In any field, there are some persons who create their own specialties. Choji Hosoyama is definitely one of those figures, developing the world of big game fishing with just a single rod, line and hook. He crosses over mighty rivers and faces off against powerful freshwater fish by controlling his long pole. Fishing with minimum essentials is the way he always strives to in contrast to fishing with a boat and reel. This charismatic man referred to as “samurai” by foreign anglers told us about his philosophy and half a life through this interview. Despite his gentle manner of talking, his samurai sword looked still finely sharpened.
“Everything originally started when I had wondered how big fish I could catch in the Japanese traditional angling style. Of course I have tried lures and flies, too, but I couldn’t satisfy with the way I interacted with fish. So I thought what if I did fishing in an extreme condition, like having no more line when reeling. So I gave myself a challenge of angling with one rod, line and hook.
“And I also thought that I should do whole of the fishing by myself. It means I should scoop fish with net alone once it is hooked on my line. Then I made the rule even stricter by imposing restrictions, telling myself that I loose a fight to fish if I let other person help me scooping. When I landed a Japanese huchen, I scooped it by myself, saying “wait, I’ll take it,” although it was a guide who had a scoop net at the moment. However I can’t apply the rule when pulling large game such as a king salmon (the largest species in the salmon and trout genus. Japanese name: Masunosuke), the steelhead (a sea-run form of a large rainbow trout that comes up a river when laying eggs) and other huge ones (laugh).”
“Targeting big game in a main stream of river is just like doing Martial arts. You have to have a one-on-one interaction with fish, being fully stripped-down. When dealing with huge, powerful game, your body and line may be pushed to the limits. Even if you pull the rod up at full power, the fish tugs it back so strongly. Then I feel as if I were tested.
“Reels protect a fishing line from being broken when dragged mightily by rotating it backward. What will you do, however, when you use a rod without a reel and guide? You should step forward to gather strength of the fish into your rod. If the game comes closer, you’ve got to move back to keep the distance. I once realized that fish became increasingly vulnerable when I maintained tension of the line. As I got more experienced through trial and error, my line had stopped to be broken by fish unlike before. I also felt that my skills had been decidedly developed because I could gradually catch bigger game since then.
“The best part of mountain stream fishing is finding game on your own. When you do ocean fishing, a boatman brings you to a fishing point. And you take your rod out and drop a line when he yells at you to do so. On the other hand, you have to walk with your own feet when doing mountain stream fishing, although you may drive your car to a riverside from home. You’ve got to think about where you can find fish, taking the seasonal factor into consideration. I do enjoy searching out a certain kind of fish I’m targeting, thinking of unique identities of the game. It’s like playing hide-and-seek with them.
“When fishing in a river I have never visited before, I try some points that seem to be fish dens based on my experience. It is also important to go a same river time and again to put the location in mind by using your own feet. A good fishing point attracts anglers, too, though. In such a place, we often see more anglers than fish and we have to share our game. It makes, however, the point less attractive. Since fish should have other places to have a rest, you have to walk away from the crowd to look for other points if there are too many rivals. I think it will be for your own good in the future. By doing so, you can remember the location as well as getting more options. If you could catch fish at a point you have newly discovered, you may be able to feel a supreme satisfaction. It’s not fun to do fishing in a place that everybody knows.
I remember most of places I have caught fish because I repeatedly visited a same rivers. With accumulated memories of fishing, I seldom miss my tip. Skilled anglers have immense knowledge of such places. So, it’s not an incident that those anglers can get more fish, It’s just a matter of course. I can’t describe by words how I feel when an intended fish rises to the bait on the rod I swung.”
“I was born and raised here in Kiyose. At that time we were a family of six with my grandfather, parents, younger brother, uncle and me. My uncle was an angler and used to go fishing with me on his back. I do remember his profile I looked over his shoulder. He was holding disposable wooden chopsticks in his mouth and fish food made from knead dough and vinegar was attached to the tips of the chopsticks. I can also recall a scene that my uncle caught a fish after pulling his line up and removed the hook. Then he again attached the fish food on the hook and threw it into a river. I remember the scene really well.
