Wednesday, January 22, 2020

More species hunting fun in Japan : Nagasaki and Sasebo.

We arrived in Nagasaki fairly late in the evening so after walking from the station to our hotel we headed to a food mall in a large shopping centre nearby to get something to eat. After filling our faces with one of our favourite Japanese foods we had a look in some of the shops and also walked through an amusement arcade. Even though I'd spent most of the afternoon earlier that day fishing, I got permission to do some more of an electronic variety.

Takoyaki are dough balls filled with octopus chunks, tempura scraps, pickled ginger, and green onion. They are then covered with a tangy sauce and sprinkled with seaweed and bonito flakes. They're also amazing!
No water involved but this fishing arcade game was great fun.

The next day we spent the morning and the early afternoon visiting the Nagasaki Peace Park, the Hypocentre Cenotaph, the Atomic Bomb Museum and finally the National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. Like our visit to the Peace Park in Hiroshima it was educational and thought provoking. The museum and the memorial hall were quite tough going emotionally and I'm not ashamed to say that by the end my throat was sore from swallowing lumps. Learning in graphic detail about the horrific reality of the devastation caused by the second atomic bomb that was dropped on Japan was difficult but the thing that really got me was reading the testimony and thoughts of those who had survived. Despite everything they went through there was still an underlying message of hope for the future in their words. Before we left to explore more of Nagasaki we folded some origami cranes to add to the multitudes on display already.

The origami crane has become a symbol for peace.

After some lunch we spent the rest of the afternoon taking a relaxing wander around the backstreets of the city, visiting shrines and temples before we walked back to our hotel, following for a time the street up above the Nakashima River. As we ambled along I kept my eyes open for any fish down below and soon spotted some that were incredibly hard to miss.

We visited a few throughout the afternoon but this Buddhist temple was quite unusual with Kannon the goddess of mercy standing on the back of a huge turtle.
The koi obviously stand out like a sore thumb but if you look carefully you'll see lots of common carp too. Rather conveniently there were some steps nearby so I stuck a pin in Google Maps so we could find this spot again.

Before going back to our hotel I also wanted to visit a fishing tackle shop but we struggled to find it. The Japanese are normally incredibly polite so when I asked for directions I thought at first the response I got was quite rude. When we eventually found the tackle shop the directions we were given made perfect sense.

Turns out the tackle shop was across the park next to Fukken Street after all!

Needless to say the tackle shop was amazing! Despite being dedicated to lure fishing only it was massive and had a mind boggling selection of tackle. With both the koi carp we'd seen ealier and also future trips abroad in mind I bought myself a 2.1m telescopic net handle that collapses to only 42cm and a 45cm rubberised net that folds in four, perfect for throwing into my hold luggage! I also got the nod to treat myself to a few packets of creature baits and isome crabs to use for seabream should the opportunity arise again.

The next day we caught a train north to Sasebo to visit the Pearl Sea Resort there. Its aquarium and a boat cruise around the kujukushima islands were the main reasons for the day trip but first we visited a shrine to Ebisu, the Japanese god of fisherman and luck, so I could say a quick prayer.

The shrine was located on this small island.
This is Ebisu. One of the seven gods of fortune. As you can see he's a top angler.

Before going into the aquarium I got the green light to fish for a while but things were tough. There were lots of lure munching puffers around so we hopped along the coast back towards the aquarium trying a few different spots along the way. Eventually in some deeper water something else began nibbling away but I struggled to connect with its bites. I ended up using progressively smaller hooks until I finally caught the culprit.

I'd later identify this tiny mouthed fish as a threadsail filefish.

After  a few hours spent visiting the aquarium and relaxing on the boat cruise I got permission to fish for an hour or so before we had to catch the last bus of the day back to Sasebo Station. To start with all I caught was a few grass puffers and a couple more threadsail filefish.

Wandering around the harbour having a few casts in each area before moving on eventually produced something different...
...when this Japanese whiting took a piece of dried ragworm.

Soon we ended up all the way around the harbour, opposite the moored cruise boats, on a small breakwater where a few locals were fishing. One angler was doing particularly well, fishing prawn under a float and was catching a few nice seabream. He was putting in plenty of shrimp paste groundbait to attract the fish and I managed to catch a seabream myself before we had to leave.

