Tuesday, 19 April 2016  |  Paul G

Another really remarkable character in Japanese tenkara is “Ajari” a human database of river conditions for hundreds and hundreds of fishing spots! For any given time and weather/river-flow conditions he can tell you what species will be feeding where/when, for how long and how best to catch them. It is not unusual for Dr. Ishigaki to call Ajari’s phone to check where’s hot and where’s not when there is an important article to write or footage to be filmed; his knowledge is that accurate and valuable! He is also a world-class “photobomber”, possessing perhaps an absolutely unique ability to photobomb his own pictures!

The nickname (because, of course, “Ajari” is not his real name!) comes from a habit of always bringing the same speciality dessert to tenkara-camp BBQs. These “Ajari-mochi” are a speciality confection of Kyoto and have a sweet azuki-bean paste centre, wrapped in a soft rice-flour, powdered sugar and egg dough. They are known for being sold in a very famous bakery (called Full Moon or “Mangetsu”) in Kyoto. Interestingly, “Ajari” also means “Great Teacher” in Tendai Buddhism – which is appropriate because on top of his encyclopaedic knowledge of fishing spots – his is also a phenomenal catcher of fish. 

Ajari started out as a superb bass competition angler – and this is where he developed his habit of cataloguing water conditions, temperatures, weather systems and so on – and particularly their effect on fish behaviour. Although he grew tired of intense bass competition fishing, he carried over this assiduous record-keeping into his tenkara practice; and he applies it to an ever-growing catalogue of obscure and brilliant tenkara fishing venues. He has been heavily involved in the development of the Honryu tenkara movement that has sprung up over the last 10 to 15 years – and is very happy to use tungsten-weighted flies and bright dubbing in his specialist fly patterns if he feels the situation requires it. His casting accuracy is excellent and, moreover, his knowledge of fish behaviour is absolutely phenomenal. During one of his tying demonstrations, we recorded some great descriptions of his insights into fish “body language” and also the fine points of inducing takes from unwilling fish. Of course, his control of the fly and his ability to transmit what he wants it to do from his hand, along the rod and down the line is superb. To say this guy is a special angler is something of an understatement.

His favoured rods tend to be in the 4.5-m range, matched with lines in the 5 to 8-m range (or even much longer if required) made from level fluorocarbon. For unweighted kebari, the line will be as light as possible and for heavier flies, cast into deep runs to be manipulated strongly, he will increase the line weight a little if necessary (as well as increasing the tippet length to compensate for the casting line being in contact with the water). He loves catching big fish in big, powerful rivers! In fact, if he was a climber – he would be known as a very bold or “necky” one! His solo explorations of potential new venues where wild bears, land-slips/rock-falls and other hazards are common – and where entry and exit trails/climbs are unknown – require a great deal of self-reliance and an utterly fearless spirit. Both the number of annual fishing hours that he clocks up and the tally of fish that he catches (and releases – quite an unusual trait in Japanese angling) are hugely impressive. Only a fool would ignore any piece of advice or thoughts on fishing that he has to offer.

A natural impish clown with a talent for finely-judged comic acting – Ajari’s good-natured teasing and self-deprecating humour are irresistible. Don’t be fooled though, he is frighteningly effective with a fishing rod and artificial fly! It is just that, as with every member of this band of tenkara obsessives, he lives life to the full and loves the food, drink and friendship that the group regularly celebrates at their weekend meet-ups. We missed him as soon as we left Japan and really look forward to our next chances to fish (and drink) together again.