Dateline: July 28, 2016 – Tokyo Bay, Japan
“Mr. Roboto” is possibly the worst song ever written, but it did make sure that my generation knew at least two foreign words: “Domo arigato.” For years, I thought this was Italian for “There is a cat in the church,” but it turns out to be Japanese for “thank you.” Who knew? Point being, now I have yet another reason to give a heartfelt thank you to someone in Japan, although he is actually from Rio Vista, so I could have done the whole thing in English.
Just how is it that I ended up flying 5000 miles to fish with someone who grew up half an hour from my house? It’s a long story – isn’t it always? At one of the IGFA events, I met one Phil Richmond, who has quite a few world records himself. There is no short version of this, because Phil is perhaps the tallest person to ever win an IGFA award.
Do not adjust your screen. He really is that tall.
The unknown female is Hitomi, Phil’s wife. Hitomi is a well-known fishing writer and TV personality in Japan, and yes, this means that Phil is only the second-best angler in the house.
Phil serves in the US Navy and is stationed in Japan, and as soon as we started talking species fishing, he invited me to fish in Tokyo. There are times people make this offer just to be polite, but he was very serious, and when I got some free time last summer, we put a trip together. People usually regret making these offers, because I want to do nothing but fish all day and night, pausing only for occasional bathroom and junk food breaks, often at the same time. Little did I know that Phil would be the one who wore me out.
The flights into Haneda arrive late in the evening. (By the way, if you have a choice, go to Haneda rather than Narita – it’s right downtown, whereas Narita seems to be in North Korea.) On the entire drive to his place, and well into the evening, we talked shop. This guy has a tackle room that has more rods per square foot than my garage, and his local knowledge was encyclopedic – he has lived in Japan most of his adult life, and he spends most of his free time on the water.
Part of the tackle room.
He was very comfortable with species that I considered unicorns, like oilfish, and the idea of catching an oilfish had me positively giddy with excitement. When I do trips like this, I try not to set expectations too high, because this often leads to bitter disappointment. I figured that I would be thrilled with 20-25 species for the week, and I also knew there would be a couple of possible world records. In emailing back and forth with Phil before the trip, he thought that 30-40 was much more realistic. This was one of those rare occasions I prayed that someone else was right and I was wrong. And oh, was I wrong.
I learned much of what I needed to know about Phil on my first trip into his bathroom, where I was greeted with the following sign:
I did most of these things in my dorm bathroom at college. This sort of stuff stops right away on that first Sunday morning you have to clean it up yourself.
Phil had generously volunteered to put me up for the whole week. I had my own room, subject to occasional visits by the most entertaining member of the Richmond family, Betsey the cat.
Betsey the cat. Unclear whether it is Phil or Hitomi who dresses Betsey, and I wasn’t going to ask.
Luckily, the tides were such that we didn’t have to get up at the very crack of dawn, so I did get some sleep. The next morning, I struggled awake and headed downstairs, hoping that there would be enough Red Bull to get me through the day. We loaded the gear in his truck and drove to a nearby suburb to meet Captain Aki, a local, nay, THE local charter guide. Aki and Phil have been good friends for some time, and there is the added bonus that Aki went to college in the US and speaks better English than both of us.
Captain Aki. If you’re in Tokyo, contact him at http://www.fishtokyo.com/english/.
Aki had been forewarned about my species obsession, and the conversation turned immediately to the variety of local critters he had caught. We ran out into Tokyo Bay on a fine, clear morning – the weather looked perfect. I was positively wound up to get a bait in the water, but we had a fairly long run to get into some deep water, which was likely teeming with new and exotic species.
By this stage, I had bought in to Phil’s theory that many, many new fish would be caught, and my expectations had perhaps gotten ahead of me. Fine day though it was, the tides were apparently not ideal, and when we started dropping baits to the bottom in substantial depths – 800′ and more – bites were few and far between. The slow fishing was, of course, magnified by the fact that I was reeling for ten minutes every time I wanted to check a bait. Initially, I was close to apoplectic, but I settled into my stubborn, “I’m here and I’m fishing” attitude, and a few fish started coming up.
Interestingly, or not, I had thought a couple of these were not new species, because I had caught similar creatures elsewhere, but detailed review of local fish guides revealed good news. The first was a scorpionfish that looked suspiciously like the blackbelly rosefish that haunted trips to Florida and South Africa.
But it was a Japanese rosefish, and I had my first new species of the trip.
