||As fly fishing has developed mainly with trout in western countries, the
trout family is the most important, common and popular among fly fishers
Probably the most popular fish among trout anglers across the nation is
yamame. They can be 50cm in length but it's extremely rare. 30cm in length is
a milestone as a good size and it is called "shaku". "Shaku"
is an old fashioned word meaning about 30cm. "Shaku Yamame" is
a special word among trout fishermen and it is not easy to catch them.
Average yamame are 15-25cm in length so light weight set-ups such as #2-4
would be a good choice to play with them. As smaller creeks tend to be
fished out easily, bigger rivers are preferred by some big fish chasers.
Double hand rods are popular to cover big rivers among them. In such big
holes, bigger yameme (30-50cm) are caught regularly but it is still not
an easy thing to meet them.
Yamame is thought to be very smart and a good target in the "match
the hatch" games. It is not uncommon that a rising yamame ignore all
your flies till you empty your fly box. Some finicky yamame can be extremely
hard to catch, which attracts many puzzle solvers. Yamame is said to be
very selective and canny so anglers tend to be proud to catch big yamame
more than any other fish. A 30cm long yamame and a 30cm long rainbow trout?
Definitely most people boast of the former.
||Iwana, a kind of char, generally live in the further upstream sections of the yamame habitats.
They may live together in many areas but most headwaters are exclusively
for iwana. Many people focus on iwana in mountainous rivers in mid summer.
The hot season allows you to use big terrestrial flies so fishing can be
very dynamic. In bigger rivers big iwana live and can grow big up to 70cm.
It is hard to catch iwana over 40cm in rivers outside Hokkaido but keen
anglers never stop casting their proud flies. Iwana live in lakes and reservoirs,
too. They also become large with enough foods in the big body of stillwater.
As iwana feed on baitfish aggressively, streamer fishing is common in stillwater.
It is obvious that iwana chase baitfish harder than rainbow trout or yamame.
They can crawl on the ground with little water.
||Folklores say that iwana walk on the ground. It is actually true. Just like other char living in the world, they are longer and rounder compared with other salmon families. So they can crawl on the gravel. If you land an iwana and leave it in a shallow pool, while you get your camera, iwana can crawl and try to go back to water. This ability might be essential to survive in the headwaters. Their faces look like those of dinosaurs in some cases. For us, iwana is an ancient fish.
||To fish for trout and char in Japan except Hokkaido, you basically have
to pay 500-2000 yen for a one day fishing license or 3000-10000 yen for
a yearly license, depending on the local fishery regs. In North America,
a state or provincial license basically allows you to fish everywhere in
the area but in Japan you need a respective license issued by each fishery.
The area which one license covers depends. One license may cover the whole
watershed system but you may need 2 or 3 licenses to fish one watershed
system. You need to check each fishery in detail. Most people living in
mainland, Shikoku, Kyushu buy one yearly license or 2 to focus only on
the small area. It sounds money-consuming? Yes for sure.
I am familiar with British Columbia, Canada so let's compare. In BC , as
long as you have a yearly provincial license, you can fish anywhere in
the province, although there are some exceptions such as the Classified
Waters where you need Classified Water Stamps on top of the basic license.
You can fish famous Kamloops, Campbell River, Kootenays even if BC is twice
as big as Japan. On the other hand, you need so many licenses to fish many
places in Japan.
Japan's population is 127 million. Thinking of this, deterioration of the
fishing environment in Japan can be speculated easily. If you live in Tokyo
or another big city like Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka, Kobe, it is difficult
to have a good spot only to you, unless you drive a long distance. The farther from the big city, the better fishing you can find. Or the
less people, the more fish. This is simply true in most countries but very true in Japan. If you
live in Tohoku or any rural mountain area, you may find some good spots
where few people visit. In those places there are still many waters where
a lot of fish swim and take your flies.