My first ever goldlined seabream. A nice fish to end a relatively tough day's fishing.

When we arrived back in Nagasaki we dropped my fishing gear off at our hotel, headed over the Uragami River and caught the Nagasaki ropeway up to the observation deck at the top of Mount Inasa. The views of Nagasaki after dark were spectacular and the photos we took really don't do it justice.

Nagasaki after dark. Much better viewed using the naked eye!

The following day we were travelling to our next destination but before going to the station we took a little detour, walking alongside the Nakashima River to the spot where we'd seen the carp. Armed with my new net and a few slices of bread I quickly set up my rod and was just about to start targeting the carp when I noticed there were also a few catfish swimming around on the bottom. Lillian had already started throwing in some small pieces of bread and much to my surprise the catfish soon came up and joined in the feeding frenzy on the surface. I decided to target one of these first which was pretty tricky due to their poor eyesight and all the carp bullying them away from the bread. Going a little way along the bank, Lillian was able to draw the majority of the much more agile carp away and I managed to catch a catfish that was a little more isolated by lowering my bait right in front of it.

This Amur catfish was a nice way to start the day and another new species added to my tally.

This was then quickly followed into my new net by a few very colourful koi carp. Catching these was no challenge at all so I made it interesting by targeting individual fish that Lillian pointed out for me.

The lady wanted a golden koi carp. I duly obliged. What a stunning fish!

Pleased to have caught some fish in Nagasaki I packed up my gear and we headed to the station to make the journey to Kumamoto. We had reached the halfway point of our trip and were having a great time. With three more cities left on our itinerary I was confident the remainder of our trip would be just as exciting as the first half had been and also that I'd get plenty more fishing opportunities too.

Tight lines, Scott.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

More species hunting fun in Japan : Yanagawa, Hiroshima and Saga.

On our last day with Fukuoka as our base we decided to visit Yanagawa to take a cruise along its canals so we got up early and caught a train south. Before going to Yanagawa though we stayed on the train and went a few stops further to Arao on the Eastern shore of the Ariake Sea. This inland sea experiences enormous tidal ranges that have created massive mud flats. On them live all sorts of crabs and also the great blue spotted mudskipper! I was hoping to at least see these weird fish and perhaps if we found some try to catch one. After arriving on the shoreline we didn't see any until we reached the mouth of a small harbour. It was particularly muddy and to our surprise there were quite a few mudskippers crawling around on the surface. When they spotted us though they all quickly waddled (or perhaps skipped) off and disappeared. Sitting still they eventually reappeared again so I set up my rod and had a go at catching one. Casting out onto the mud my rig just disappeared into it and the little fish were easily spooked too so after a while I gave up and we just spent a little while observing the bizarre amphibious creatures going about their business.

After trying to fish in the mud I gave up and was happy enough just watching the weirdly entertaining little fish.
When two mudskippers meet they have a bit of a stand off, display their impressive fins and open their mouth up. We actually witnessed this type of aggressive behaviour several times and found it rather hilarious.

Quite happy to have seen some mudskippers but mildly disappointed not to catch one, we headed back to the train station to catch a train north again to Yanagawa. At the platform Lillian was just about to sit down on a wooden bench when I noticed the seat was already taken, by a rather large joro spider that was on the wall behind the bench!

These are fairly common in Japan and can grow to 20cm in length. I think they're pretty cool but Lillian isn't a fan at all.

Back on the train we soon arrived in Yanagawa, a city that has an extensive waterway system and is known as the Venice of Japan. After making the short walk from the train station to the stretch of waterway where the boat cruises begin we were soon afloat aboard a punt with an older Japanese gentleman pushing as along with a very long bamboo pole at a leisurely pace.

Quite a relaxing way to spend an afternoon.
Eventually the old guy was tired so I took over for a while. I think he was impressed with my skills.

The cruise took just over an hour and was very nice. The old guy even gave us a song at one point as we went under a bridge. Before heading back to the station we went for a walk along a small section of river that was flowing into the waterway. I had a quick fish and caught a few bluegills as well as a solitary silver fish that I'd later identify as a Japanese chub.