Then I got a small shark, very similar to one caught in Marta’s favorite blog episode EVER. This one took weeks of scientific debate, but it was finally narrowed down to a smooth lantern shark, or, as you all likely know, Etmopterus pusillus. Many thanks to Clinton Duffy, a New Zealand-based scientist who specializes in sharks.
These can produce their own light, which is why they are called lantern sharks.
Do not put this in your pants.
I also added a beardfish, which turned out to be a different species from those I had gotten in Kona. Collect them all!
The Japanese beardfish. It has a Japanese beard.
That was pretty much it for the daylight hours. I couldn’t complain about three new species, but I was a bit disconcerted. My optimism renewed as night fell and I drank the rest of the Red Bulls. We drifted out over some really deep water, and dropped bait/jig combos in midwater below 500 feet. The main target would be an oilfish or an escolar, worthy deepwater trophies, although somewhat risky to eat. (Look it up. It’s horrible.)
Sunset over Tokyo Bay.
A few drifts in, Phil caught something that still makes me drool with excitement, or jealousy, I forget which – a broadnose sixgill shark. These extraordinarily rare creatures wander the dark midwaters of the world’s oceans, seemingly at random, and I actually got to see one. Yes, I was just sick that I didn’t catch it, but it was still great to see one, or at least I know in hindsight that’s the polite thing to say.
Maybe if I had used the gear Phil recommended, instead of insisting on my own stuff, I might have caught one of these.
About an hour after dark, I got a bite and was promptly broken off. Apparently, there are snake mackerel there and snake mackerel can bite through heavy leader. Who knew. So, I re-rigged, and moments later, I got more bites and hooked up on a relatively small fish. As it came up into the light, I was overjoyed – it was an oilfish. A small one to be sure, but it was an oilfish, which is one of those weird things I had always dreamed of catching. It had officially become a good day.
Spoiler alert – by the end of the Japan blogs, you will see a bigger oilfish.
Yes, it was a small fish, but there is enough meat on this creature to sentence three adult humans to the bathroom for a weekend. Look it up. It’s horrible. Speaking of the trots, go on Amazon, look up “Sugar Free Haribo Gummi Bears,” and read the customer reviews, especially the one involving the German woman. (Phil found this.)
As it got toward quitting time, which is quite late with Aki, I had missed a few more bites but not gotten anything else. Jet lag was starting to catch up to me, but I was hoping for one more fish – aren’t I always? But then I got a tap. And another. The fish came back a few times, and I finally hooked it. Many times, fishermen will “call their fish” – I am guilty of this on my home waters, as even I can tell the difference between a bat ray and a leopard shark. (If it’s still taking drag after three minutes, it’s a bat ray.) I wouldn’t dare guess a species, but I did announce it was around five pounds.
There have been times I was wrong, like then I thought the Lions would win the Super Bowl, and there have been times that I was stupidly, comically wrong, like any time I argue with Marta. This was one of those times. The fish got a bit friskier as it got close, and then, as I peered into the depths looking for my five-pound fish, to my great surprise, a seven-foot blue shark appeared. I did not immediately connect this to my fish, and actually worried that it might eat whatever I had caught. A split-second later, at exactly the same time, the shark and I figured out that the shark is what I had hooked. Pandemonium ensued as the it took off on a splashy run across the surface, and I held on, keenly aware that I had never caught a blue shark – and that my leader was mono.
I got it close twice, and I made it embarrassingly obvious to both Phil and Aki that I wanted this fish badly. I apparently kept mumbling “Oh please oh please oh please.” As it surfaced a third time, Phil did something that earned my undying respect, but also terrified me. He took a net about the size we use on salmon and, without warning, tried to scoop the shark’s head into the boat. To be fair to him, he did buy Aki a new net the next day, but at the moment, I had to contend with a shark that was wearing the shattered remnants of Aki’s net like a ceremonial headdress and was now really, really mad. I breathlessly worked it back to the boat – “Oh please oh please oh please.” Aki patiently rigged a tailrope, and moments later, we pulled aboard the one and only blue shark I have ever caught. The trip, less than 24 hours old, had become epic.
Who wears socks with sandals? Guido, that’s who.
Phil, Steve, and shark.
The dangerous end. I have no idea how this happened without a wire leader.
With that, we wrapped it up and headed for port. I nodded off on the ride, and it was well into the wee hours when we sat down to a well-deserved ramen dinner. We said a quick hello to Betsey the cat back at Phil’s place, and I nodded off for a few hours. Wakeup call was early the next morning, and the tides looked very promising for an inshore expedition.