“I did fishing for the very first time when I was around seven. My father came with me and made an improvised rod for me with a bamboo stick he found in a bamboo grove on the way to a fishing spot. We also bought cheap lines sold by the meter. At that time, fishhooks were sold in one’s, too. Our floats were made by hand, using styrofoam-like cores taken from kerria’s stems. If you prong it with a toothpick and add a rubber tube on, you can make a float by yourself. Although I mostly caught pale chubs back in those days, my very first angling result was a carassius.
“Raised in a place surrounded by nature, I always ran to a river after leaving my school bag at home. My father used to flatter me, saying; “you are very good at fishing!” Although he said so just because my fishing results became his extra side dish, I was really glad to hear the blandishments. At the age of seventeen, I fished a yamame trout, for the first time. My senior at school brought me to a small river called Tamagawa in the upper course of Lake Okutama. He gave me salmon roe as bait, instructing to fish with it. Soon after dropping my line into the river, I felt a nibble on it. It was just a small, 10-cm-long yamame trout, but I was surprised to know that we could catch fish in such a deep forest. The fish looked unbelievably beautiful and touched my heart, too.
“Since then I became fascinated by yamame trout and got fully into fishing it. After getting my driving license at the age of eighteen, I drove to various rivers just by myself on each day off. At that time I worked as a carpenter. Seeing my uncle working also as a carpenter, I thought that joining a company was not a thing for me (laugh). So I had been wanting to be a craftsman from the quite early stage.
“At first I loved to do fishing in headwaters. I used to camp in the mountains for about a week to catch iwana chars. I also did some side jobs such as helping to build houses as an electrician or scaffolder after finishing my carpenter job. Without belonging to any companies, I could do things in the way I liked.
“When I was about twenty, my uncle and I went to Tama River, the downstream of a dam in Lake Okutama, to catch some pale chubs. Then I found two large fish swimming under our rods. I asked my uncle what the fish was and he said those were yamame trout. It was really surprising for me because I didn’t know yamame trout could get so big. Since I had only paste bait at that time because we visited the place for pale chub fishing, I dropped my line with the bait a little ahead to let it stream down to the fish. But the game dodged the bait smoothly. Later I learned that yamame trout eat aquatic insects.
“After realizing that there are such huge yamame trout in the main stream, my will to catch them got stronger. That was why I started to fish large yamame trout in main streams.”
“At the age of 22, I landed a 33-cm-long yamame trout just like the one I saw with my uncle. It was a beautiful, wild fish with slick scales. The rod I used at that time was about 6-meters-long. I hooked, battled and landed it all by myself and then put it in my creel to keep it alive. But I went to check the creel very many times as I felt so anxious if it became unfastened. My hands shook with excitement when I tried to attach bait for next game.
“Since then I became absorbed in catching bigger game. As I had a SHIMANO’s sweetfish rod, I once thought of trying it because main streams were too wide to use normal rods. So I started to go to Tama River alone with the nine-meters-long rod. Current “main stream fishing” style with both hands was naturally formed at the time because I couldn’t hold the rod in one hand as it weighed about 400g.
“There were no anglers who fish yamame trout in the main stream, so the field was almost untouched and I could fish as much as I wanted. Because fish also didn’t get use to be caught, I could hook it wherever I dropped my line. I now think that I could do the fishing in the good time as it is really hard to get big game recently.
“When I sometimes met other anglers in the main stream, they often said; ‘I saw you just the other day. What are you trying to catch?’ Whenever I answered that I was trying to fish yamame trout, they said; ‘Are there any yamame trout here? I thought you were fishing pale chubs.’ Then, after a conversation like; ‘Can you tell me how to do it next time?’ ‘Why don’t you just try next to me now? It’s better than being taught,’ I gradually got company.”
“Studies of fish have stepped forward at that time, too. Before then, even the people fishing in Yoshida River or Nagara River (both in Gujo City in Gifu Prefecture), the famous fishing spots for satsukimasu salmons, had only sensuously knew that they always started to fish large amago trout from a certain time of year. And they had called the fish Gujo amago trout. Later new researches revealed that the fish was actually didn’t live there, but came up from the sea. Then the fish started to be called as satsukimasu salmons.”