However rivers closer to big urban cities have more anglers with license
income. So they tend to restock the rivers with more hatchery trout, while
remote areas have much less income. If a remote river is fished out, there
will be a few restocking due to lack of funds. So in any case, trout should
be protected by anglers.
Fishing season starts in February or March and ends in September or October
in most rivers outside Hokkaido. Winter season is traditionally closed
but lately some rivers are open, too. Fisheries stock rivers with hatchery
fish every year but rivers can be almost fished out within weeks after
the opening. Following the western river management, some fisheries started
to employ the Catch and Release regulation but in most rivers bag limits
are too large. Even though movement of the Catch and Release is accelerated
, there are still many meat fishermen who eat as many fish as they catch.
This can be controversial but they are allowed to kill 20 fish and bring
them back home when regulation says the daily bag limit is more than 20.
As people realize the fragile river environment , more protesters are pushing
fisheries to set Catch and Release regulation in many rivers This activity
is worth watching over and we personally hope more rivers or at least more
sections of the rivers should be protected by law or regulation. Most fly
fishers release fish but old bait fishermen still exercise what they have
done since their childhood.
Historically fish raised in the hatcheries have injured fins and scars
all over the bodies so those fish are not appreciated by anglers. It was
very easy to tell a wild fish from a hatchery fish but lately some hatchery
fish look like wild fish, thanks to the hatcheries' technology and efforts.
To catch beautiful immaculate wilder fish, some people drive a long distance
to areas like Tohoku (northern mainland), Hokuriku (Japan Sea side) and
other rural areas. In this meaning, those who live in rural areas have
a big advantage over city boys and girls. And many people living in mainland
fly to Hokkaido for the incomparable t fishing experiences.
|| Lake fishing is also popular among trout fishermen. Some lakes have native trout and
char but most lakes and reservoirs are stocked by fisheries. Basically
you need a fishing license to fish a lake or a reservoir outside Hokkaido.
Although there are some small ponds, lakes and reservoirs where you don't
need to buy a license, most trout lakes are maintained with stocked fish
by men. In this meaning, those stocked lakes have fisheries and managers
to sell fishing licenses. No money, no trout. This may be true except in
Hokkaido. Popular targets in stillwaters are sakura-masu, iwana, rainbow
trout, brown trout and more. A one day fishing license is 500-3000 yen.
Here are some popular trout lakes.
As of April, 2014,
Lake Chuzenji - ￥2160
Lake Ashi (Ashinoko) - ￥1300
Lake Akan - ￥1500
Lake Ginzan - ￥1050
|| Size of the fish may be the biggest reason for anglers to prefer lakes to rivers. As a general rule, stillwater fish are way bigger than stream fish just like in any other country. Although most fly anglers prefer casting from the shore with waders on, watercrafts are occasionally used, too. Most trout lakes have boat rental services so you can rent a boat. You are allowed to use your watercraft such as tin boats, fiberglass boats, float tubes, rubber boats, pontoon boats in some lakes but some lakes ban usage of the private watercrafts. In Hokkaido many boats are free and you can put your boat without fee but situation is totally different outside Hokkaido. The Japanese government is relatively conservative, so your activity is narrowed outdoors, when it comes to permission. In north America, you can launch your boat almost anywhere at your own risk. Many rivers, lakes, even seas have public boat launches you can use any time with no costs. On the other hand, in Japan you are not allowed to launch your boat in many places. Many reservoirs are surrounded by fences or accesses to water are blocked. In this sense, Japan is not very friendly to outdoor people. Again in Hokkaido you have much more freedom.
In Japan's mainland and western lands, generally speaking, a lake where
you can catch many trout is likely to be stocked with hatchery fish. If
you want to meet wilder trout, you cannot expect to catch many. On the
other hand, if you don't care about the quality or condition of the fish,
you can choose a heavily stocked lake. It is your choice. Quality and number
don't usually co-exist.
