Multifaceted Asia Part V: Tokyo by Night

Having just arrived back in Tokyo after a whirlwind adventure on the island of Niijima, all I wanted to do was to lie in Y’s apartment and recuperate. After just started getting back feeling in my fingers and toes during the unbelievably comfortable warm ferry ride back to the main island, I wasn’t particularly eager to freeze my extremities off again.

The next few days were designated as purely sight-seeing excursions as well as time to recover. This meant after sleeping in, we spent the rest of the day perusing Y’s extensive Japanese fishing magazines and watching his fishing videos. On New Year’s Eve, and we finally gathered the strength to venture outdoors and plans were made to spend the countdown at the Tokyo Sea Life Park, where captive bluefin tuna could be viewed!

Unfortunately, our nerdy fisherman plans were toppled when it was found that the Tokyo Sea Life Park was not open for New Years Eve. So a quick change in plan was put into effect, and we visited the Harajuku District, then the Meiji Shrine. Eventually we ended up at Shibuya Crossing where my first meal of 2013 was had: a decidedly Japanese meal of ramen noodles from a vending machine!

Not being a particularly big fan of tourist attractions, this tiny taste of Japanese culture and history was actually very memorable, and I enjoyed every moment of it. However, I was absolutely excited for my final fishing excursion in Japan, scheduled for the night before I would leave Tokyo.

As the evening fell on my last full day in Japan, Y and I took our fishing gear and carried them down to the various canals that criss crossed throughout Tokyo. As we set up our gear in the setting sun, I watched as a beautiful skiff carved it’s way along the canal to meet us. Y’s friend Seino-san was another angling fanatic who was working his way towards becoming a professional guide for the specialized form of fishing that we would be doing tonight.

As I mentioned previously, Y was known in angling circles as the “Prince of Darkness.” Despite the somber overtones of such a nickname, it was in reference to his absolute favorite method of fishing: casting tiny lures for nighttime targets. Although the nighttime aspect is distinctly Japanese, this style of fishing has actually become popularized in various countries in Europe and is now generally referred to as LRF or “light rock fishing.”

LRF generally requires absolute control of fishing gear. Not only are you casting tiny ultralight lures weighing less than 1 gram, you are casting in pitch black darkness into tiny spots laden with rocks and snags. Furthermore, one of the chief targets of LRF in Japan is mebaru, a conglomerate of big-eyed nearshore rockfish (Sebestes) species, known for their predilection of hanging out in deep snaggy crevices and holes.

The skiff quickly made it’s way through the canal system and eventually ended up in the expansive Tokyo Bay. There, under the neon yellow glow of the street lights, we quietly backed the boat into a little corner of a building overhanging the water on stilt like pillars. Y explained that the mebaru would be hiding in extremely shallow waters of 1-2 feet back beyond the pillars. Using his specialized LRF fishing rods with extra fast action, he quickly flicked a tiny jig into the darkness underneath the building and worked it back with a slow lift and drop. Using a rod borrowed from Y, I attempted to copy his technique. Nope… no, the jig didn’t go very far on that cast. No, no the jig went sideways and bounced off a pillar. Ack, sorry, didn’t mean to cast over your line, I didn’t see it.

In fact, I couldn’t see anything! Even under the dim sodium lights, all I saw were the shiny reflections of waves in the darkness. As I fumbled around tangling myself and making a general mess of things, both Y and Seino-san had hooked and released some of the beautiful little mebaru that we came to see. What a cool fish to see hooked right amongst the buildings of downtown Tokyo!

Eventually, Seino-san felt sorry for me, and moved the boat closer into the pilings so my wildly inaccurate casts would have some hope in heaven of making it near the fish. Finally dropping a cast into the darkness, I slowly maneuvered my jig along the rocky bottom, when suddenly it was stopped by a nice solid hit. Quickly hooking the fish, I gently persuaded it to leave it’s rocky lair. However, instead of a unique little mebaru, I found at the end of my line another kasago or Japanese Scorpionfish. Althought not a new species, at least it helped build a little confidence in my fishing ability!

However, the tide was quickly changing, and Y and Seino-san decided that a change of venue was needed. We hightailed it to another spot at the end of a long rocky jetty. Here, the challenges of the previous spot became magnified as there were no street lights here. We were literally fishing in complete pitch darkness, where I could barely even see my own hands in front of my face. Of course, this bothered the Prince of Darkness very little as he continued casting his lure directly into a jumbled snag of concrete and periodically bringing over a beautiful mebaru.

