Thursday, January 17, 2019

Species Hunting fun in Japan : Back in Osaka.

On our penultimate day in Osaka we visited its castle in the afternoon and afterwards, under strict supervision, I was allowed to visit an incredible tackle shop that was dedicated to only lure fishing styles. After spending a while browsing I treated myself to a spool of Sunline Small Game braid, a few pieces of end tackle and a rockfishing magazine/DVD managing to spend less than £50 in the process so Lillian did a fantastic job of keeping me under control! The evening before our day trip to Rabbit Island Masa had very generously pointed me in the direction of some marks I could fish for Japanese horse mackerel that were only a couple of metro stops away from our accomodation. In the evening Lillian decided to have a nap after we ate way too much grilled chicken for our dinner so I grabbed my gear, jumped on the Chūō line and headed out on my own for a couple of hours' fishing.

Osaka after dark from the top floor window of the Osaka Bay Tower. A huge ferris wheel lit up red marked the spot.

I started my session at the same spot near the aquarium where I'd fished a few days earlier but after a while I'd had no bites so I walked to a second spot, one that Masa had recommended. Another angler was there already and I watched him catch the target species as I approached so I started fishing along from him. Simply casting out and feeling for takes on the drop I was soon catching a few Japanese horse mackerel as well which I gave to the local angler as he was keeping the ones he was catching. My time was soon up but quite happy to have caught a few of my target species I headed off.

I'd bought some new jigheads and soft plastics to use and went with the combo above, an Ecogear Aji Chon jighead and ThirtyFour Octplus lure. The jighead is designed to nose hook the soft plastic but I went with a more standard straight presentation which worked fine.
My first Japanese horse mackerel. Prized by Japanese anglers Aji are a popular target because they are both delicious and good fun on the tackle used to catch them.

On our last day in Osaka I wanted to try and catch some tanago. After another supervised trip to a tackle shop to replenish my micro fishing supplies, we headed to some large ponds next to the Yodo river in the north of the city. Again Masa had given me the location and had told me it was a famous spot amongst Osaka tanago anglers. Another serious looking sign greeted us upon our arrival that this time had photos of tanago on it. I was sure Masa wouldn't send my to fish somewhere that tanago fishing wasn't allowed so I just set about finding a likely looking spot to fish.

There are several different species of tanago in Japan. Masa would later tell me the one on this sign is very rare and protected.

Setting up my rod the wind began to pick up and when I got started this made it very difficult to fish with such incredibly light tackle. Eventually I found some slightly more sheltered spots and started getting some tentative bites. My tiny float would just dip slightly though and I struggled to connect with them. The gluten bait I was using didn't seem to stay on the hook very long either so I switched to a tiny piece of cooked rice. Finally my perseverance paid off when I got a much more positive bite, my tiny float went straight under and I lifted into a tiny fish. Swinging it quickly to hand I was excited for a brief moment before I realised that it wasn't a tanago and was in fact a tiny bluegill.

How annoying!

By this point we were both pretty cold so I reluctantly admitted defeat and we headed off to get some piping hot Takoyaki in a nearby restaurant before catching a bus back into the city. The following day we were getting up early to take a train up north into the mountains to spend a couple of days relaxing at a traditional Japanese ryokan in the hot spring town of Shibu Onsen. I wasn't sure if I'd get any opportunities to fish but I was really looking forward to this relaxing part of the trip even if the end of our adventure was fast approaching. 

Tight lines, Scott.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Species hunting fun in Japan : Okunoshima.

Two days before we left Osaka we decided to have a day trip and one where I could do a fair amount of fishing. After three hours plus spent riding the shinkansen, local trains and a bus, we arrived in the small town of Tadanoumi where we waited to take a short ferry crossing to the small island of Okunoshima, also known as Rabbit Island. While we waited for the ferry to make the last leg of the journey I had a quick fish in Tadanoumi's harbour. There were some shoals of damselfish swimming around and I quickly caught a few on tiny sections from the tail of a Gulp fish fry. Tying on a larger hook, putting on piece of angleworm and trying my luck further out into the harbour rewarded me with a couple of small red seabream.

I'd later identify this damselfish as a pearl spot chromis. In the water they have white spot on their back at the back end of their dorsal fin that appears dull brown when they are out of the water. 
Red seabream are very similar to their European cousin the Couch's seabream. 

The ferry soon arrived so I packed up and we got onboard. The sailing only took about fifteen minutes and we were soon on Rabbit Island. Okunoshima is known as Rabbit Island because, as you've perhaps already guessed, it's home to lots of rabbits. They're tame rabbits so expecting a friendly furry welcome upon our arrival we had bought a few bags of rabbit food at the ferry ticket centre in anticipation.

Rustling this bag was like ringing a dinner bell. Any rabbits within earshot would run towards you.
Before fishing I couldn't resist feeding a few treats to the adorable little swines. 
I soon got down to business while Lillian was mobbed by ever increasing numbers of her new friends. She managed to escape from the bunnies briefly to take a photo of me though. 

This first spot was a fairly shallow rocky area and I caught lots of wrasse on angleworm fishing it on a dropshot rig. Some research was required when we got home to identify the colourful fish.

My first wrasse of the trip was this Bleeker's wrasse. 
This one is a multicolorfin rainbowfish. Like the Bleeker's wrasse it was very similar in shape to the Mediterranean rainbow wrasse.
This is also a multicolorfin rainbowfish. The first one is a female and this larger specimen is a male.

We spent the afternoon walking around the island admiring the scenery and stopping to rustle our bag of pellets and feed the rabbits as we went. Not everything on the island is cute and fluffy however. The island also has a dark past. In the years before and during World War II a poison gas production and storage facility was secretly in operation on Okunoshima. After the war ended, when the Allied forces discovered the operation, the manufacturing equipment and stockpiled gas were all destroyed. Many of the buildings remain however, no in ruins they serve as a reminder of what the island had been used for. 