Another new species added to my tally.

The following morning we got up very early and headed to catch a special bullet train to Hiroshima. The bright pink Hello Kitty themed bullet train.

I want to go fishing from time to time. Lillian wanted to travel on the Hello Kitty themed bullet train. Fair's fair.

Arriving in Hiroshima before we could check into our hotel we made use of the coin lockers in the train station and caught a tram to begin exploring the city. The first place we visited was the Peace Memorial Park. The Atomic Bomb Dome is probably the most well known landmark in the park and serves as a stark reminder of the horrors that occurred on 6th August 1945.

The Atomic Bomb Dome is what remains of the former Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. Due to its reinforced concrete construction it was the only building left standing in the area when the atomic bomb exploded almost directly above it.

Other monuments and installations in the park, like the Bell of Peace, deliver a message of hope that one day peace will prevail and nuclear weapons will no longer exist.

I found visiting the park educational and thought provoking, it stirred many contrasting emotions. Before leaving we rang the peace bell.

Continuing our exploration we headed north to visit the grounds of Hiroshima Castle which I would discover was also known as Carp Castle. The original castle was destroyed in the atomic blast but a replica was built in 1958 which also serves as a museum. To reach the castle grounds we had to cross a bridge over its impressive moat that was full of koi carp.

I don't think I've ever seen so many koi carp!
The replica of Hiroshima Castle contains a museum.

After leaving the castle grounds we then started heading east in the direction of the train station. On the way we visited the Shukkeien gardens and were pleasantly surprised at how incredibly beautiful they were. We took our time wandering around and when we came to the main pond the chance to feed the fish in it was taken.

We really enjoyed the Shukkeien gardens. A stunning place in the heart of Hiroshima.
Fish food purchased.
As well as koi carp the pond also contained black seabream which I thought was quite unusual. They were a little cautious, taking their time to slowly approach the pellets before quickly taking them with a splash and swimming off quickly.

After leaving the gardens we walked alongside the Enko River on our way to the station. Strolling along I spotted some black seabream in the margins that swam off as we got closer to them. After collecting our bags and checking into our hotel we returned to the spot and I had a go at catching one but we didn't see any in the shallows and I didn't have any luck fishing further out.

By the time we got back to the spot we'd sighted them the tide had gone out and the levels were very low. I suspect the black seabream had moved downstream.

In the evening we treated ourselves to some Hiroshima style okonomiyaki. Having tried and loved the Osaka version the previous year we wanted to see which was best. Hiroshima style has a few more ingredients that are cooked in layers and its now my favourite.

Okonomiyaki means "all you like grilled". In Osaka everything gets mixed and grilled together. It's all about the layers in Hiroshima.

The following day we caught a tram and then a ferry to visit Miyajima island. The main attraction there is the large Torii gate out in the bay in front of the Itsukushima Shrine. It appears to float when the tide is in. Unfortunately what we didn't know was that it had been covered by scaffolding since June so that restoration work could be undertaken.

The scaffolding will give you an idea how big...
...the huge red Torii gate is.

Luckily there's plenty of other things to do on the island and I also had my fishing gear with me so we still enjoyed a full day there. Amongst other things the island is also famous for its deer, various shrines and temples and some great street food.

These deer freely roam around the streets and were totally unfazed by all the tourists.
Miyajima is also home to this rather impressive five story pagoda which is a buddhist temple.
The street food was great and we tried lots of it. The local oysters were superb and we enjoyed them raw, grilled and fried. My favourite snack however was this steamed bun filled with conger eel. I probably should have taken a photo of the inside but it tasted so good it didn't last long enough!

Sadly the fishing on Miyajima was pretty disappointing. Most spots were fairly shallow and there were incredible numbers of ravenous puffers around. Other fish getting an opportunity to bite was nigh on impossible at the areas I tried. Eventually a marbled rockfish took my creature bait before the puffers could destroy it.

A welcome change from endless puffers and destroyed lures.

Later in the afternoon we caught the ropeway up to the top of Mount Misen before heading back down and making the journey back to Hiroshima. Arriving back in the evening it had been quite a long day and despite eating a fair amount of street food we were pretty hungry so we treated ourselves to yakiniku for dinner washed down with several glasses of cold Asahi which were included in the price!

