Thursday, January 29, 2009

"wakasagi" ice fishing

With the spring-like weather we've been having lately, it seems impossible, but about a week ago I received a call from Y-san, asking if I was free to go ice-fishing. I was in the middle of lunch, and had research I COULD work on, but ice-fishing sounded vastly more interesting, and research can wait--besides. . .it's all fieldwork!

I walked to Y-san's place near the center of town. He looked over my clothing. . .I was lacking nagagutsu, long rubber boots ubiquitous in many rural Japanese communities. I had also come wearing jeans. . .ski pants would be preferable, I was told by Y-san. We dropped back by my place so I could change and then headed down to a section of the Otaki river where the flowing water begins to be held back by Makio Dam.

I parked my car in an area above the river. Looking down I saw several small figures encircled by a dark patch of slowly melting ice. The chunk of ice the men sat at the center of was not much larger than a baseball diamond, with open water on either end. Y-san and I scrambled down the river's high bank and stepped, with a bit of hesitation, onto the ice. The frozen river creaked and cracked as we moved our weight onto and over it. My stomached dropped a bit.
T-san, my good friend and Y-san's father, greeted us and got us geared up. Y-san used a drill to open a new hole in the ice, a bit away from the water pooling under the weight of the fishermen who had been there since morning. The line that T-san set up for me consisted of several hooks--perhaps three tied vertically, and three more that stretched out horizontally in a "T" shape at the bottom of the line. On each hook rode a small piece of pink something. . .I'm not sure what. Fishing for wakasagi ("lake smelt", Hypomesus olidus--accroding to the ALC dictionary) consists dropping one's line into a open hole in the ice, and waiting for a bit of motion (the fish biting). When the bite one pulls up on the line in a single smooth movement, and then continues to draw the line in, hand over hand. If one's lucky they will find a single small fish. . .luckier, two. . .really lucky, three. Wakasagi are tiny little things, about 10-30 centimeters. However, T-san assured me that they are the best tasting fish around. "Bread and fry them in some oil. . .", he said with a grin.

Y-san and I sat and worked on our technique as T-san pointed out mistakes and offered advice. T-san also brought hot sake, which was difficult to keep hot for long, but the thought was nice. Before long I pulled my first wakasagi from the ice. I posed with T-san for a photo. . .refusing to let the size of my catch discourage the pride I was feeling.
Our skill improving, Y-san and I began to pull one fish after another--within 90 minutes we had caught about 30. We were both beginning to feel the cold, mostly shooting up from out feet. T-san invited me over to his house for a taste of our day's catch. I eagerly agreed. Y-san and I made our way off the ice, leaving the fishing to the real fishermen.

And later at T-san's house. . .
. . .don't have words.


Project Hyakumeizan said...

Many thanks for the recipe - will bear it in mind next time there is a chance to go ice-fishing....

kelli alicia said...

those look tasty...I'm looking forward to some good seafood myself once I get to Indo...although they come from slightly warmer waters!

I'm off to the field tomorrow morning - any advice, O wise and experienced field researcher?

Maethelwine said...


I just wanted to let you know that I've mentioned you on Japan in Motion's Blogs on Japan site. Come look at the writeup if you like, and correct me if I've mischaracterized your research.

I love this blog! I wish there were more like this around. Keep it up, please, even though some of the rest of us get lazy for months at a time. And be sure to leave it online after you finish your time in Otaki! Thanks.