The Trip, Day 89: Japan

Alberto Rey is a longtime Upstate New York steelhead guide, 2021 Orvis-Endorsed Fly-Fishing Guide of the Year, and a Distinguished Professor for Research and Creative Activity at the State University of New York at Fredonia. He and his wife have embarked on a round-the-world trip, and they have generously agreed to share occasional updates from their travels.

Today I experienced something that I had been looking forward to for some time. There was something appealing about the idea of fly fishing in Japan. Perhaps it was because I had not heard of many anglers who had fly-fished on the island; perhaps it was because of the spirituality that is ingrained in the Japanese culture; or perhaps it was because that is where the simplest form of fly fishing, tenkara, started 400 years ago. Maybe it was a combination of all of these, but when I learned that I could schedule a trip to a remote stream outside of Tokyo with Motohiro Ebisudani, a guide and owner of TROUT & KING Fishing Tours, I contacted him immediately.

Like most things related to fly fishing, I got his contact information through a circuitous route. I first reached out to Phil Monahan at Orvis for some advice for fly fishing anglers in Japan. He reached out to his contacts and got a response from Brad Befus, president of Scientific Anglers, who shared a contact at TIEMCO LTD. The Tiemco representative was, Kenji Nakamine, who was too busy to fish, but suggested I contact his friend, Mr. Ebisudani, who took me out for a spectacular day of fishing. 

 Motohiro Ebisudani, better known as Ebi, picked me up at 6:30 a.m. at my hotel in Tokyo in his narrow black van. We then began to get acquainted with each other as we tried to escape the crowded streets and highways of the city. I always find this time very enlightening and learn a great deal from the guides about the region, their lives, and other fishing opportunities. For instance, I did not know that you did not need to go to Mongolia or Russia to land a taimen. Japan has its own version of these giant trout, Sakhalin taimen, which are found in the north island of Japan, Hokkaido. After two hours of chatting, we found ourselves standing on top of a mountain looking across the valley at the epic sight of a snow-covered Mt. Fuji. 

The iconic Mt. Fuji, from across the valley.

Another hour later, I was standing in a crystal-clear pool feeling extremely fortunate and content, having landed two different native Japanese trout on dry flies. One of these was a trophy sized Iwana (a char) that ever-so-slowly rose from its lie on the gravelly sand bar to inhale an orange-winged mayfly pattern, as it passed along a rock wall that lined the bank. It was a wonderful sight! I was so mesmerized by the slow take that I almost forgot to set the hook. 

I continued to catch fish as we climbed over boulders to reach deep, slow-moving pockets of water on this mountain stream. The fish that took Ebi’s flies preferred the shallow, slow water. You could see other fish in the deeper pools, but they were not interested in spending any energy to move through the currents to take our small imitations.

Iwana remind the author of the brook trout in New York, where he lives.

The Iwana and Yamame are beautiful little gems and remind me of our brook trout. They can be found in small intimate streams with plenty of tree cover, and are aggressive when not spooked. We used 12- and 15-foot leaders to hide our presence. While the leaders were difficult to cast under the overhanging branches, I periodically surprised myself with a low, sidearm cast to where the fish were located and was immediately rewarded. 

I feel as though I’ve met a new friend in Ebi, and I hope we will meet again on my home waters, searching for steelhead on the Lake Erie tribs of western New York.  

A lovely Japanese freestone stream.

Day 89 Stats: 

Countries visited : 8 (Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, Singapore, and Japan) 

23 stops : 

  • Quito, Ecuador
  • Puerto Ayora, in the Galapagos
  • Puerto Villamil, in the Galapagos
  • Santiago, Chile
  • Magic Waters Patagonia Outfitters, Chile
  • Patagonia Baker Lodge, Chile
  • Estancia Caleufu, Argentina
  • Auckland, New Zealand
  • Rotorua, New Zealand
  • Taupo, New Zealand
  • Savusavu, Fiji
  • Nadi, Fiji
  • Tavewa, Fiji
  • Melbourne. Australia
  • Hobart, Tasmania 
  • Sydney, Australia 
  • Cairns, Australia
  • Singapore
  • Kyoto, Japan
  • Osaka, Japan
  •  Naoshima, Japan
  • Kyoto, Japan
  • Tokyo, Japan

Transportation taken: 21 flights, 17 buses, 15 ferries, two high speed inter-island ferries, 30taxis, 45 Uber/Grab, 6 charter boats, 4 water taxis, 6 inflatable motorized zodiac boats, 29 cars, 15 van, 4 trucks, 3 trolleys, 13 trains, 4 bullet trains, 1 monorail, w3 drift boats, 1 skiff, 2 horses, 5 jet rafts, 1 whitewater raft, 8 aluminum or wooden transport/fishing boats. 

Favorite drink: Frozen Pisco Sour at Magic Waters Patagonia, Coyhaique, Chile 

Favorite B and B: Casa El Eden, Quito, Ecuador. 

Favorite snorkeling location: Tintoreta, Isabela Island, Galapagos / Great Barrier Reef, Australia 

Most impressive church: Iglesia de la Compania, Quito, Ecuador 

Favorite church: Motherhood of Mary Chapel on San Cristobal Hill, Santiago, Chile 

Best tourist experience: Redwood Treewalk, Rotorua, New Zealand / night tour at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, Hobart, Tasmania 

Favorite restaurant: Pulperia Santa Elvira, Santiago, Chile 

Favorite barber shop: Toro’s Barber Shop, Santiago, Chile 

Favorite fly of week: Black beetle (various sizes) used throughout Chile and Argentina 

Favorite beer : Pilsner, Ecuador / Monteith’s Golden Lager, New Zealand / Fiji Gold, Fiji  

Most Memorable Art Museum: Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Hobart, Tasmania / ChichuMuseum, Naoshima, Japan 

Best Theater Experience: Carmen Ballet, Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia 

Most sung American song: John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” in Chile and Fiji 

Favorite spa: Polynesian Spa, Rotorua, New Zealand 

Smallest bathroom with toilet and shower: Batman’s on the Hill, Melbourne, Australia 

Best bathrooms: Anywhere in Japan, and by far better than anywhere in the world 

Favorite live performance: Māori Cultural Performance, Auckland Museum, Auckland, New Zealand and Fijian cultural performances at Coconut Beach Resort, Fiji. 

Number of different beds we slept in: 31 

Favorite view to wake up to: Rio Baker at Patagonia Baker Lodge, Chile 

Worst view to wake up to: Smuggler’s Cove, Nadi, Fiji (The Gardenview Room had one window with frosted plastic over glass to make it opaque. Someone scratched a tiny hole to show the hotel’s garbage cans.) 

Favorite beach: Coconut Beach Resort, Tavewa, Fiji 

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