A typical reservoir. Some of them release water seasonally so the water
height fluctuates dramatically.
||One of the ultimate destinations for pure wild trout fans would be Lake Chuzenji in Tochigi prefecture. This lake is situated on a high land about 200km
north of Tokyo. There are many trout in good condition but it is hard to
catch them. Trophy trout such as a 60cm brown trout from the lake would
be what you can show off to your fishing buddies. This is why many fans
keep visiting this special lake, just like trying to acquire the fly fishing
master degree. Some big browns over 80cm are landed and this lakes is said
to be the sole place to hold lake trout which was transplanted a long time
ago. A few monsters over 100cm were caught on trolling. A few beginners
try this lake.
Chuzenji is just west of a famous sightseeing spot called Nikko. There
are some gorgeous temples and shrines so you can have a great time.
Lake Ashi (Ashinoko) is easier for beginners because there are way more
hatchery fish. It is about 120km south-west of Tokyo. There are rental
boats and many tourists, as Hakone is a very popular onsen (hot spring)
resort. You should have a great vacation on and off fishing.
As native trout tend to be fished out easily, introduced trout such as
rainbow trout and brown trout are stocked in rivers and lakes to fill the
scarcity of native trout. Some of them spread out and become wild fish
in some limited places.
By now you may have realized it is very hard to maintain native and wild
trout in Japan. As there are so many people in this small country, it is
reasonable that people deteriorate nearby spots and vie for better fisheries.
Especially it is not easy for urban anglers to drive a long time and fish
the whole day. They tend to be stressed out of poor fishing environments.
This is why private fishing ponds have become popular for the past 20 years or so. Those ponds are stocked
with many trout so you are almost promised to catch some to many fish,
depending on the condition and your performance. Some people love it, while
some people still want to meet up with wild trout in spite of lots of effort.
Again fishing for wild trout may be a tough sport for those who live in
big cities, but this may be the same in each country.
From time to time we hear from foreigners who live around Tokyo and want
to try somewhere but have no cars. Well. Car is definitely convenient but
without a car, you can fish on your own. You can take trains and buses
to a base inn. Then you can walk around. Nikko can be easier, because there
are many foreigners visiting for tourism. There are many inns accessible
by trains and buses. There is a youth hostel just by a famous trout river.
You don't need a car to transport, if you can walk all way along the river.
You read down to here and realize that fishing outside Hokkaido is tough.
If you come from Montana, Alberta, NZ, Scandinavia, etc, it must be hard
to experience the same quality. But if you are from a big city like NY,
London, Paris, etc, you see that this situation is reasonable. Again we
have 127 million people in a California sized land. Population of the USA
is 313 million. Crazy, isn't it? We have to compete with way more rivals
to meet fish.
Are you discouraged? But there is an exception in Japan. It is Hokkaido. Hokkaido is a big northern island where rivers are basically open year-round
without necessity of a fishing license. There are plenty of wild native
species and transplanted species likewise. Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido
with 1.8 million population, is a big city but if you drive few hours from
there, you can have many fishing spots only to you on weekdays. Northern
and eastern Hokkaido have way less people and the fishing environment is
literally rich in many ways. Size of the fish, number of the fish, condition
of the fish...all desirable and some spots reach the world class. Many
people living in mainland or other areas make it a rule to fly to Hokkaido
from spring to autumn with some die-hard anglers coming in the winter time,
too. We have many friends, customers who fly to Hokkaido several times every
single year. Targets they are after vary from rainbow trout to salmon.
There are hucho(close to taimen), too.
Saltwater trout fishing is not very common except in Hokkaido, although we reckon
a few people enjoy it stealthily. Fly fishing has developed mainly in freshwater
but for the past decades, saltwater fly fishing has been featured in many
ways around the world. Sakura-masu go down to the sea to grow big but fishing
for them in saltwater is not common nationwide, even though a lot of people
are crazy about it in Hokkaido. Coasts of Hokkaido have a lot of sea-going
char called amemasu. They can be 80cm long and chase lures and streamers
so many people are enthusiastic.