In my 17 years in Japan, I have only gone fishing a handful of times. The first was one year into living here, with my friend Taka-san and his dad. I only knew basic Japanese at the time, so we couldn’t really have conversations, but we got on well, and even though I didn’t catch anything, we just enjoyed spending the day hanging out, with fishing as the excuse. Fast forward to a few years ago, and I again found myself fishing, this time at Lake Shumarinai in Hokkaido with my friend Diego. It was the middle of fall, and we went out on a boat around lunchtime to try fly fishing. It was great fun, but once again, I caught nothing. So, I thought I knew what to expect when I went fishing in the Seto Inland Sea, enjoying the sea air in this idyllic, fantastic location as we rolled across the waves in a boat. Only this time, what I wasn’t prepared for was: I caught a fish.
The Seto Inland Sea: A Fishing Paradise
The Seto Inland Sea is known as one of the best places to go fishing in Japan. It is not directly exposed to ocean currents, so the waters are calm, but it is directly connected to the Pacific Ocean, so there is a tide. The fish you can catch are seasonal: horse mackerel from spring to fall, rockfish and scabbardfish in winter, and red sea bream year-round. Last but not least, the climate is moderate, and it’s stunning — there are around 700 islands scattered across the inland sea, so there is an ever-changing vista to enjoy.
We Tried Our Hand at Fishing in the Seto Inland Sea Waters!
The head of Setouchi Fishing Tours, Kawai-san, has been fishing off the coast of Okayama Prefecture since he was a child, but it was a fishing trip in his friend’s boat in his 30s that made him realize boat fishing was where it was at. He was addicted. He soon saved up enough to buy a boat, became a fishing guide in the mid-2000s, and the rest is history. He now has two fishing boats and leads a team of experienced fishing guides. They don’t offer English tours, but they do have English-speaking staff on hand in case of emergencies or if the need arises.
Our tour started at 7 AM, and after putting on our life jackets and finding our sea legs, we headed straight out to the inland sea to see what we could find. Today, our target was red sea bream, the most plentiful fish in this area, with our guide for the day, Nouno-san. Nouno-san is originally from Fukuoka and only recently moved to Okayama, but you wouldn’t know it with his in-depth knowledge of the area and the fishing conditions. In the twenty minutes it took us to get to our first location, Nouno-san had constantly been scanning the area, looking not only at the lit-up navigation equipment but also recognizing the flow of the tide and analyzing the surface of the ocean to see where the fish could be. The Seto Inland Sea is relatively shallow, so by taking note of the difference in the shades of the smooth, undulating waves, the calmness of certain areas, and a host of other factors, an experienced fishing guide can drop you in the perfect location to get your first catch of the day.
I had never been deep sea ocean fishing before, and the high-tech nature of the equipment at our disposal caught me off guard. This was not the basic reel and lure setup I had used with Taka-san and his dad. It felt (and looked!) more like a futuristic fishing controller for a video game. Nouno-san helped us get acquainted with it and showed us how it all worked. The reel itself has a line counter — an electronic display showing how much line has been cast, so we can target different types of fish at different depths. The lure we were using, specifically made for red sea bream, is relatively heavy, so the technique is to just release the line and let it drop. Once the line counter read a certain depth, approximately 20 meters, we hit the lever and slowly reeled in, following Nouno-san’s instructions on the number of rotations. Ok, let’s do this!
Although initially, it felt a bit confusing going through the steps — release to 20 meters, hit the lever, pull up 15 rotations, release to 20 meters, pull up 15 rotations — after a few minutes, we had stored the sequence of motions in muscle memory and were ready to go. Nouno-san told us to pull in our reels, and we headed off to our first drop point. The water there was shallow, so we dropped the line until it hit bottom and had slack, then pulled up seven rotations. After a short while, listening to Nouno-san counting the depth and calling out the rotations, it became a mesmerizing experience — feeling the line for any sign of movement as we slowly retracted it while counting the rotations simultaneously. The boat drifted calmly over the surface as the seafloor slowly dropped away beneath, so we always had to be listening for the change in depth or number of rotations. We did this for what could not have been longer than fifteen minutes, and then it happened — I felt a tug at the line. Now, what do I do?!
