DATELINE: JULY 30, 2016 – YOKOSUKA, JAPAN
It was an early wakeup the next morning. Things had sort of blended into the previous night, because I was now fighting a travel cold – with an inadvisable cocktail of Sudafed and Nyquil. Someone should do a study – on me – of what happens when you mix these two with Red Bull. It can’t be good. Nyquil is bad enough by itself – just ask my buddy Bill, who, in the depths of a flu bout, drank a whole bottle and woke up 36 hours later under his kitchen table wearing underpants he did not recognize.
Speaking of strange underpants, Phil was up well before me and had packed our gear. He wasn’t slightly bothered by the late night and early morning, and yelled at me gently (Wakey wakey, cupcake!!!) to get up and get going. My chest had accumulated at least three pounds of Elmer’s Glue-type fluid during the night, and the process of coughing it up frightened Betsy the cat.
A concerned Betsy!!
I still wasn’t sure who dressed the cat, but think I saw a bookmark for “CatFashions.com.jp” on Phil’s phone.
I was uncharacteristically quiet as we drove back to Aki’s anchorage, but before long, the Sudafed and Red Bull rallied me. Our first stop was the bait store. Japanese bait stores are different than American bait stores. They are much bigger, because they need to have shelf space for all the specific rigs one needs to have to catch Japanese fish. If I was told we were fishing for whiting, I might thoughtlessly tie on a light leader and a smallish hook, but the Japanese will have a specific packaged rig for this and almost every other species. This rig will come in several different sizes and colors, and each will take up at least six feet of running aisle space.
The whiting rigs. You will not catch whiting without these.
I had my doubts, but Phil, who has spent years fishing here, is a believer. So I bought an assortment of these rigs. I note now that pretty much all of them caught what they were supposed to, and that my own “but this is what I use everywhere” rigs were harder to make and not nearly as productive.
Once we got on the boat, the day passed quickly. We tied on our Japanese whiting rigs, and almost instantly, we caught Japanese whiting.
A Japanese whiting.
Just to be difficult, I put on my own hand-tied whiting rig next, and caught a new sand perch, but not a single (or married) whiting approached my setup.
The Matô-toragisu Sand Perch. I assembled these common names as best I could from Fishbase.org, but some of the species only had names in Japanese, so I took my best guess, many of which will amuse Phil. A special thanks to Dr. Jeff Johnson of the Queensland Museum for his time on these and many other IDs.
I then changed back to the Japanese whiting rig, and yes, caught more Japanese whiting. This was downright creepy. Phil smiled. Aki smiled. But I was bewildered.
We then tried for a banded houndshark, with my recently purchased banded houndshark rigs. (Interestingly, or not, this species is in the same genus as the leopard sharks we catch in San Francisco Bay.) Whatever the genus, they were not biting. Aki marveled at this, as these fish reportedly are generally cooperative, but this is always the risk of being a species hunter in a foreign country for a day, or even a week. If the local critters, even the common ones, decide to take the day off, then I need to look for something else.
We moved to a rocky point about halfway down the bay. I had gone to my old standby – small sabikis with small cut bait, and within an hour, I added four new species. Note that these species do not have specific rigs in the bait store, or I wouldn’t have caught them. The first one was a shortnose tripodfish.
I thought this was one of my Singapore tripods, but Phil made me take a picture just to be sure. This species is dedicated to him.
Moments later, I got a pair of wrasses, which turned out to be the same (new) species. Things were looking good.
The Kyusen wrasse.
Phil had caught a couple of puffers, and I foolishly wished out loud that I could catch one. You know how this works. I sometimes have trouble catching the local pest species, but once I get one, they won’t leave me alone.
The grass puffer. I caught roughly 70 more in the next 24 hours.
The Japanese Coast Guard was conducting drills on the island. It was so loud that we couldn’t hear each other fart.
As we slid into slightly deeper water, I got another sand perch for my collection.
The six-bar Sand Perch.
Phil and Aki with Tokyo Bay behind them.
In the late afternoon, Aki decided the tide and light were right to go after a stingray, of course with specific red stingray rigs from the tackle store. I must admit the idea of a big, hard-pulling fish was attractive, but I also wondered about the odds of getting one “on demand.” We anchored up in a quiet cove that had some flow from a tidal creek, and put down pretty much the same stuff that rays love all over the world – slabs of oily cut bait. The boat spun lazily in the breeze, and I passed the time mending the lines. No more than 15 minutes after we started, my beloved 8’3″ Loomis casting rod started slapping down in the holder. I picked it up, put the Calcutta 400 into freespool, and the fish took off. I let it run for a moment, then set the hook hard. It was a ray – it peeled off 30 yards of line, then made smaller runs as it got closer in to the boat. Moments later, Aki scooped up a red stingray with his new net, and I was up another species. That’s seven for the day if you’re playing along at home.
It’s nice when a plan works out.
We were motoring toward a conger spot when the surface near us blew up with a school of jumping baitfish. We had seen this all day, but this was the first one right under the boat, so Aki shut the motor down. I cast a sabiki, and I was instantly hooked up with five horse mackerel. It’s always a challenge fighting five fish, especially when they are organized, and I only got one of them into the boat. But that would be my Japanese horse mackerel, which would also double as bait for the congers.
There seems to be some kind of horse mackerel everywhere I go.
It had been a great day – eight species and counting – and I watched the sun set and got a good view of Mt. Fuji in the distance.
Mt. Fuji. Marta wants to hike up it.
