My time at Kamuy – short stories
To me, this picture truly illustrates the work of a fishing guide.
At the center of the picture, we see a happy guest with his catch, Paul. He enjoyed a 3 days fishing trip with us and landed 5 salmons that day on the pretty shore of the Okhotsk Sea.
At the left of Paul, we see a happy trainee, me. Happy because of my small contribution to the catch (one salmon), but mostly because of the experience I gained from this trip. Catching the fish is the tip of the iceberg for a fishing guide. The preparation, the action and the reaction are what actually constitute the success of the trip.
In the background, we see a discreet captain who knew where to take us and who was very generous with his advices. An 81 years old man agile as a ninja on his boat and a wise man on the shore eyeing the sea to make sure his guests are at the good location at the right time for the best fishing.
And then, the person you don't see in the picture because he is behind the camera, the modest guide. The one also behind the success of this trip. He handled every details and surprises of the journey. His years of experience and his passion for fishing are shown on this picture for the ones who can see the bottom of the iceberg: the location and the type of fishing recommended in accordance to the time of the year, the rods, the lures and the bait to catch salmon, the booking of accommodation, the transportation and food logistic, the equipment to make sure the guests are suited for fishing, comfortable and safe. Kamuy's guide took a guest's trip request and transformed it into lasting memories for a father and daughter.
My time at Kamuy made me learn much more than I expected. In addition to learning new fishing skills, I realised how much dedication it takes to fulfill such a job.
Kamuy fishing service
Located in the small village of Akaiwaga, Kamuy fishing service offers guiding of water trips and fishing instructions almost all around Hokkaido. Fishing can be enjoyed walking the river with waders, from a boat on the river or kayaks on the lake. All level of anglers can have fun at Kamuy, from the advance to the family who wants to experience fishing for the first time and enjoy Hokkaido traditional BBQ!
Weather doesn’t stop Kamuy’s team and guests to fish, BBQ and have fun!
I was lucky to be selected by Kamuy to become one of the first foreigner interns. I approached Kamuy to seek a position where I could learn from an experienced guide and discover fishing in Japan. With very little knowledge about me they took me into their team, office and home and were more than generous to me. Not only did I learn about fishing and guiding, but I had the chance to meet wonderful people from various backgrounds, to travel around Hokkaido, to learn about farming, to improve my understanding and speaking of Japanese and to discover more of the local culture through a complete immersion. I am very grateful for this opportunity they have given me.
The day after my arrival we woke up at 3 am to get to our fishing location and meeting point with our guest at 5 am. I am not an early person, but I became one for my time at Kamuy. If you want to catch the fish you need to be willing to wake up for it! Furthermore this time of the day let’s you enjoy a very special light and witness the morning fog disappear from the mountains a typical and beautiful scenery of Hokkaido.
Waiting for our guest at the end point of the course
The first trip was a river draft boat trip with one foreigner guest. We went to Shiribetsu River in Niseko area. A trip with the draft boat requires finding not only the good location to fish, but finding also accessible locations and to plan transportation logistic for the guides and the guests. A meeting point, a start point and an end point, which are referrer as ‘’strong side'’, must be found and accessible with a trailer to take the boat in and out of the river.
Most of the time, the guests don’t realize this planning as for them it is made very easy. Usually we meet the guests and go to the end point of the trip where we prepare the guests for the trip with appropriated clothing and lifejacket and where they can leave their car and valuables. All this so when we arrive to the end point the guests can change and leave with their car after a nice trip. but a lot of time and energy is spent driving around Hokkaido to survey the rivers and their banks to find these suitable locations.
That was the objective of my second trip at Kamuy, we drove from Otaru to Shokotsu river in order to survey these ‘’Strong side’’ and to test the river. Two full days of driving, researching and of course fishing. The Shokotsu River proves to meet all the guide’s needs and expectations and became an addition to Kamuy’s portfolio. It is accessible, pretty and full of fish☺. We also surveyed the Yubetsu River which didn’t meet the ‘’strong side’’ location and the scenery standard that Kamuy wishes to seek.