The grill in our private booth was very hot indeed. A few ice cold Asahi cooled me down though.
Beef and tripe. Delicious!

The following morning I got up fairly early for one last go at catching a black seabream. This time the tide was flooding and reasoning that the bream would probably hunt for crabs and shrimps on the river bed I tried slowly working creature baits along the bottom but sadly this didn't produce any fish. Just before I left I switched my tactics and fished a small hook baited with a section of dried ragworm on a running ledger further out in the middle of the river and caught a few yellowfin goby.

My first and the only species I caught in Hiroshima but it was another new goby species added to my tally.

Our next stop was Nagasaki back on Kyushu but to break up the four hour train journey we visited Saga along the route. A fellow angler named Shirouo I had contacted via an online forum had very kindly given me some information on a good spot to fish for tanago. Leaving our cases in the coin lockers in Saga Station we made our way to this spot on foot, doing some more mudskipper spotting along the way.

All the manhole covers in the city of Saga have mudskippers on them.

After a while we reached the spot but having passed multiple ditches, streams and followed a small river north to get there I was left a little puzzled about why this particular ditch was special. I could see some small fish though so I quickly got into position and set up my tanago rod.

A pretty ordinary looking ditch I thought.

Mashing up a grain of cooked rice between my thumb and forefinger until it went glutenous, a tiny blob of this was then used as bait by dragging my hook through it until some got stuck on the point. I did have a float on my line but as I was able to see the fish taking the bait I used this to merely set the depth. Watching carefully I was able to simply lift into the bites as soon as the bait disappeared into the tiny fishes even tinier mouths and was soon catching my first Japanese tanago. Over the course of an hour or so I caught a few dozen of these and also a few small silver fish that I'd identify later with some help from Mindaugas and Shirouo.

My first Japanese tanago. This species is called Aburabote (アブラボテ) in Japanese. Its English name is oily bitterling.
This one has no English name. It is called itomoroko (イトモロコ) in Japanese.
This one is a dark chub.

I carried on fishing away hoping to catch a different species of tanago. After unhooking yet another oily bitterling I looked down again to drop it back into the water only to see a large snakehead slowly swim out of a pipe below me and into the ditch! It stopped a few feet in front of me and sat there motionless. Luckily as well as my tanago rod I had my Rock Rover with me and quickly rigged up a chartreuse heavily scented lure on a chinu hook and added a single split shot directly above it. Jigging this twice in front of the snakehead's face had the desired effect and it aggressively lurched forward engulfing it. All hell broke loose as the large fish thrashed about and I had a difficult time landing it due to not having a net with me. Eventually it tired enough that I was able to reach down and chin it out.

My first northern snakehead. What an amazing bonus capture!

Still slightly in shock I packed up shortly afterwards and we headed back to the station to continue our journey to Nagasaki. On the way however I decided to briefly get my tanago rod out again and tried my luck in a ditch near the station. To my surprise I quickly caught a few more oily bitterling. I now think I have a much better idea about the type of areas that tanago seem to like for future micro fishing sessions.

Tight lines, Scott.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

More species hunting fun in Japan : Karatsu and Yobuko.

On the third day of our trip we took the train west to Karatsu where I had arranged to meet up with a fellow angler called Mindaugas, a Lithuanian who was brought up in Canada and after a few more moves had ended up in Japan working as an English teacher. We knew each other through an online fishing forum and I was really looking forward to our day out together visiting some of his fishing spots. After picking Lillian and I up at the train station he drove us around Karatsu, giving us a mini sightseeing tour before taking us up to the top of Mount Kagami for some great views over Karatsu.

Karatsu from the observation platform at the summit of Mount Kagami.

On the way to our first fishing spot we stopped for breakfast which was a very tasty Karatsu special burger. It's hard work being a Buddha lookalike and this certainly was a filling choice to kick start the day! The first spot we visited was a small harbour and after setting up my rod I quickly spotted some puffers, rigged up a small hook on a split shot rig and started catching a few. Sadly apart from the puffers, the odd multicolour rainbowfish and a single Bleeker's wrasse, the mark wasn't very productive.

