Made the journey to Nakaminato for some unseasonal squid fishing. Click through for the full story.
On the spur of the moment I decided to check in with fishing buddy and gentleman-skipper Captain Yutaka, first to ask after the state of his vessel after the March 11th super-tsunami, and if he were still sailing. Apparently his 5-ton buss Yutaka-maru not only survived the tsunami, but has been enjoying good catches of flounder and squid every weekend since the start of spring. After thoroughly enjoying my visit last year, and having missed this year’s hirame season, I booked myself in for the next Sunday and packed my bags for the north Ibaraki shore. It is only an hour from Ueno by the “Super Hitachi” express train to Mito, and then ten minutes or so on the local train to the coast. There were very few other travellers on the train; I guess Iwaki currently does not rank very highly among top tourist destinations in Japan.
The train line that runs into Nakaminato from Katsuta has been closed since March 11th. Therefore I took another line from Mito and the skipper very kindly came to pick me up from the station. Despite all the various disruption to the transport system – electricity blackouts, washed away lines and collapsed tunnels/bridges – it was very pleasing to still arrive on time, and the skipper hailed me from his car in his boatswain’s roar and we were soon on our way. After picking up some supplies for the next day from the local supermarket, I thought we would cook something at his place, but he declared he had a good treat in store and we headed off to his local izakaya in the town. The skipper had in fact snagged a big fugu that day and some squid, and he asked the chef to make sashimi from them.
Well the amusements arrived and a treat indeed they were. The fugu was excellent but the squid – called yariika in Japanese, Bleeker’s squid in English and Linnaeus’ Loligo bleekeri – was quite exceptional. There is no way to adequately describe how good raw fresh-caught squid is, without you try it for yourself; you will just have to take my word for it. This was accompanied with beer and shochu mixers for me, with Captain Yutaka sinking shochu or whiskey, variously. I had long made a command decision to drink as much as my wallet would allow that evening, as, if you have read my account of last year’s trip, the skipper’s snoring is hellish – I slept a few moments through the whole night – and I decided the best way to counter this would be to stun myself so that I would be insensible during the night. After a moderate earth-quake (3 on the Japanese scale) and admiring the restaurant’s lacquered, wall-mounted regulator clock my memory is a little indistinct, though I do recall both of us apparently walking through some gardens in the dark on the way home and being barked at by a vicious, thankfully tethered dog, and somewhat ludicrously, miaowed at by a white cat. I also remember saying to the skipper at bedtime, “You will favour me by keeping to your own futon, right?” and he muttering something about pregnancy before trailing off into his hideous snoring. Thankfully my plan worked, and there was no need to kick the skipper or build defensive fortifications between our bedding, both of which I was obliged to do last year, although his rumbling snore invaded my dreams several times.
The alarm woke us at 3am and we were on board by twilight; by 4:20 we were under way heading down the Naka river estuary. On the way out to sea there was a lot of earthquake/tsunami damage in plain sight: a couple of improbably beached fishing boats, stretches of collapsed sea-wall, diggers and piles of debris about. Still, there were plenty of leisure craft moored in the Nakaminato marina and lots of shore anglers about. On reaching the sea it appeared we were in luck with the weather: the sea was almost millpond-calm, with not a breath of wind nor event the hint of a swell, which is highly unusual on the Pacific shore. The dense cloud cover seemed to oppress the sea, and the surface was covered with resting gulls and sheerwaters.
At one stage I thought I had spotted some kind of strange sea-creature (dolphin and whales are often in the area) but it turned out to be a floating door. The skipper said there was still lots of debris adrift all along the coast, mostly the timber from people’s houses, and “sometimes people, too” he said with great complacency.
While I have caught the cuttlefish and octopus before, I have never really fished for squid before, so I was a little apprehensive. However, as soon as we arrived at the fishing point the squid were clearly in the mood; I snagged a brace of “flying squid” before getting some of Bleeker’s. Sometimes the squid were so eager they would take the bait before it reached the sea-floor; catches of three or four squid on one cast were quite common. For all their odd body plan and slightly idiotic way of swimming, the squid put up quite a fight when hooked and it was quite amusing game: no drag set on the reels, as the hooks are not barbed and if any line is paid out usually the squid slide off and escape. I soon learnt another advantage of barbless rigs, when I speared my thumb with one right down to the helve, luckily at a shallow angle to spare the bone. The rigs are fairly simply shiny plastic affairs and as happens so often, contrary to the incessant advertising of tackle shops and television shows, of the trio I bought the most successful set-up turned out to be the cheapest.