My first Japanese rainbow trout
After researching the river and stopping to almost all the fishing stores between the Monbetsu area and the Niseko area my first ‘’formal assignment’’ was to redo all the Japanese style fishing rods. Kensuke told me it was his first assignment when he started to train as a guide. I learned new knot, the perfection knot, and this was the best way to practice it! Kensuke showed me the typical Japanese set-up which has to be well balanced between the size of the buoy, the weight and the hook and well measured to insure maximum catch!
Japan traditional style fishing rods.
We often use these rods with family trips because they are simple and efficient for beginners. Before coming to Japan, I had never seen this type of rods and now I bought 4 to bring home! To try and to know different fishing style is important because a guide will have to adapt to its environment and guests and propose the best angling technique. For most of our family groups, these rods are amazing because they are simple to set up, they don’t break, they fold very well and, yes, they are good for catching fish! Children and beginners can handle this rod and spend time enjoying fishing instead of being challenge by their equipment.
During my time at Kamuy, I had the chance to do an unforgettable salmon fishing expedition. We drove to Shiretoko National Park to seek salmon fishing. We had 3 days with a father, Paul, and his daughter, Tanya, from Singapore. He was experienced and eager to catch salmon in a short time and she was a first timer angler willing to follow and embark in this adventure.
After a long drive we met our guests and Kamuy’s guide planned to use our first day as a training day to get to know each other, to teach the basics to the daughter and get familiar with the wild area. We headed in waders to a beautiful and accessible river to begin. For those who don’t know Shiretoko area is well known for its fish, but also for its bears! It is not unusual to see them close to the rivers and even just strolling on the road. In the first hour of the first day there it was a brown bear was right across the river from us. We were advised by Kamuy’s guide of the bear situation and what to do or not to do and we had our bells, bear spray and walked as a group, but still it was a surprise to see it so close!
We didn’t move and we let it go pass us and it didn’t seem to mind us. Then an interesting situation happened which will be explained more in the Challenges short story, we stopped fishing this river area and moved to another river closer to town and safer. At the end of the day, all had catch some nice trout and we were all excited by the next day to come. We called that day: Bear’s day!
The second day, we woke up at 2 am in order to be at 4 am to the port where we were to take a local fisherman boat to different shores chosen by the captain. Ten guests were on the boat and eager to catch salmon! Kamuy’s guides had previously prepared all the rods following the captain’s advice and it wasn’t long that it proved to be successful. In less than an hour, our lady guest caught here first two salmons! Call it beginners luck or she has a secret talent, but I think it was that she listened and executed the guide’s advices perfectly. I will always remember that morning. The salmons were jumping and rising and we could see the Russian islands in the background. Many other anglers caught salmon in the first 2 hours and then the rhythm slowed down. Fishermen came to collect sea weed in our area which probably stressed the fish out so the captain decided to take us to another location. Kamuy’s guide caught a nice salmon on his first cast reminding us of his impeccable knowledge of reading the fishing environment. We headed back to port around noon and went to local onsen, one of the joys of fishing in Japan, to relax after a long exciting morning! We called that day: Tania’s day!
Tanya’s fish salmon and our boat captain
The third day, for Kamuy’s guide and the boat captain, our main concern was that everyone catches a salmon. Paul had caught many trout the first day, but we hoped he could enjoy salmon as well, another challenge that guides are faced with. Again we woke up at 2 am and got early on the shore and again in the first few minutes of fishing it was successful! Paul landed 2 salmon in the first hour and he fished consistently all morning enjoying a total of 5 landed salmon! No fishermen came that day and the sea was generous, all anglers on the boat brought back at least one salmon even if the foxes were close by to try to sneak them from us!
Foxes are strolling around waiting for your inattention to sneak either your salmon or your lunch!
This trip was a lot of work as for the guides work doesn’t stop much. After fishing we had to get lure and prepare or repair the rods. We need to adjust to surprises like encountering a bear on the first day and handling accommodation challenges. It was a good feeling to take a final picture after a memorable 3 days fishing knowing that we had created long lasting memories for a father and daughter. We called that day: Paul’s day!
