With three ice fishing trips under our belt this winter, it’s finally time to update on some of the progress we have made into this new subsurface world. A lot of gear has been purchased, locations have been explored, and holes have been drilled in the last couple of months!
The destinations: Lake Shumarinai, about 4 hours north of Sapporo. Lake Kanayama near Minamifurano, about 2 hours east of Sapporo. And finally the smaller Lake Poroto about 90 minutes south.
Each location had its unique character. Shumarinai is a long haul for us. It’s the largest lake of the bunch and gets plenty of visitors for wakasagi fishing. It’s a good place to go if you don’t have all the gear to set off on your own. You can rent anything you need, and most of their holes are freshly drilled so you can get right to fishing.
Kanayama is a do it yourself kind of place. It’s an unlicensed lake, so there are no fees to pay, but you will have to have your own ice auger, tent, and all the other accoutrements.
Poroto was the closest lake we most recently set out for. It a nice spot to go either beginning or end of season. Here too you will have to bring all your own gear, but there is a small licensing fee.
This is a rundown of the essential gear we used for our wakasagi (Japanese pond smelt) expeditions:
Coleman Ice Fishing Shelter Auto (Large) – This costs a pretty penny and seem to be fast flying off the shelves in Japan. The more heavy duty ice shelter seen in the U.S. aren’t available here, but this one is roomy and works well enough. It seems to be a Japanese exclusive and the go to tent for most wakasagi enthusiasts. Its a quick setup, folds up umbrella style, and has multiple entries.
North Eagle Ice Drill (auger) – Picked this up at the local Homac. It was the last in stock. These are flying off the shelf folks! Probably not the highest quality drill on the market, but we had no problem hand drilling through a little less than a meter of ice with this guy. It’s a decent work out.
Wakasagi Ranger Rod Set – we aren’t going too hard core with our rods (just yet). The sky can be the limit, but this bundle only cost about 2,000 yen at Corso, the local fishing gear depot. Short (maybe 2 feet with tip attached), light, and easy to detect strikes with. This came with a pretty basic Mirage mini reel (baitcasting style). We found similar reels at our neighborhood Homac for about 1,500 yen. We got a bunch as spares.
low fishing chair (Prox Inc.) – Posture and comfort is very important in this kind of fishing. Not a fan of the sitting Japanese zazen style, which seems to be the norm. This one gets you down low enough while saving your knees/legs from long term damage. Prox Inc. makes a ton of medium quality gear for all styles of fishing in Japan. My waders are made by Prox and they have been going strong for about 6 years now.
Hayabusa Wakasagi Hooks – These come in a wide range of lengths, hook sizes and hook quantities. It’s best not to over think it. We try to opt for the 4 hook 45 centimeter length system. You can go with a longer 7 or 8 hook system but that just takes too long to set the bait up on and sometimes you just want to get fishing. You add a weight to the bottom (with an optional hook hanging from that!) Our basic rig looks like this:
A cheap live well – Basically we’ve been using small rectangular 100 yen shop plastic containers filled about halfway with water. It does the job and and you can get an approximate count on your fish (which accumulate quickly).
Wakasagi Antenna (Prox Inc.) – What the hell is a wakasagi antenna? Believe me, I was right there with you when I heard about this piece of gear. Essentially it is a long adjustable telescoping “antenna” that you can connect to your live well (or something else low lying). The top of the antenna has some grooves in it and extends to about a meter. When you need to re-bait your hooks or unhook caught fish, it makes the process much simpler. Most importantly, you will avoid a ton of potential (and realized) hook snags on clothing and fingers. Dangling 5 or more extremely tiny hooks without one of these seemingly bizarre tools is a Japanese ice fishing nightmare. The base of the antenna is also magnetized, which proves invaluable for unsnagging hooks caught under the ice.
low bamboo table (Prox Inc.) – Another WTF? piece of kit that proved its worth. If there are lulls in fishing, it is best to get your rod level, low and completely still. It also helps makes your area a bit more homey.
Bait – Wakasagi “Rabbit” (Melon, Cheese) – There are a variety of tiny grubs you can use. We’ve been sticking with the Wakasagi “Rabbit” variety. No idea why they are called that. They are about half the size (a couple millimeters) of the standard aka mushi (red worm) or shiro mushi (white worm). They also come small pieces of cheese or melon mixed with finely shredded wood chips. We assume that by digesting these particles their bodies take on a flavor more to the wakasagi’s liking. Our local Homac sells these, as well as Corso and Amirikaya (the big fishing depots of Sapporo).
Those are the main purchases. Of course, there are quite a few other items we keep adding to our setup: rod holders, ice anchors, foam interlocking tiles for around our feet, wakasagi unhookers, etc. There really is no limit to what you could end up buying and we are in a constant struggle to refine our gear. There is also a whole other level of gear that we haven’t even touched on such as electric reels, fishfinders, and heaters. That’s for maybe next year’s gear dump.
This style of fishing may not be for everyone. The gear is very Japanese centric, and hauling in over a hundred tiny smelt might not be your cup of tea. It’s more like fish “harvesting” than “fishing”. If the fish are there and you’ve done the proper prep work, then you’ll be bringing them up pretty consistently. Watch the end of your rod tip with a keen eye, and keep warm!