With Golden Week only a few weeks off, serious fly-fishing enthusiasts throughout Japan are staying up late tying new flies in preparation. Now is the best time of year for fly-fishing because this is when mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies start hatching at many rivers across the country, making trout more active.

While the general populace knows little about fly-fishing, the concept is very simple — catching fish with “flies” fashioned around a hook and made to look like they’re swimming or drifting on the water.

Achieving success at this, however, is not so simple. Before taking out the rod, you must figure out what kinds of aquatic insects inhabit the river where you will be fishing and under what conditions (such as temperature and water level) those insects are likely to hatch.

You then must select the most suitable fly pattern. These are made of feathers, animal hair or synthetic materials, and the choices are many. More than 2,000 fly patterns imitating the larval, pupal and adult stages of the various aquatic insects have been created since fly-fishing was originally developed by noblemen in medieval Britain.

Choosing the right pattern can make or break your day, and hitting upon a successful one is a large part of the sport. Don’t expect any help; fly-fishermen are noted for guarding their secrets well. It truly was a big moment when Brad Pitt’s character in the film “A River Runs Through It” revealed his secret pattern to help out his brother (Craig Sheffer), who’d lost the fisherman’s knack.

One of the most exciting moments in fly-fishing is when rise rings appear on the water. Rise rings indicate the presence of feeding fish. Take a deep breath. You want to cast the line perfectly on the first attempt because trout are clever; they’ll soon lose interest in your flies after repeated casting.

If you are lucky enough to get a hit, put up a good fight. It is this moment that fly-fishermen get up so early and travel so far for.

In fly-fishing, unlike in bait- or lure-fishing, a hair-thin tippet (to which the fly is attached) and tapered leader are used. The latter is transparent and attached to the tip of the colorful line. Be careful: The tippet is very delicate and you can easily lose the fish if it breaks.

In Japan, most freshwater fly-fishermen are out to catch the native trio of yamame, amago and iwana, as well as rainbow, brown and brook trout, which were first introduced to this country during the early Meiji Era.

Almost all rivers and lakes are managed by local fishery cooperatives. Anglers are required to buy a one-day pass (around 1,000 yen) or a season pass (between 4,000 yen and 10,000 yen). These are usually sold at the local co-op’s offices, fishing tackle shops or convenience stores located near the river or lake. It’s a bad idea to try to avoid paying, as you’ll end up forking over 10 to 50 percent more if the ojisan from the cooperative catches you fishing without a pass. Besides, your money is used by the cooperatives to replenish the fish population.

Trout numbers have dwindled because of changes in the environment, development projects and even because of fishermen. The fishery cooperatives regularly introduce new eggs, fry and adults to the rivers. It is easy to distinguish indigenous trout from nonindigenous ones. The fins of farm-raised fish are round, the natives’ are sharp.

Almost all rivers and lakes have their own fishing seasons. Many open in March and close at the end of September. Fishing during the off-season (during spawning) is banned, and violators are penalized. There are some lakes, such as Kawaguchi and Motosu near Mount Fuji, however, that are open year-round.

Even during fishing season, some rivers ban fly-fishing between June and August when the ayu (sweetfish) spawn.

If you’re thinking about seriously taking up fly-fishing, visit specialist tackle shops and consult with the store clerks there. These shops have experts who will show you what you need.

If you are not familiar with rivers and lakes, you can practice your technique at kanri tsuriba (managed fish ponds) first. They charge 3,000-5,000 yen a day, but even if you don’t catch anything you can still see schools of fish in the water and, if they’re in a good mood, they might play with your flies.

The following are recommended kanri tsuriba in natural settings:

Yozawa Fly-fishing Area in Akiruno, western Tokyo, (0425) 96-5108. This 4-km leg of the Yozawa River was converted into a fly-fishing area in 1955 by American Thomas Blakemore, who came to Japan soon after World War II. Its natural setting has been kept intact. Open 6 a.m.-sunset, March 1-Sept. 30. Day charge 4,500 yen.


Y.G.L. Yadoriki Sports Fishing Area in Matsuda, Kanagawa Prefecture, (0465) 89-2305. Located on a 1-km stretch of the Nakatsu River, this is one of the most reasonably priced kanri tsuriba in a good, natural setting. Open year-round, 6 a.m.-sunset. Day charge 2,700 yen.


Regina no Mori Fishing Club in Ten’ei, Fukushima Prefecture, (0248) 85-2822. This fishing pond is 1 km in radius and is located at a ritzy resort that features log-cabin accommodation. Open 7 a.m.-sunset (mid-March-September), 7 a.m.-5 p.m. (October-mid-December). Day charge 4,500 yen, half-day 3,800 yen. Special package deals (fishing and accommodation) are available.


Holiday Lodge Shishidome in Tsuru, Yamanashi Prefecture, (0554) 43-0082. This is a gigantic fishing facility located on a 1.4-km stretch of the Shishidome River. Fishermen can also try their luck on a 7,800-sq.-meter pond. Hotel on site. Open year-round, 6 a.m.-5 p.m. Day charge 4,100 yen.


Fly-fishing Sutanigawa in Eigenji, Shiga Prefecture, (0748) 29-0351. A 1.5-km run of the 2.5-km fishing area at Sutani River is reserved for fly-fishing only. Its natural mountain stream is preserved intact. Open year-round, 7 a.m.-sunset. Limited to the first 10 anglers per day. Reservations required. Day charge 4,000 yen. Web site is under construction.

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