The next few days, we had a little break were we enjoyed some personal fishing. Kensuke was very generous and brought me to some of his favorite locations. Amazing scenery, few anglers and lots of fish, we enjoyed relaxing near the river and looking for beetles!
In the next weeks, Obon period followed. Obon is an annual event in Japan during August where families travels and reunite to remember the loved ones who have passed away. We were busy with mainly Japanese family traveling to Hokkaido with lake or river trips. I had the opportunity to guide my first trip on the lake and it was happy to see the trust that Kensuke had in me. On a more personal note, I was invited to celebrate Obon with Kensuke’s family and this was a highlight in my stay at Kamuy. To be introduce in a local family, to experience a cultural event like Obon and to be welcomed with open arms made me feel very grateful. Lots of BBQ and fun while practicing Japanese and laughing with kids and adults!
This experience was more than an internship, it was an immersion in a fishing and local community. I have learnt a lot about fishing and guiding and I gain experience by being on the ground and taking on trips. Here are the 2 biggest challenges as an assistant guide that I experienced during my time at Kamuy.
#1 – Meet the guests expectations
Everyone wants to catch big fish! As much as a guide can be good, sometimes there is just not catch. So many factors come into consideration when fishing and most of the time our guests are not aware of the complexity behind the trip. When responding to a request we try to make sure guests understand the chances of catching what they expect. Timing of the day is very important and will change your success odds. Anglers often come for a short period of time which elevates the challenge to catch fish.
#2 – Plan well and be prepared for surprises
Fishing must be done with patience! From what I have experienced here at Kamuy is that guests who follow the guide’s instruction from the beginning (from location to timing and how to handle the rod) will see their chances of catching fish rise up! One phenomenon we often see is that usually the intermediate or advance anglers tent to do what they want while beginners follow all the instructions…maybe this is the secret behind beginners luck!
What started as an untypical request from a foreigner became a great adventure to both parties. Kamuy’s team took a guess on me and decided to help a foreigner in her quest for fishing in Japan. What Kamuy has accomplish to built as a fishing guide company truly inspired me as each trip was focus on having a good time outside and sharing our passion for fishing to our guests.
Having fun with the language barrier and different cultural habits made this experience quite interesting and sometimes very funny. I finally got Kensuke to try a maple syrup salmon recipe and I expanded my food horizon by trying various sea foods I had never seen! We spoke sometimes a limited English and a very broken Japanese from my part, but the gesture are universal: going for an ice cream after a tour meant we did a good job.
Time flew by and this experience will stay forever with me. The generosity of Kamuy’s team is immeasurable from the warm welcome to the time taken to show me new skills and introducing me to friends and relatives. They shared their life with me for a few weeks where I felt at home and made great new friends. Thank you.
I was used to go fishing on my own or with angler friends which is very different than guiding guests. Everything has to be taught through and plan A, B and C have to be ready to set in action. Every night before a trip we would call the guests to confirm reservation and discuss the weather conditions. Sometimes we would go a day prior to the trip, to our ‘’Strong side’’ to make sure they were accessible and safe. In the early morning, we would set up the rods, prepare the gear and extra gear for weather change and hit the road to meet our guests. We focus on everything that is necessary and kept it simple as it is the best way to enjoy a relaxing time on the water. Efficient thinking and packing minimizes the risks of accident and breaking material.
Then as the trip goes along, a lot of improvisation has to be done throughout the changing conditions and environment. The encounter of the bear in Shiretoko is a good example. To come across a bear made the guide take a decision which was to leave the river. Kamuy’s guide knows that the bear would probably come back on the same track eventually and it wasn’t safe to stay. This decision was made by the guide as he is an experienced and skillful person who wants to ensure safety to his guests. This decision didn’t make the guests happy at that moment. Our guests had seen bears before and wanted to stay at the location because the fishing was good. We could all feel a discomfort and it was only the beginning of the trip, but Kamuy’s guide made safety of his guests the priority and we changed river. It is not easy to take a decision like this and to challenge guests. In the late afternoon, we went back to that river when we knew it was a better timing. Kamuy’s guide knowledge made him handle the situation in an efficient manner.
Kamuy's Guide "Kensuke"