“Since some kinds of fish like sakuramasu and satsukimasu salmons are sea-run species, they don’t actually live in a river, but swim it up in stages. If you try to catch the fish, it is quite important to think about where they would have a rest because they tend to nibble bait when staying at a point to take a break. Unlike short-term sea-run trout, sakuramasu and satsukimasu salmons don’t actually eat while traveling. They just bite anything disrupting their way. So, you should repeatedly cast a line with bait in front of them to irritate. Although the fish may dodge it at first, they will eventually snap the bait as if saying; “don’t bother me.” And then you catch the game. That’s the way to fish sakuramasu and satsukimasu salmons.
“I will never forget a 65cm-long sakuramasu salmon I landed in 1995 in Yoneshiro River. Soon after I hooked it, the fish started to ramp around and my rod was swayed violently to and fro. I think I can’t move the rod like that even by myself. The river wasn’t so deep, so I still don’t understand how the fish moved so wildly at the moment. It took fifteen to twenty minutes to land it. Since the length of my fishing line was over one meter, I had a tough time to draw the fish to me. Reminding the words of Mr. Onda(*1) “Never feel rushed. You can land the fish anyway if you keep hooking it until it dies. At stake is whether you are patient enough to do so,” I frantically went through and caught the fish at the end. There was also a tree behind me, so I had to avoid my rod from banging it. It was really hard to catch the fish, but the pain added to my happiness. It’s really unforgettable.”
“The fish which I have struggled with the most to land was a king salmon. I caught it while traveling to Alaska for a SHIMANO’s TV program. This is the one (pointing a stuffed specimen behind). My record is 110cm in length. Normally a length of fish means the one from the snout to the longest end (center) of the tail fin, but I always measured the length to the shortest end of the tail fin. Battling with the game was really exciting. The power of the fish was totallydifferent from what I had felt before.
“I have traveled to Alaska about four times. I became eager to fish king salmons becouse of Takeshi Kaiko. It was when I was in my thirties and my main fishing game was chars at that time. When seeing Kaiko carrying a king salmon on his back in “Kawa Wa Nemuranai (Rivers Never Sleep)” movie (1984), I wondered if I could catch the fish with a reeless rod. Since Kaiko was deeply linked with Okutadami (Ginzandaira of Nigata Prefecture) and there were many references related to him available at a place near Kitanomata River (Takeshi Kaiko Memorial Corner at the Ginzandaira dock for sightseeing boats), I viewed various materials about him. I have read his book such as “Opa!” and love his attitude toward fishing.
“As you may know, Kaiko was famous for his lure fishing. Although I used a reeless rod, I thought I might be able to fish at least one king salmon if I could hook many of those. In other words, if I could catch ten king salmons, I may be able to land one of those although it would be difficult to get all.
“However king salmons don’t live in Japan even if I wanted to fish it so desperately. Since I was trying to catch other fish at that point, I couldn’t get an opportunity to challenge it. It took so long time to make my dream come true.
“Sometime after I was involved in the development of SHIMANO’s fishing rods, I told to the company’s person about my dream to fish a king salmon and asked him whether we could make a rod for that for fun. Although I thought there was little hope, SHIMAMO unexpectedly accepted my offer. A rod named “Salmon Special” was created like that, and a more powerful version of the rod called “Masunosuke” came out a bit later (*2). Although I was trying to go to Alaska by myself with a thought that the rod would give me an opportunity to fish king salmons, SHIMANO said that they would send staff there to record the company’s TV show. So we went to Alaska together in 2006.
“I have been filmed fishing many times and always could have a decent catch when being shot. In Alaska, too, I could land a 110cm-long king salmon. I don’t feel any pressure in front of a camera. Actually I feel that I will be able get better or bigger game in such a situation. Maybe I’m a kind of person who can concentrate on fishing under the gaze.”
“Because SHIMANO said that they wanted to make rods for big game in main streams continuously, I’m glad to help in anything I can. I also made a promise to Mr. Onda. He once said to me; “I’ll give you this Gujo rod, so make a better one for me.” So the offer from SHIMANO was just what I had been whishing for. I have taken a role as a field tester for them.
“Actually I have few opportunities to use completed products. Whenever I go fishing, SHIMANO gives me a new prototype. Then I get a phone call from the company’s person asking; “Have you tried it?” So there’s no time for me to bask in the afterglow of a completion of each product (laugh).”
