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Iris River - Carp on the fly

February 05, 2016

The Iris River, is a tributary to the mighty Arakawa River that forms the northern border of Tokyo. I discovered this river when perusing through Tokyo Fly Fishing & Country Club - it looked like a great river to fish for Carp, so I dropped a pin on a map and saved it; in case I ever found myself in that neighborhood. Well on the train headed towards Toshimaen I noticed that the little gold star on my map was not too far from the Toshimaen Fishing Park - so I figured it would be worth another 40 minutes or so on the train to get there after exploring the fishing park.

During this off season I have become increasingly interested in bringing to hand Carp with my Tenkara rod. During fishing trips to the Tama River and Sagami River I had seen a lot of Carp but they never seemed interested in my flies. I tried dry flies, bead head midges, I mixed in streamers, Sculpin Bunnies, and poppers - in other words I was trying everything in my fly box to get their attention... And none of it worked. Now in my research of catching Carp with a fly there was a multitude of literature proclaiming the difficulties of bringing Carp to hand with a fly rod. I had seen some videos of fly anglers in and around Tokyo feeding Carp bread then attaching bread to their flies to trick the Carp into taking their fly. To me that reeked of impurity and disrespect, personally I would rather get skunked then resort to baiting fish with my Tenkara rod. So I kept researching techniques on catching Carp.

One of the things I read was that you had to get the fly right in front of them or else they were not likely to take it. It was also important to watch their feeding habits and adjust your fly selection accordingly. For example if you saw them rising to the surface to feed then it was best to use dry flies. However, most of the time they feed off the bottom or in the middle of the water column - so to get down to their level, so to speak, you should resort to flies that sink and then control the depth using a variety of techniques (e.g. floating line, strike indicators, droppers, etc...). I adapted these techniques slightly to take advantage of the benefits of a Tenkara rod. I could control the depth of the fly by lifting or dropping my rod tip and I could match the drift of the river with my fly by following the current with my rod tip. This afforded me a perfect dragless drift that could deposit my fly anywhere within the water column that I saw Carp feeding in - on the bottom, in the middle, or on the top. Also since Carp tend to thrive in urban (read polluted) waters they are constantly feeding on a cornucopia and wildly varying array of food. Unlike Trout that are most likely feeding on whatever is hatching or flying about (and starving the rest of the time) Carp feed on all manner of food - so matching the hatch is not as crucial. As a Tenkara angler who fished almost exclusively with kebari last season, breaking the "match the hatch" mindset was not hard at all.

Armed with this knowledge I disembarked from the train and walked down to the river. It was a spectacular day, the sun was shining, the grass along the river was green, and there were fluffy clouds dotting the blue sky. I sat down in the grass and purple wildflowers on the bank and rigged my rod tying on a Tungsten Head Rainbow Warrior. As I began stalking a pod of Carp cruising along the bank like little submarines, I noticed that they were feeding in the mud on the bottom of the river. So I plunked my fly in and right away I noticed that they were interested in my fly but I kept missing the set. As I was fishing a young lady approached me. My Japanese is getting better everyday but I am still frustrated at my inability to carry on even the most simplest of conversations. The other day a group of kindergartners engaged me in conversation on a hike and I had no idea what they were saying. (Sidenote: the kids in Japan are badass, much more so than American kids imo. Pre-school kids go hiking with their teachers on field trips all the time - and not easy jaunts either. I once saw a troop of kids, who could have been no older than six, headed down from the summit of Mount Fuji!)  It is humbling to know that four and five year olds can talk better (and hike farther) than you! Anyways I digress - this young lady and I began the "dance" that ensues when two people do not speak the same language. I pulled out my translation app on my smart phone and she did the same on her phone. Soon enough we were walking together along the path bumbling our way through conversation. From what I could make out she knew of spot with lots of Carp that she wanted to show me.

My impromptu new friend and local Carp guide!

As we were walking and talking she began showing me pictures from her various fishing and hiking expeditions. She was quite an adventurer, and a successful angler too! We quickly arrived at the spot she was telling me about - it was the intersection of a smaller creek flowing from a tunnel into the Iris River. Where the two met there were about ten Carp idling about feeding throughout the water column. I was able to stand above them and drop my fly in and began Honryu fishing for Carp! I had a very clear view of the fish and was able to see how quickly they would take my fly in their mouth and then spit it out! No wonder I had not caught a Carp yet! After a few missed sets I hooked into my first Carp! It made a banzai run for the depths of the tunnel and so I ran down the bank attempting to pull her out of the tunnel. She reversed direction and made a run for the Iris River. I dropped the butt of my rod giving it a nice solid bend so that the rod could do the work of slowing her down and not my 5x tippet. I estimated her to be about 50cm long and quite fat, as Carp tend to be. As I was beginning to wonder how in the heck I was going to land this monster, remove my fly, and release her she relieved me of my worries by popping off my hook, and then she darted into the relative safety of the tunnel along with her comrades.

I was ecstatic at hooking my first Carp! I did not care that it had gotten off (or as Daniel Galhardo says "long distance catch and release") it was the first fish that I had on my line since September 2015. I was also a bit nostalgic as the Carp fought very similarly to the way that large Fallfish do - it hunkered in and threw its weight around. I handed my Tenkara rod to my new friend and she gave it a go. The Carp took her fly several times but quickly spit it out before she could set the hook. After giving it a shot for awhile we both had to go as the sun was beginning to set and I had a 2+ hour train ride to get home. We walked together for awhile, me practicing my Japanese and she practicing her English. At the foot bridge we parted ways with a hearty "Yoi ichinichi O".

On the way home I came across a tiny Soba stand tucked into a hidden hallway of the Yokohama Station and enjoyed a very hearty and delicious bowl of Soba and Chicken with a side of rice and pork. The perfect meal to wrap up a great day of exploring some of the urban fishing potential of Tokyo Japan!

Written by Isaac Tait who now lives in San Diego but dreams of returning, one day, to Japan. You should follow him on Twitter