After three trips with my mabuna fishing teacher, I decided to see if I had learnt anything and headed off to go fishing by myself on Lake Teganuma. By organising my journey by the railroad timetables (which in Japan is an actual almanack of train departures, rather than a remarkable work of fiction as it is in my home country) I can actually arrive at the lake by public transport in less than 50 minutes, which is pretty good going; I left my flat at 4:30am and was fishing by 6:30.
The glass was rising all morning from about midnight and the day turned out to be beautiful weather; the mercury doesn’t lie! Anyway, after skirting the shore for a couple of miles, spotting nothing but a scruffy koi carp and lots of tanago sign in the various rivulets, I began to wonder if the weather was too good and today was going to be fruitless. The only sign of mabuna I saw was a dead fingerling floating in a ditch. At least I could enjoy the views on the lake and surrounding waterways. Ornothologists like my father would have loved the lake: walking about I disturbed a flock of small scolopacids in a rice paddy, and spotted various other birds including a cuckoo, a very noisy Japanese pheasant, two types of duck, ditto egrets, swans, coots and that great enemy of Japanese game anglers, the cormorant. I also heard numerous nesting waterbirds and their fledglings crying out for breakfast, deep in the undergrowth.
Without exception all the water channels coming off the lake were brimming with water, and the colour looked good too, murky but with a hint of blue rather than brown or rusty, ideal for mabuna fishing. I got a couple of small hits that were probably tanago, with no hookset. I fished for about two hours with nothing to show for other than a little less bait. As the pheasant shrieked again to ward off a flock of starlings, I thought about packing up my tackle and just enjoying a nice walk around the lake, when suddenly my float rig dipped, returned to the surface, dipped again and sank rapidly at an angle…a classic textbook mabuna hit, and with a quick strike on the bamboo rod I soon landed a textbook mabuna at my feet.
Not a beast, but gravid and a good fighter, and always a challenge to land with so many reeds and grasses in the water. At this time of the year the fish are in the shallows seeking food and often burrow around or brush against the reeds, which means many of the fish are missing scales from their flanks like this one. Actually, to the uninformed it can be quite sinister to see reeds moving about from side to side in apparently still water, but for mabuna anglers it is sign their target is about. I also hooked an illegal fish-trap, complete with bait and moored with a camouflaged wire, so with a little satisfaction I took the lid off, unhooked it from the shore and let it drift away; in that harmless condition it would make an excellent home for an eel or crayfish.
After some more walking and more idea of where the fish were gathering that day, almost every spot I chose seemed to produce bites and I was doing well. Sometimes the fish got away by unhooking themselves on the reeds and bottom, but my fourth or fifth catch was the biggest mabuna I have ever caught (which you can also see on the previous post). Not quite the Holy Grail of mabuna angling – the shaku (30.3cm) sized fish, often boasted of but so rarely seen in reality – but with at least 25 or 26cm on her, and of course full of roe.
The fish were biting on and off, and after what seemed like ages I stopped to eat what felt like lunch but was in fact my breakfast, at about 10am, sat on the grass. I gathered some wild tsukushi shoots that were growing on the banks (they make excellent tenpura), and then set off further along the south shore of Teganuma Lake. There is a long cycle path running all its length, and with the ever-increasing sun cyclists, joggers and walkers started to appear, as the weather was glorious. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom, and in the rather sweet-eccentric Japanese style, at one spot some local farmers had planted a long line of tulips and pansies on the inner side of the lake embankment.
Although there were many herabuna and tanago anglers about, I was the only one fishing for mabuna. I essentially had the entire fishery to myself that day, disturbed only by one tanago angler who rather rudely jumped in upstream of me in the morning, but it turned out he did not spook the mabuna and serving him right, he caught nothing himself and soon wandered off. I then came to grief when I chanced upon a shoal of koi carp, which rapidly results in one’s tackle being carried off and breaking one’s line, and this happened twice in succession, but it is an unfortunate fact of life that where there are mabuna, you will always find koi carp. This is actually a stern test of one’s tying confidence, since you must use line and tie your knots to be strong enough to handle even a once-in-a-lifetime giant mabuna, but not tie them so well that a hooked koi can’t break off your line or leader. Without that deliberate weak point the koi will without exception, break the next breakable thing in the chain of your fishing tackle, which is your rod. In the Kasumigaura fishery there are also a number of non-native invasive species which have the same effect as koi, such as the giant snakehead that Indians refer to as murrel and the Japanese as raigyo (“Thunder-fish”!), and also a type of Chinese grass carp that can weigh as much as a man, but fortunately I did not encounter either of these at Teganuma.
There were plenty of herabuna anglers about, such as this chap with his straw hat, but I did not see any one catching anything. On my way home, I saw a couple of hera fishermen had already walked up to the towpath and broken out the rice wine, a sure sign of lack of action on the water. With a bag of ten mabuna including a personal best sized fish, some tsukushi for tenpura, a box of very reasonably priced strawberries I bought from one of the local farms and a healthy angler’s sun-tan, I had a very good day out. After a stop at the Teganuma Lake visitors’ centre to wash my hands and quaff a much-needed cold bottle pani, it dawned on me how much my feet hurt from walking (forgotten whilst fishing) and how much I had picked up the sun. So at about 1pm I bent my steps toward the bus stop at a leisurely pace, and the journey home on the JR Joban Line was smooth and unremarkable.
At home I bathed, rubbed some aloe salve on my hot forehead and prepared tenpura from the tsukushi shoots I brought home (to provide a little balance, I made carrot tenpura to go with it). It was pretty good, at least as a nibble to have with cold shochu drinks; the taste is not dissimilar to the ginger-type root known in Japanese as myoga. Last but not least, although mabuna is usually considered catch & release game, kanroni prepared from the fish is a great delicacy and although I released most of my catch, I retained two of the smaller specimens, to make this dish. The local fishermen on Kasumigaura sell kanroni to visitors, with one fish commanding the heady price of 1,800 yen. The mabuna must be kept in clean aquarium water for three days to expunge their digestive systems, after which I will prepare them in such a fashion to see for myself what the fuss is all about.