Big Takenoko Mebaru

I’ll never forget my time with Masa, rockfishing near his Awaji Island home.

It’s the end of May as I write this. A solid three months have passed, the UK saltwater season is starting to fire, but I still find myself day-dreaming about my time rockfishing on Awaji Island with my friend Masa.

This February was the third time I have been lucky enough to visit Japan, and the second time I have visited the immense Osaka Fishing Show. Fishing tackle aside, the best thing about the Osaka Tackle Show is that it is held not a million miles from where my friend Masa lives and works. The worst thing about the Osaka Fishing Show is that it is held in February. A terrible time for fishing whether you live in the UK or Japan!

I feel like I have fished with Masa quite a lot. But the reality is probably more like we have done a lot of fishing in a short space of time. Normally the fishing is fit around something else. The tackle show for me. And Masa’s studying when he was in the UK. This trip proved to be no different.

Ironically, Masa had been on a work trip to France while myself and the Tronix gang were at the tackle show. But it turned out that Masa would be back home for the last few days of my trip. I felt bad (I still feel bad) that Masa had to literally step off the plane from a work trip and immediately make his excuses to his employer, after just half a day’s work. I can imagine how stressful that must have been. Huge hero points.

I met Masa near his work and we jumped on his regular commute, the Awaji Express!

For those of you that don’t already know, Awaji Island is a bit of a mecca for rockfishing. It even has a fishing-hotel! And I’m pleased to say, for him and for me, Masa has made it his home. A long commute is the price he pays every working day, but it didn’t take long after arriving to see the value. There are amazing looking fishing venues everywhere!

Masa had planned quite a packed itinerary. I have already covered the HRF side of the fishing on my HRF Blog. Which was sensational and the obvious highlight. But the LRF was memorable too.

Masa is an accomplished angler. I feel like a complete noob when I fish with him and I always learn something that stays with me in my fishing back home. Two examples stand out from this most recent trip. Both concerning lure colour.

One is glow colours. At home, I feel like we do glow colours a disservice. I see Facebook posts asking whether glow in the dark lures are worth fishing and the general consensus is more negative than positive. And in terms of lure sales figures, that seems to be supported too. It wasn’t really until this trip that the penny dropped in terms of how much night fishing (Night Game) is such a large part of Japanese rockfishing – LRF included. Obviously we do partake in LRF at night in the UK, but I feel we generally gravitate towards artificial lighting. Certainly I do. And although there’s nothing wrong with that approach. In fact it’s a sensible strategy. Masa demonstrated to me that Light Rockfishing in the pitch black was entirely possible and rewarding.

One night I found myself balancing on a concrete, tetrapod style sea defence in the pitch black (literally couldn’t see my own hands once darkness fell). There’s zero chance that I would have been there if it wasn’t for Masa. It was a crazy plan to catch something very-almost-impossible for February. Such had been our success to that point it buoyed us to try. And here’s the point. This fishing in the pitch black was around trying to catch a special fish in the location that this fish was. This location didn’t have lights. So we fished in the dark. That seems at odds with the majority of our LRF in the UK, where we fish around lights for whatever is around. I know that the Japanese approach won’t be for everyone. A specific target versus more comfortable, generic fishing. But I enjoyed it. Despite the fact we failed this time. It felt like LRF 2.0. Or the LRF hard setting. Something to think about.

Our failure (although I’m sure Masa would have caught the target if it was present) wasn’t helped by my lack of confidence throwing soft plastic creatures into complete darkness. We’re not talking topwaters here. This is standard rockfishing on the bottom, in relatively deep water. My mind’s eye was struggling to imagine how fish were hunting. Feel? Noise? I was fishing purely on confidence borrowed from Masa and then finally after maybe a couple of hours it ran out. I decided to scale down a bit and I tied on a Free Rig with a HTO Bug-ga. The colour I picked was an old favourite – the Orange Glow colour. I charged it up with my head-torch. A technique that I’ve always been sceptical of before now. But it worked.

It wasn’t long until I felt my first bite (which I missed). Which gave me the confidence to convert the next one and I was rewarded with a beautiful little Kasago. This fish would not have excited any hardcore Japanese anglers as it wasn’t the target species this time, but for me it was an important and memorable fish as it taught me something about lure fishing in darkness and the use of glow coloured lures.

The next learning that Masa gifted me was on daytime trip to a shallow rock mark near his home. I got the feeling Masa had fished the mark a thousand times. I had the feeling that like myself on my local stretch of canal, we had nothing to learn about the fish or the fishing mark itself, turning towards new tackle and techniques to keep the fishing fun and exciting. Anyway, Masa had left me to my own devices. I felt reasonably comfortable. The mark was relatable. A shallow reef and boulder field with rockfish hiding in the numerous holes and crevices. It was February. You couldn’t expect a fish in every hole like I’m sure you could later in the season. Masa had assured me that there were some there so I started to methodically work the area.

I’m comfortable with these conditions. Bright sunshine and crystal clear water, it reminded me of fishing the Med. These conditions can be tough but finesse fishing is kind of my game and I have confidence here. Light line, light jigheads and super natural lure colours were the name of the game…

At some point, Masa attracted my attention to highlight he’d caught something of note. His body language suggested that this was an everyday occurrence, but I knew it was the biggest Takenoko Mebaru (a type of Soi) we were likely to see that day. The biggest fish in the ‘lake’. I struggled to match Masa’s cool as I enthused over the size of this rockfish. It was a very cool fish. This opportunity gave me the chance to peruse Masa’s approach to the fishing.

Everything about Masa’s Light Rockfishing set-up was exactly as I had assumed. Light, balanced tackle. Jighead. But, whaaaa?! A bubblegum pink lure! #mindblown

I’ll remind you. The water was crystal clear. The bright sun was high in the sky. Not only was this colour choice not in my ‘clear conditions playbook’, it wasn’t even in the same library!

Masa explained. Bubblegum pink or bright, solid pink is a ‘sight’ colour. I knew this as certain brands include the word ‘sight’ in the colour naming. For example, Megabass has ‘Sight Killer Pink’. What I had failed to interpret correctly though was that it related to human sight, not fish sight. Masa explained further that in this environment he would work the lure in every rock hole. The highly visible colour had two benefits. Being able to see the small lure better enabled him to control the lure more accurately. Working it more naturally and avoiding snags. But also when the lure disappeared from view it gave him a visible indication of a bite. I guess when a fish’s realm is a 2-feet diameter hole in the rock, it’s not necessarily going to tear off and register a strong bite. I asked the obvious question… “Doesn’t this artificial colour put the fish off?” I’m not sure Masa graced my ridiculous question with words. He calmly threw back the biggest fish of the day.

So could it be that the European tackle trade has misread solid pink lures and started a nonsense? Since February I have kept an eye out for solid pink lure styles and Japanese brand lures have been lures that suit shallow or topwater techniques. Whereas European lure manufacturers have lures in this colour designed for techniques well beyond the realms of human sight. As ever with fishing, there’s not necessarily a right or wrong. But I am a geek for Japanese fishing culture and their meaning of things. I found this whole episode extremely interesting. It begs the question, how many other things do we misinterpret, either as individuals or whole nations when looking at Japanese fishing tackle.

Thanks Masa.