This is the only part of the experience I was in no way mentally prepared for, but Nouno-san very quickly had an answer: “Reel it in and don’t stop!” Half in disbelief at what was happening, I started reeling in the line, and I think I was as shocked as the fish was at this current sequence of events (although the consequences for me weren’t as dire). We had a tug of war for I’m not sure how long; I would reel the line in, and then it would release, but all the while, I could only watch the number on the fishing depth indicator gradually get smaller as the fish neared the water’s surface. Once the fish surfaced, Nouno-san had a net at the ready and scooped it in, and that was that. I had finally caught a fish in Japan! Not any fish, but a huge red sea bream. Unbelievable. After taking a string of photos of me looking astonished, we finally took one that made it look like I knew what I was doing and continued from spot to spot. With Nouno-san’s voice in the background, my mind was elsewhere. I had finally caught a fish in Japan!
It was only then that I could step back from the task at hand and realize just how wonderful it was to be floating on a boat in the middle of the Seto Inland Sea. It truly is beautiful. The area’s natural beauty was long acclaimed before Japan opened to the rest of the world, with only a few foreigners lucky enough to experience it and sing its praises back in Europe and beyond. These days, it’s open to any traveler, and although there’s no guarantee you’ll catch something. Fishing on the Seto Inland Sea is an experience I cannot recommend enough!
Setouchi Onsen Tamano-yu
Setouchi Fishing Tours has a hot spring package available in conjunction with Setouchi Onsen Tamanoyu hot spring, and we were delighted to have taken advantage of it! The expansive hot spring, right next to the pier, has indoor and outdoor baths, steam and dry saunas, and dining facilities and relaxation rooms.
An expertly prepared sashimi platter
The staff will take your catch off your hands, and while you are waiting for them to prepare it, you can relax in the hot spring baths — perfect for taking the chill off after a day on the water. We were told that our red sea bream, tai in Japanese, would be perfect for sashimi, but the staff is happy to prepare it any way you choose. After a relaxing bath and sauna, we headed to the dining area and were presented with an exquisitely plated platter of sashimi — probably the freshest sashimi I have ever had, and definitely the only sashimi I have ever caught myself.
Where to Stay in Uno
If you plan to stay in the Uno area to make getting to Uno Port in the morning stress-free, UNO HOTEL is your best bet. Recently opened in July 2021, it is a short walk from the pier and Setouchi Onsen Tamanoyu hot spring, with stylish, comfortable rooms and ocean-front views. The attached restaurant and bar, BLUNO, offers a casual dining experience using ingredients locally sourced from the Setouchi area in dishes with a French twist.
If you’ve ever wanted to go fishing in Japan, there is nowhere better than the Seto Inland Sea, with calm waters, picturesque views, and a moderate climate. Setouchi Fishing Tours take groups, from beginner to expert, out year-round and do all they can to ensure you have a great fishing experience. Once you have your catch, take it to Setouchi Onsen Tamanoyu hot spring where they will prepare it for you, while you relax in the hot spring baths.
Photographs and text by Don Kennedy
・Setouchi Fishing Tours
1- 1-41 Chikko, Tamano, Okayama
Fee: From 9,000 JPY per person
HP (Japanese/English): https://setouchi-fishing-tours.com/
・Setouchi Onsen Tamano-yu
1-1-11, Chikko, Tamano-shi, Okayama
Opening Hours: 10 am – 10 am
Closing days: Third Tuesday of every month
Fee: Adults: Weekdays – 1,600 JPY, Weekends and Holidays – 1,900 JPY
Children (Primary school age and under): Weekdays – 650 JPY, Weekends – 750 JPY
HP (Japanese): https://www.seto-tamanoyu.jp/
1-1-12 Chikko, Tamano-shi, Okayama Prefecture
HP (Japanese): https://uno-hotel.com