The technique here was a little different. Instead of using soft plastics, we were using tiny metal vibe lures that were used to mimic crabs being disturbed and frightened. At least the extra weight of these metal lures made casting for me a little easier!

And finally persistence paid off for this talentless American fisherman! On one of my casts, the ripped retrieve of the vibe lure attracted a wonderfully pregnant female mebaru who put up a great fight onto the boat! Another new species for me!

This spot continued producing one or two mebaru before the person with least fishing skill in the boat cast into the rock jetty and got his lure snagged. In the attempt to free my lure, Seino-san turned on the flood lights at the front of his boat and I finally got a glimpse of the structure we were fishing. I realized that my mebaru catch was actually a really lucky cast, considering both Y and Seino-san were directing their casts in the pitch black to a tiny square meter opening in the concrete tetragons to successfully catch their fish. These Japanese anglers were mindblowing!

With the spot useless after being completely lit up, we continued on to our last spot where we were trading in mebaru hunting techniques for aji fishing techniques. Having some experience aji hunting in Niijima, I was at least a little hopeful that I wouldn’t completely embarrass myself anymore.

However, on the way over to our aji hunting spot, Seino-san suddenly spun the boat around and stopped. Dramatically, he pointed at the water beneath a bridge we had just passed and I saw the water alive with boils. Thrusting his Stella setup with an IMA plug into my hands, Y quickly shouted for me to cast into the boils. Instinctively, I cast and worked the plugs like a jerkbait, but Y quickly instructed me to slow down the retrieve and work the lure absolutely still: spybait style.

With almost no action on the lure, I was somewhat doubtful my lure would attract the attention of a fish. However, as usual, Y was right on the money as a fish smashed the living snot out of my lure. Immediately, I was onto a hard fighting fish that had absolutely no intention of being landed. As it neared the boat, I saw the silvery flash of a large seabass, and immediately got nervous. I couldn’t have a re-hash of Niijima’s hira-suzuki! Luckily, the hooks held just great, and soon Y had my fish in the boat. Although not the consideranly more rare hira-suzuki, this was the more common species in Tokyo Bay: the maru-suzuki or Japanese Seabass.

Recently noted as a separate species from the spotted Chinese Seabass (Lateolabrax maculates) that I had caught in Taiwan, that would make this catch yet another new species from Japan! After a few quick pictures, the seabass was lowered back into the water and released.

As most surface boils, the activity quickly died down, and with no more fish around, we decided to continue onto our aji fishing spot. Rigging up with our tiny aji plastics, we cast out amongst bridge supports on one of the major bridges in Tokyo Bay. Small surface boils continued all around us, but we soon found out it was little seigo or immature Japanese Seabass. These little palm sized fish were aggressively hunting prey, and it was a fish every cast as they intercepted our lures before they could sink deep enough for the aji.

Here, we spent the rest of the evening hunting aji, but they were being extraordinarily picky and difficult to catch. While I continued to display my ineffectiveness as an LRF angler with birdsnests, tangles, and snags, Y and Seino-san were able to catch a variety of fish but only one aji to show for our work. This was a much larger aji than the ones I had caught on Niijima, and I could see why they are such a heavily targeted species: this 13+ in specimen put a hefty bend on Seino-san’s rod and put up a huge tussle on the light tackle.

As we continued fishing through the night, I listened as the sounds of modern Tokyo echoed around us. Screeching tires had startled me at the beginning of the night, but Y had informed me that it was merely illegal street races and drifting competitions being run through Tokyo. Growing up in the import scene, it was truly a serendipitous moment to realize that even now, the birthplace of import car modifications was still alive with activity.

Eventually the fish activity began to die, as the squealing tires and blow off valves began to fade into the night. My time fishing in Japan had finally come to an end with this final expedition in the darkness. The iconic locations that I had fished at, the uniquely Japanese fish I had caught, and the universal bond of angling brotherhood that I had felt during my time here will always remain strong in my memory.

However, multiple fish had evaded my capture on this trip. Browsing Y’s fishing publications, I saw the absolutely mind-blowing variety of fish that existed scattered throughout Japan’s various islands and the dark marine canyons that separate them. I will be back, Japan, you can be sure of that.

[i]Arigatou gozaimashita, Nippon.[/i]

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