One of several derelict buildings on the island. 

Poison gas production relics aside, the island was quite a beautiful place and as we worked our way around its coastline I found a spot where the water was a lot deeper within casting distance. This sea bed in this area was also rocky and as well as lots more wrasse it also produced a couple of rockfish one of which was my third rockfish species of the trip, a marbled rockfish.

A beautiful spot with lots of other islands in the distance and the sun bursting through the clouds from time to time. 
This is a marbled rockfish or kasago in Japanese. 
The other was my second darkbanded rockfish of the trip. 

Whilst multicolorfin rainbowfish made up the bulk of the wrasse I caught I also caught a solitary star bambooleaf wrasse. What a great name I thought when I identified it back in our Osaka apartment.

The star bambooleaf wrasse was bit more chunky and put a good bend in my Rock Rover.

Before we knew it we had walked almost all the way around the island and were getting close to the ferry pier so I briefly fished at one final spot. The bottom there was clean sand and this produced a few Japanese whiting and a couple of red seabream. With the fairly long return journey to make I packed up and we headed off to the pier so we could head back to Osaka. Okunoshima might be known as rabbit island but as I had discovered it's quite a fishy island too. 

Tight lines, Scott.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Species hunting fun in Japan : Osaka.

The train journey from Kyoto to Osaka took less than an hour and as I was keen to do some fishing we dumped our bags at our apartment and jumped back onto the metro to visit a fishing spot nearby. It was pretty windy when we arrived and the sea was a little rough but despite this there were a few anglers out fishing which was encouraging. I didn't see anyone catching anything however and sadly I didn't catch anything either. Being the third occasion I'd fished in the sea in Japan and the third time I'd failed to catch anything I was beginning to feel a little bit frustrated. Before we went back to the apartment we went for a wander and accidentally stumbled upon a strange saltwater canal and decided to see if there were any fish in it. Almost straight away we could see some seabass and seabream patrolling but they swam off quickly when they spotted us as the water wasn't very deep and was very clear.

Some fish had made there way into this saltwater canal from the open sea via a pipe at one end.

As well as the larger fish there were the odd shoal of smaller fish swimming around but again they were very skittish and swam off when I got close or cast near them. Eventually I found one species that was a little less shy and showed some interest in my lures. They kept pecking away at my piece of angleworm and after dropping down to #18 hooks and smaller pieces of Gulp I eventually managed to catch my first Japanese saltwater species of the trip! I caught a few of them and before we left I doubled my saltwater species tally for the trip with a small Japanese whiting.

A rather weird looking little fish it had hard bony structures similar to a triggerfish or a file fish. It had three of these though, one at the front of its first dorsal fin and two underneath! Very useful for handling them! After a bit of research when we got back to our apartment I discovered it was a short snout tripodfish.

I recognised this species from the front of Isome packets. 

The next day we visited the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, the biggest aquarium in the world. It didn't disappoint with several incredibly massive tanks full of all sorts of fish from around the world. The whale sharks and sunfish were pretty amazing but oddly enough my favourite exhibit was a very small tank that had a few fringed blenny in it. Also known as the Japanese Warbonnet they were quite big as far as blennies go and have lots of frilly appendages all over their head and fins.

A bit like our Yarrell's blenny on steroids. Maybe I'd get lucky and catch one?

Whilst having lunch in the aquarium's cafe we spotted a few people fishing near the aquarium in a few different harbour areas so we headed back later in the afternoon with my fishing gear. Armed with some bait this time to increase my chances I caught loads of these slimy little fish with an insanely protrusile mouth on tiny little strips of squid.

I'd later discover this is a spot nape ponyfish. The amount of slime on them was quite incredible but not unpleasant.

As light began to fade I started fishing closer in to the harbour walls and much slower too. After a few more spot nape ponyfish I caught a couple of rockfish. I was very excited about catching these as they are a popular target species amongst Japanese anglers and I they were one of the species I was hoping to catch during the trip. I recognised the first one as a darkbanded rockfish, Mebaru in Japanese. I wasn't sure about the second one.

I was over the moon about catching this little darkbanded rockfish.
The second mystery rockfish.

To celebrate catching my first couple of rockfish we headed out after dark to Dotonbori for a wander around its busy neon lit streets, to try a local speciality, octopus balls and enjoy a few cold Asahi Super Dry.

Dotonbori is Osaka's busy nightlife area. It has lots of bright neon signs, tasty street food and lots of restaurants, shops and bars.
It also has lots of massive signs too. This onewas  for the freshly made octopus balls we were after. They're called Takoyaki in Japanese.
Takoyaki is octopus chunks cooked with some other ingredients in batter which is shaped into balls. Barbecue sauce, mayonnaise and bonito flakes usually finish them off although other toppings are available too. It's a good idea to let them cool before eating as the inside is gooey and can be like molten lava.

Back at the apartment that night I did a bit of research to try and identify my mystery rockfish but didn't have much luck so I text Adam Kirby back in the UK to see if he or one of his Japanese friends could help. It didn't take long for Adam to introduce me to Masa, an angler based in Osaka, who quickly identified my mystery catch as an oblong rockfish.

We carried on chatting for a while and he very kindly gave my a few places I could try for Japanese horse mackerel which funnily enough weren't too far away from the spot I'd caught the rockfish at. Fishing for these would have to wait though because the following day we were making use of our Japan rail pass by taking a trip west to visit Rabbit Island. I was quite exited about finding out if there were any fish there as well and had been given permission to do a fair amount of fishing while we were there.

Tight lines, Scott.