“Actually I have been doing Tenkara fishing as long as bait fishing. I’ve heard that the style becomes popular in other countries, too. I just did Tenkara fishing when I released young yamame trout to Tama River quite recently,
“My fishing tackle is very unique. Since my Tenkara rod is made from a rod for pale chubs, it is over four meters in length. And the line for the rod is about eight meters while the length of leader is a little shorter than 1.5 meters. It means the length from the tip of rod to the fly is about nine meters. I do Tenkara fishing with the tackle in main stream, not in upper stream.
“I tie the fly by myself, too. After sinking it to about 5cm-deep, I pull the line with some actions. It’s like rhythmically dapping the line loosened from the rod to water and moving the sunken fly as if it is floating. Since fish rises to the fly when it moves, the fish will be hooked as you dap your rod. And you can catch it as you erect the rod. It means you can catch fish at the same time as attracting it. Although it’s a bit hard to see your fly clearly on gross as the rod is quite long, you may be able to spot the rough location. So it’s possible to see your game rising to the fly and flipping over. As you float a fly on water, fish hits the bait quickly. So I understand people tend to think that fish always rises quickly to flies. If a fly moves lightly in water, however, fish bites it at a slower speed.
“When I went to Kinu River with my friend for yamame trout fishing in the main stream, I heard loud plops at short intervals. Then the sound became closer and closer. So I said; “This is not the time to do bait fishing! I’ll go to my car,” and fetched my Tenkara rod. After waiting for the fish to come close enough, I quickly cast the fly and caught it. After that I landed lots of returned yamame trout which were about 40cm-long. Since my friend saw it and said that he wanted to try, I lent my rod to him. Although he couldn’t actually hook it, seeing the fish rising to the bait was so enjoyable for him that he didn’t give the rod back to me (laugh). Eventually the group of fish went away from us. Though many people think I’m a person of main stream fishing, I do love Tenkara, too, and look forward to the coming season.
“The size and number of Hokkaido fish is totally different from the main island’s. Hokkaido fish is way larger both in number and size. In the area, you can meet various kinds of fish that you have never seen in the main island. Experiencing what you cannot do in the main island, you may feel as if you are staying abroad.
Because I may hook big game at any moment regardless of size of rivers in Hokkaido, I always use ‘Masunosuke’ rod. Along with chum salmons, pink salmons and sakuramasu salmons, white spotted chars and rainbow trout can all be over 70cm or 80cm in length. When I catch those, normal equipment will be just useless. Therefore I prepare special rods and tackles for such big game whenever I visit Hokkaido.
The place is also angling-friendly as we don’t need to have fishing admission tickets (*4) with very few exceptions such as Akan River. Aside from some no-fishing rivers, you can enjoy fishing in most of the rivers in Hokkaido without cumbersome procedure. Oh but you must be careful about wild bears (laugh).
Since I visited Churui River for salmon fishing in 1997, Hokkaido has been the place I go every year. I want to fish in Teshio River this year to catch an over-a-meter-long Japanese huchen.”
“Although the way I fish has been shown many times through various media, my purpose of fishing is not to show off to other people, but to satisfy myself.
I think I have caught quite large game so far, but I still want to fish larger ones. I would be really happy if I could land larger fish in each species I have ever caught. For example, a 100cm-long Japanese huchen and a 120cm-long king salmon. It’s really endless.
Actually somebody asked me to go to Mongolia to fish taimens (*5). Since I will soon not be strong enough to land over-a-meter game, I urged the guy to realize the plan (laugh). It’ll be great if I could hook some taimens and land one of them. I think we should try it in such a casual way.
My dream is to catch a 120cm-long fish (muso yon-shaku). So if there were a 120cm-long taimen in the country, my goal is going to be much reachable. Well, so I will measure the size of fish from the shortest end (center) of tail fin as always (laugh).”
Born in Kiyose, Tokyo, in 1949, Hosoyama is a pioneer and godfather of main stream fishing for big game such as sakuramasu salmons and chum salmons. With his insatiable curiosity and skills of fishing, he has received respect from numerous fishing lovers as a charismatic angler of mountain stream fishing in Japan. He belongs to Nihon Keiryu Zuri Renmei (Japan Mountain Stream Fishing Confederation), as well as being a leader of a fishing club called “Tamagawa Yamame Do”.