  At maximum you'll need a medium action rod.  Any faster you risk losing fish as I did last year with my fast action GLoomis IMX 4weight.  These fish will buck, dive, twist and do the "Dundee" death roll once hooked so if you're rod doesn't act like a shock absorber he'll likely come loose.  Having only fished my new Orvis rod on one occasion prior to this trip I was still trying to get used to the slow action.
With a size 14 black emerger fly tied on, Koji had me take the first several holes.    The water in this area was skinny and failed to produce any fish.  So we moved on and looked for better holding water.  We'd come to our first check dam and while it looked fishy it also failed to produce any fish.  Koji began to fish to check if it was me or just the water.  Eventually he managed his first fish, a rather silvery version, not ornate as most.  I secretly was glad this was not my fish simply because I wanted one in full coloration or at least I wanted my first one to be like that.  After he landed his fish he gave me a light colored size 18 parachute fly.  We'd separate from each other and hop-scotch each other to each hole.  I'd eventually reach a nice seam where I casted in between the fast and the slow water and managed my first yamame.  While bringing him in I detached my net to land him.  I noticed that the net was folded over the top of the loop and it was not fully extended causing the net to be only a couple inches deep.  I thought nothing of it and proceeded to net the fish anyways without fixing the net.  The fish now safely in the net I took out my camera to get a shot of my first ever yamame, a fish I've wanted for the past 20 years.  Because the net was now only a few inches deep the fish flopped and jumped out of the net and came lose and swam away.  My first ever yamame disappeared before I could ever get a picture!  Luckily it was captured on the GoPro but I was still pissed.  Koji downstream of me looked on confused and all I could do was gesture that I lost it.
Koji caught up with me and asked me what happened and laughed.  So we moved on.  At one section Koji waited for me and told me to fish this particular hole.  On one of my first few casts I launched a backcast straight into the branches.  I was stuck and while I went to go retrieve it I told Koji to take the hole.  He'd get six rises in this hole but failed to connect with any of them.
We moved on to another check dam with a larger pool.   Koji told me to take it and pointed out the best areas to cast.  In no time I was on my second fish.  This time a much larger fish.  Large enough to impress Koji.  He said it was definitely one of the larger fish in the system.  Once I landed it Koji commented "not to lose this one."  Koji used his net to land it and gave it to me so I could document it on film.  I bought this new rod from a friend of mine at Orvis and I wanted to make sure I took a pic with it with a nice yamame for him.  While positioning the fish and rod, the fish squirmed away from me and again I failed to get my picture!  This time with a more impressive fish no less.  My head sank in shame as Koji laughed once again.  This was not my day. 
The winds I feared in Tokyo area had now started to show in this side of the country.  I would get two more fish before we left this river for another.  One the last fish I set the hook so hard the fish flew out of the water and was coming directly for my nutsack.  All I could do was react by shielding baby-makers by lifting my knee and turning the waist slightly.  The fish hit my upper thigh right under the butt causing the loudest smack I've ever heard.  Koji would get another fish along the way.  We climbed out of there and made our way to the car.  Taka would text Koji that he managed two himself.
At the vehicles we'd have lunch and talk about today's catches.  When we were done we drove around to find some new water.  With the winds picking up and the water now turning color, we found it hard to get a another fish to rise.  After checking two other rivers Taka needed to head back to home and Koji and I would try one last piece of water.
We drove to a few more locations but again we failed to get any fish to take.  Not sure if it was the change in weather or the change in water conditions but the fish completely shut down even in the rivers still with clear water.  It could have been the area had already been fished but who knows.
We looked at one last location near the road high in the mountains and it looked promising.  Again none proved as such though.  So we ended the day and headed into town for dinner and our bed.
Day Two
We woke early at 5am and after packing our stuff, brushing our teeth we headed out by 6am.  Koji drove around doing his recon of possible areas to fish.  After he established a plan we headed for gas and then to the 7-11 for our fishing passes.  The first location was a bust.  Koji told me it was one of Japan's most popular rivers as it is easy to access by car and it is constantly written about in fishing publications.  For us it proved fruitless, most likely it was fished the day prior.
We drove up the mountain and looked for more spots and at each location it failed to produce any fish.  Some areas were blown out while others that looked promising failed to produce a single rise.   Koji asked if I brought a small rod and I told him I had a 6ft 2 weight I bought just for this trip, another Orvis Superfine Carbon.  So we headed to a small tributary similar to what we'd fish in our local SoCal rivers.  Narrow and brushy.  Casting space was at a premium and you'd constantly need to look out for your backcast.  In addition logs and fallen branches littered the creek.  As hard as we tried it was a no use.
We had one last location to try before heading back to Tokyo.  We wanted to be on the road by noon to hopefully bypassing any weekend warrior traffic heading back home. The new spot was more open so casting room would not be an issue.  We split up with Koji going downstream while I'd go up.  I had derigged my 8 foot rod so I fished my 6 footer.  It was for the best as it was now really windy now and the shorter rod would help get under the wind to a small degree.  Also I had yet to catch a fish on this trip on this rod that I specifically bought for these fish.  I managed to get one fish to rise on my size 18 midge but a after feeling it bend the rod briefly it came off.  That was the only fish that even considered our offerings.  I headed downstream to Koji and asked how he did.  He got skunked.  So we went back to the car to pack up.
The night before on the way to town after fishing I had asked Koji what this region was known for food-wise.  He thought about it and told me udon noodles.  Japan is unique in that each region has their own take on certain foods.  Its a sense of pride for the locals.  I asked Koji what's the difference and he said this is Kanto style and the broth is different.  I told him great I love udon and I asked if he like it.  He told me he didn't as he grew up in the west in Kyushu so he preferred the broth to be bonito based whereas the Kanto style is a soy based broth and has very little bonito flavor.  So we never had it that night.  I was slightly disappointed.
So when it was time for lunch we drove past Koji's first choice of restaurants but when he saw how many cars were parked outside he simply moved on and looked for another eatery.  He came up to a udon house from a 20 year udon master.  I asked him if it was Kanto style and he said yes.  I told him if he wanted to go somewhere else I'd be okay with that.  He said not to worry we'd try this spot.  Like everything in the place everything is handmade, the noodles were Yoshida udon which are thicker and chewier than traditional udon.  They're almost tough.  You could instantly tell these will handmade and handcut.
The condiments, the black sesame paste, seven spice red chili and the green chili in soy (I forgot to get a picture) were all handmade.  Surprisingly, contrary to the Japanese palate, these were spicy.  It was shocking to me as Japanese typically don't like their foods too spicy.  This again must have been a regional thing as this was a mountain town and they have some seriously cold winters.  After finishing this excellent bowl of noodles we were on the road I'd be home by 3pm.