In the day I took about forty-odd, almost all of them foot-long specimens (which the native fishermen refer to as “parasols”) as well as a good number of flying squid as by-catch. I got sprayed in the face, both with seawater and with squid ink, on a number of occasions, and snagged myself lightly several times more, but it was all good fun.
Because of the heat I tended to kill off the squid every time there was a spare moment, by wrapping in plastic and plunging into the chilled ice-water of my cool-box. Some of the squid were so long they couldn’t fit into the round plastic tubs on deck and were bent out of shape. Squid should be despatched quickly and immediately chilled but never allowed to touch ice or freshwater when dead, otherwise their flesh loses that wonderful semi-transparent character and curious crunchy-soft texture; a crying shame having gone to all the effort of catching squid yourself.
As the day progressed the squid began to leave off feeding and it was most pleasant to discover the skipper had plucked a squid from his live well and set-to slicing it up into sashimi, which we all ate on the deck and I helped down with some native spirits – it was delicious, by far the best squid I have ever eaten – under a midday sun and a very pleasant sea. Despite having its mantle removed the squid was slow to acknowledge death, its legs and eye-pieces changing colour most rapidly as if outraged. Indeed, one angler said that he “didn’t like the way it keeps looking at me, as we snack on its flesh.”
Afterwards, as I was fishing I thought I smelled barbecue – incongruous, being 3 nautical miles from shore and surrounded by salt air and heady squid-aroma – and as I thought perhaps I was losing my senses (or the previous night’s fugu was working upon my brain) Captain Yutaka appeared from below bearing a great number of grilled, skewered Frankfurters and beef, still sizzling. Well I always knew he liked to spoil his anglers (last year we had prime water-melon) but this was something special. It would have been indiscreet to ask how he managed to produce such a dish in the engine room, so I contented myself with washing it down with some shochu mixers from my ice chest. I already ate half of it before I had the presence of mind to take a photo of the treat.
With the sun peeping out from behind the low cloud cover the skipper also set some squid to dry, hanging from the unused spanker. Incidentally, these are delicious roasted and eaten with a dab of mayonnaise.
Well all good things come to an end, and we packed up at around noon and headed back to Nakaminato. It turned out that altogether, six anglers had taken a total of over 260 Bleeker’s squid in the half-day; it had turned out to be one of those trips that anglers so often dream about, where sea, tide, weather and target game all contrive to be perfectly suited. It was an uneventful ride back to Nakaminato, but with the tide at full ebb when we reached our moorings a good climb of about five foot upwards was required to get onto dry land; I handed the shorter fellows up and the hardest part of the day was unshipping and hauling our ice chests packed, absolutely packed, with squid, up after us.
I was back at home in Tokyo by about 5:30pm and faced with the delicious prospect of disposing of my squid. After delivering some to my elderly nextdoor neighbours, two local restaurants I frequent and even having a friend come on his bike to pick some up, I would be eating squid till it came out of my ears.
After a hot bath and refreshing myself with some chilled native spirits, the first dish I made was sashimi; it is the most obvious if you have line-caught fresh squid at hand, and afterwards you will forever cry off the poor-john stuff sold in supermarkets or chain izakaya, in the manner a cat will shun tinned catfood if you feed it raw chicken or tuna from your own kitchen.
Deep-fried squid rings came next, to go with some sundry beers and my interpretation of the Korean dish, ojinguh jeot, for which I have a great weakness; my version does not contain even half as much chilli as the real thing would, and the squid is served straight away rather than left to stew overnight or longer.
The flying squid were juveniles, referred to by natives as mugi-ika, but were still perfectly acceptable to make the Aomori specialty ika goro (squid stir-fried with bean sprouts and their own livers).
To round off the meal, and before I became too tired and emotional (3am is an early start, by even nautical standards) I gathered up the legs, tentacles, wings and off-cuts from all the previous dishes and tossed them into a well-seasoned fried rice with red peppers and some sundry other chopped vegetables; in fact squid seemed to outweigh rice in the final product, but at no detriment to the enjoyment of the dish.
I really enjoyed fishing with Captain Yutaka this year again, and hopefully I can get in another trip this summer. Flounder or rockfish will be coming into season and I greatly look forward to it.