Foreign anglers who show up in Japan with an itch to fish often find themselves overwhelmed with the slew of new target species and fishing methods bearing no resemblance to fishing at home. It’s taken me years to get a handle on Japanese sport fishing, and one of the biggest challenges was learning the lingo Japanese anglers use to talk shop.
Throughout the country there are a lot of provincial fishing terms and phrases, and even non-angling Japanese won’t understand expressions such as seigo (juvenile sea bass), or tsu wo nuketa (I caught a lot). My favorite expressions are jyadou, which translates to “heresy” or an “evil way,” referring to an angler using unsporting methods, and gedou, a term for any fish you pull up other than what you are targeting.
Riff raff species unintentionally caught by purists are labeled gedou, but some are morphing into primary targets themselves. Bass anglers switching to fish for channel catfish and snakehead are a good example.
I’ve had many encounters with strange fish, but in my opinion oilfish (ruvettus pretiosus) are the ultimate gedou catch in Japan. These pre-historic looking predators, growing longer than two meters, are abundant and can be pulled from the deep any time of year.
Oilfish earned their name because their flesh is too oily to consume, rendering them gedou status among anglers who like to catch fish for the skillet. How oily is too oily? Let’s just say those who’ve indulged in even a small portion of oilfish sashimi have commented that, although extraordinarily tasty, it’s also extraordinarily purgative.
One particular angler who will testify he learned this lesson the hard way is British actor Robson Green who I accompanied on a charter out of Numazu Port in Shizuoka last fall for a segment of his show, “Extreme Fishing.”
One look at the jagged scales and glowing eyes of a 20-kilo specimen I caught in Sagami Bay convinced the producer to target oilfish for their Japan shoot. I was tempted to tell him they could catch boatloads in the English Channel but didn’t want to ruin his sense of pursuing exotic quarry.
For anglers who just want something heavy to pull on and then release, oilies are the way to go. They are typically not caught above 100 meters, but pulling one from that depth is not lethal because oilfish won’t embolize like most other bottom fish. When conditions are right, you can get a fish on every drop and slay them until your arms get tired. Those not interested in bouncing a heavy jig can take the jyadou route by sticking a piece of cut bait on the hook and just waiting for a strike.
Oilfish get a lot of bad press among prima-dona anglers, but ask anyone who catches them regularly, and they’ll tell you it’s some of the best bang for your buck. Call it jyado, gedou, or whatever you like. I call it good fishing.