My first fugu of the trip. There are several puffer species around the coast of Japan. This one is a grass puffer. I caught a lot of these and like their European cousins the novelty wears off almost as quickly as they can bite through your line.
Bleeker's wrasse has a fairly drab looking brown and green colouration. Pretty plain especially for a wrasse.

We persisted probably longer than we should have, trying different areas in the hope we'd catch something else. After a couple of hours we jumped back in the car and headed to a harbour in Yobuko. There were lots of people fishing, mainly catching Japanese horse mackerel using sabiki rigs jigged above a small plastic cage groundbait feeder filled with shrimp paste. I decided to fish a two hook paternoster rig with small hooks baited up with small sections of dried ragworm and was soon catching lots of fish, all small but I didn't really care as I was racking up lots of new species.

There were lots of cardinalfish around in the deeper areas. This one is a half-lined cardinal.
I caught a second species, this one is a spot nape cardinalfish.
This cheeky little chap is a sevenband grouper....
...and this is a threadfin emperor.
This is a mottled spinefoot. Despite knowing that spinefoot/rabbitfish have some venomous spines I usually handle them. I'll probably learn the hard way that it's probably not a great idea!

Mindaugas soon caught a cool fish that had a funky turquoise mouth that I was quite jealous of. I spent a bit of time trying to catch one myself by dropping a split shot rig down into the gaps between the submerged boulders on the outside of the harbour wall but sadly didn't emulate his colourful capture.

According to fishbase the funky turquoise mouthed fish is called a sunrise in English. I'm not sure why. In Japanese it is called an anahaze (アナハゼ ). I'm still gutted I never caught one.

The day was going fairly well and Lillian seemed to be enjoying herself too, getting involved where she could and helping take photos of the fish. By this point though a break was required so we went to a tiny restaurant in Yobuko serving bowls of something I'd never heard of before called champon.

Champon is simple dish of fried vegetables and pork with noodles in a rich broth. It was delicious!

Afterwards we fished at a couple of different spots around Yobuko. Things were slower here but Mindaugas eventually caught a Japanese horse mackerel and a really nice marbled rockfish. I was struggling a bit until we tried near a slipway where I finally caught a couple of small marbled rockfish and a really funky looking fish that I suspected was a wrasse. I'd later find out that it was indeed a wrasse but was another species that doesn't have an English name.

Mindaugas and I fishing away in Yobuko, a town that is famous for fresh squid. We really should have eaten some!
This cool looking fish is called an ohagurobera (オハグロベラ) in Japanese. Bera is Japanese for wrasse.

Mindaugas then suggested that we make a short drive to try one final spot before the sun set. It was a fairly shallow rocky area underneath the Yobuko Big Bridge. This mark produced lots and lots of wrasse. I was hoping to catch some small groupers but my weedless creature bait fished on a Cheburashka lead didn't even hit the bottom most casts before being aggressively assaulted.

Shallow and rocky. A nice spot for catching lots of wrasse!
I soon lost count of the number of star bambooleaf wrasse that I caught.

After a while the light went and the action died off with it so we headed back to the car and visited a tackle shop back in Karatsu. After a quick look around we picked up some worms so we could do a spot of ledgering for gobies at one final spot. A short drive later we arrived at a tidal stretch of a small river close to Karatsu station where we were able to park the car and fish right next to it. The gobies proved elusive but after catching a few spotnape ponyfish I hooked something a little bit more fiesty that turned out to be my first seabream of the trip.

My first ever yellowfin seabream.

By this time we were quite tired and I thought catching the new seabream species was a great way to end a fantastic day's fishing so we packed up and Mindaugas drove us to the station where we said goodbye. It had been great to meet up with him and we really enjoyed our day in Karatsu and Yobuko. I really couldn't thank him enough for meeting up with us, driving us around as well as introducing us to some delicious local food. The fishing was great with lots of variety and I caught several new species taking my tally for the trip to almost twenty. I'd caught more species in the first three days of the trip than I had over the entire duration of the trip the previous year! The following day we had another little day trip planned and whilst fishing wasn't high on the agenda I did have one strange little fish on my mind. One that normally lives out of water!

Tight lines, Scott.