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.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Unfinished Business Part One: Taiwan Mahseer

April 2, 2018
My First Native Taiwanese Fish,  Acrossocheilus Paradoxus
Last year I wanted to fish for Taiwan mahseer with my friend Donny but the planned trip was canceled due to rain.  Instead I fished within the city of Taipei and ended up getting skunked after failing to connect with two tarpon that took my fly.  This year I returned to attempt to land my mahseer.
Donny On Early
I contacted Donny months earlier on the possibility of taking me out this trip.  He agreed and when I arrived he asked if I wanted to head out on Monday.  Naturally I let him know I was in and he said he'd pick me up at 4am in front of my building.  I awoke that morning at 2am still trying to adjust to the new time and could not fall back asleep.  So by 3:30 I prepared myself for outing.  I brought a few rods on this trip a borrowed Sage Smallmouth rod, and two Orvis Superfine Carbon rods, an eight foot 4 weight and a six foot 2 weight.  I was really rigged up for the Japan portion of this trip.  The reason for these rods were they all fit in my luggage and so I left all my nine foot rods at home which meant some of these rods would compromises and not be ideal for certain conditions or species.
Donny's One of Many Mahseer
Donny arrived on time and we headed to Hsinchu with his friend Lin You Hong.  Having arrived earlier than expected with waited for the sun to start rising before setting up.  After putting our waders on and rigging our rods we headed to the water.  You Hong would move upstream solo while Donny and I would go downstream.  Donny told me at first light it was best for dry flies and I had tied a black foam beetle/cicada fly I created.  Prior to this trip I was trying to gather information on tackle and flies.  I asked all that would answer.  The information I got was always vague.   Responses were always something like "use foam fly" or "sink line" or something similar.  I didn't want to come off pushy but what foam fly?  What size?  What color? What bug should I be imitating? Etc.  I wondered if these guys I was asking were simply holding back or was it simply a language barrier.  I made some educated guess while watching as many youtube videos on the subject and went from there.
Closer Look at the  Acrossocheilus Paradoxus
Donny taught me his techniques for fishing these mahseer.  They were contrary to what how I fish and so it was eye opening.  We started by standing on the bank and casting perpendicular to the current.  He told me to cast to the other side of the bank and behind big boulders.  Like trout these fish hide behind boulders or stones by unlike trout they are never found in front of them.  Once the fly the water I would hopelessly try and throw an mend upstream with my soft 8 foot rod to counteract the current.  This proved fruitless and unnecessary.  These fish hit the moment or just after the moment the fly hits the water so the drag that occurs from the current is nullified.  Mending is therefore a waste of energy.  You can strip slowly too in attempts to get them to rise.  It seemed like Donny was getting his fish this way.  I was getting a lot of reactions but given the low-light and small fly I could never really see the fish take the fly only the splash.  I never did feel any fish when I tried to set the hook.  I later learned on another outing that these fish will often false strike a fly and merely bump it.  Perhaps that was going on or I was just too slow to react.  Donny thought I might be reacting too quickly and told me to wait briefly on the hook set.  I already missed half a dozen takes so I was willing to try anything.
My Second Mahseer, the Smaller of the Two I Managed to Catch
We moved downstream to a huge deep pool that must been at least 8 feet deep.  Donny told me to stay low and cast downstream.  These mahseer are extremely spooky and once spooked they don't eat.  "Just like yamame" Donny told me.  But unlike yamame these fish don't go into hiding they simply shut their mouths and tease you with their presence.  I stayed low and casted to several rising fish.  None of which I was able to connect.  One of them was "BIG" according to Donny.  I broke off and Donny checked my set up.  I was fishing a 3x leader a size 11 fly.  Donny rerigged me with his set up of a stouter leader (I don't recall the tippet strength but it was significantly stronger) and a bigger fly that looked to be size 6.   I fished this for a while without any hook ups until the sun was up and Donny suggested we go subsurface.
I rerigged with an indicator set up and started casting into seam throwing hopelessly trying to throw mends on an 8ft soft rod until Donny told me to take stuff off.  He told me to go simply with a weighted nymph quit dead drifting the fly but rather cast downstream and strip it back up.  I still wasn't getting into any fish so I switched to a "secret" nymph my buddy Jacob gave me and swore me to secrecy not to reveal to anyone.   By this time it was time to head back upstream and refish the holes on the way back to the car.  It was then casting upstream I managed my first fish.  While not the mahseer I was looking for, it was a fish, acrossocheilus paradoxus, I was told later, very difficult to catch on the fly as they are algae eaters.  Also it was very good sized one as well.  Later I did catch my first mahseer, the better of the two I caught but failed to get a photo of as it flopped out of my hands when Donny came to photograph me.  I 'd get another before the end of the outing but a much smaller version.  I did get a photo of that one.  We managed to head back to the car and after thinking I lost my GoPro cam we went back to the water to look for it only to discover later that it fell into my waders.  At lunch we discussed our catches exchanging photos and stories and both Donny and You Hong said how disappointing the fishing was as the fish were all small today.  I didn't care, I managed one of my objectives on this trip.

Next up:  Yamame, Maruta, and Suzuki fishing in Japan.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Zombie Mode

Went to bed around midnight with the alarm set at 2:15am.  Left the house at around 2:30 leaving me plenty of time to make it Luc's house by our scheduled 3:45 meet up time until I was slowed down by the Highway patrol traffic break.  It took at least 30 minutes just to get past the accident. A SUV rear ended a trailered boat totally both in the middle lane shutting down the 91 to one lane.  I managed to get past it and raced to Luc's place arriving only 5 minutes late.  Last week I tied an experimental slider fly and wanted to try it out.  It failed to produce this morning but in all fairness Luc wasn't having much success either so it may not have been the fly.  It was slow going and Luc was the first to get on a fish.  By his second fish I had to switch flies twice until I finally managed my first.  A dink at most one pound.  We would get blow ups here and there but none of any significant size.  Luc managed another fish before he quit for the day and handed me his rod to fish.  I'd get a blow ups here and there but over excitement got the better of me and pulled each rise out of their mouths.  Making our way back to the launch ramp, we fished a few sections we started at this morning and managed a big gulp.  A 3.5 pounder I managed to get to the boat until it came lose. A short drift I'd be on another bass this time we managed to get it to hand and after weighing it at 4 pounds it was released unharmed.  The day ended with a few more lost opportunities at smaller boils before making our way to the ramp.