The eels didn’t start until well after dark, but once they got going, it was great action. We lowered cut baits down into rocky structure, and waited. The bites are sneaky – they tend to mouth baits quite softly, but if you let them get back into the rocks, they win. I found this out the hard way once or twice, but after tying on a couple of new rigs, I landed a conger.
The Beach Conger.
Just as I was getting pleased at catching a good-sized conger, I neurotically thought of Nigel’s conger from England last year. Sure, this is a European conger, but it is so much bigger than any other conger I have ever seen that it always puts a sense of perspective on things.
This conger could eat my conger.
It was well into the evening when we got to the ramen place. (Ramen is the Japanese answer to White Castle.) Parking in the area is always a challenge, and I witnessed an awe-inspiring feat of athleticism from Phil. The one parking spot we found was so narrow that only one of us could open the door. He left my side open, then he managed to twist his body – all 6’6″ and 260 beefy pounds of him – over the rods laying down the middle of the car and get out on the passenger side.
You’ve never seen anything this big move with this much agility, unless you’ve seen rhinos mate.
Betsy the cat was glad to see us that night, and I was glad to see the Nyquil.
Betsy delighted to welcome us back!!
Phil’s plan for the next day was simple – fish the shoreline areas in the US Navy base. (He’s allowed there, even on his day off.) It’s a huge place, filled with interesting shoreline structure, like aircraft carriers, and best of all, it has American fast food, like A&W. Two chili dogs and three bathroom trips later, we went to work. Phil had some rockfish and another type of conger eel (the white spotted) in mind, although he mentioned that these might bite better after dark. We tried a few spots, and then settled in on a long, rocky wall. After a few obligatory puffers, the species started showing up.
The first was Bleeker’s wrasse – the 60th different wrasse species I’ve gotten over the years.
So if a girl wrasse is mean to a boy wrasse, is that sexual wrassement?
Many of the subsequent species were a surprise reminder of home. I pulled up a small fish that looked a lot like a surfperch. I said “Gee, that looks a lot like the surfperch we get on the west coast. What the heck is it?” Phil looked back at me, and said “It’s a surfperch.” We had clearly gotten through the honeymoon phase and were speaking to each other as fishing friends do – with honesty and unrestrained malice.
Temmick’s surfperch. Who knew?
The next one looked slightly different, so I took a photo. A word to you novice species hunters – ALWAYS take the extra photo.
The ma-tanago surfperch.
The afternoon went on, pleasant and still, and every now and then, in between more puffers and wrasses, a new species would come up. I hoped new species would come up, just as I hoped my chili dogs would not. The next species was a small rockfish – another reminder of the California coast.
The Brassblotched Rockfish
Next up was an opaleye – a vegetarian fish that has close relatives in southern California.
The Japanese Opaleye. We catch California opaleye on frozen peas.
My favorite fish of the day came next – the Kinubari goby. I had seen these in Phil’s fish book, and had admired both their bold black and yellow stripes, and also the fact that they did not have a close relative in California.
Remember, I’m six feet tall. Jim Larosa thinks I’m 5’11”, but Jim has always been jealous of me.
On my next cast, I thought I had snagged up, but a bit of gentle pressure pulled out a reluctant prickleback.
Dainanginpo Prickleback – close relative of our monkeyface prickleback.
With seven species on the board, and two A&W chili dogs more or less digested, the day was a winner. I got the feeling that Phil would rather be out chasing trophies, but he had also gotten some of the species mania. He flipped through his phone and showed me an assortment of fish photos – “Ever gotten one of these? Of these? We get these all the time. What do you think of this outfit for Betsy … oops.” Deep in my soul, I suspected that Phil was actually concerned about whether turquoise or fuchsia would be better for tomorrow’s cat frock, and this worried me.
There were clearly a lot of fish left to catch, and we had four more days to chase them. My cold seemed to be breaking up, although at the expense of blowing my nose in my spare t-shirt. As the sun started down, I got another rockfish species.
The marbled rockfish. I’m pretty sure on this name.
With darkness approaching, Phil was surprised that we hadn’t caught the whitespotted conger species yet. “I’m surprised we haven’t caught the whitespotted conger yet.” he said. I had a solid bite moments later, but set the hook too quickly, gaining some gentle words of encouragement from Phil along the lines of “Well, you ****ed that one up.” Half an hour later, the line crept off again, and I set into a small conger. I flipped it up onto the ground and had a look – it was indeed the white spotted one – another new species.
Ooooh, looks like I could use some sleep.
As it got fully dark, we moved and started to fish some concrete basin walls. I got a few duplicate rockfish, then a new one – the darkbanded rockfish.
That’s 10 for the day. That doesn’t happen very often, but I was still ready to get some sleep.
There are some people you should not trust with your phone, because they will take disturbing selfies.
Phil is one of these people.
Of course, this is still better than Jeff Kerr leaving an anatomy lesson on my phone. (See “Korean Superman” for the unfortunate details. Yes, Sharon had an epiphany, but not until most of us had missed the over/under on the pool.)
Exhausted as Phil and I were, we still couldn’t help but try one more fishing spot right after dinner. Phil had a “can’t miss” area for freshwater eel near his house, and we gave it a late shot. We did in fact miss on the eels, although I caught a nice carp.
Not an eel.
On the way back to home for Nyquil and furtive sleep, I did the math. I was at 24 species, and we had only been at it three days. Tomorrow, we would begin hunting for freshwater creatures, and my dignity would take the day off.