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Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2001

Sea bass lure fishing for the urban angler


By ALAN BERGMAN

An exciting year-round sport-fishing opportunity exists literally within the shadows of Japan's largest urban area -- lure fishing for sea bass in Tokyo Bay.

Aggressive gamefish, sea bass have been able to survive and prosper in close proximity to human development. They are tolerant of marginal water quality, and they favor man-made structures where they can find shelter and food. Near the top of the bay's food chain, sea bass prey on invertebrates such as shrimp and sea worms or on small fish such as anchovies and sardines.

Urban angler Alan Bergman poses with a sea bass he reeled in during an evening of lure fishing on a boat in Tokyo Bay.

Japanese sea bass, or suzuki (Lateolabrax japonicus), are long-bodied fish with gray backs, silvery-white sides and large mouths. They can be found in bays, harbors and river mouths from Hokkaido south to Kyushu.

Sea bass grow up to 1 meter long but, like a number of other fish species in Japan, they are named according to their size. Fish less than 20 cm long are called koppa, and those between 20 and 30 cm are seigo. Fish in the 30-60 cm range are known as fukko in the Kanto region and hane in Kansai. Sea bass over 60 cm are suzuki. Lure fishermen use the fish's English name, sea bass.

Because much of the shoreline access is restricted, the best way to fish for sea bass in Tokyo Bay is from a boat. The standard equipment for boat fishing is similar to that used for freshwater black bass angling. Rods are light to medium action, from 183 to 213 cm long. Reels can be either spinning or bait-casting type. Lines should be 8-14 pound (3.6-6.4 kg) test-breaking strength.

The most popular sea bass lures are of three basic varieties: metal jigs, vibrating plugs and sinking-type minnow plugs. Metal jigs are flattened cylinder-shaped lures of cast lead that are retrieved with a pull-and-pause motion to impart an attractive action. Twenty-eight to 60 grams are the preferred jig sizes for sea bass fishing.

Vibrating plugs are hard plastic lures with an attachment eye on the back causing the plug to run with its head angled down.

Water pressure on the forehead produces a tight vibrating action. The size of the plug used depends on the depth being fished. Vibrating plugs usually range in size from 24 to 48 grams. Minnow plugs are made of wood or plastic and have a shape and swimming action similar to those of slim-bodied baitfish. The most popular sizes are 7 to 9 cm.

Fish often favor a particular color. Baitfish-like colors such as blue or silver usually work well for daytime fishing, but at times pink is better. Chartreuse or a redhead with a white body are good choices for low-light situations.

Lure action is also important. When attaching a lure to the line, use a loop knot or a small round-nosed snap so as not to hinder a lure's side-to-side action.

Most daytime sea bass fishing areas are from 10 to 15 meters deep, with the fish usually lying within a few meters of the bottom. The captain will hold the boat off the selected spot, and the anglers will cast toward it.

On the first cast, count down how many seconds it takes to reach the bottom. After that you will be able to get your lure close to the bottom without getting snagged. (Losing lures can quickly turn sea bass fishing into an expensive proposition.) Metal jigs are the preferred lures of most day-time anglers. In the evening, when fish move closer to the surface, minnow plugs become the lures of choice.

Fish will often strike a lure as it sinks. Keep your line tight and set the hook if you feel a tap, if the line moves sideways or if it fails to drop as expected.

If a sea bass makes one of those head-shaking leaps that they are known for, drop the rod tip. This will often prevent the fish from using the line pressure to pull the hook out.

In addition to your fishing tackle, other useful items every sea bass angler should carry are a towel for handling fish, long-nosed pliers for removing hooks, a file for sharpening hooks and sunglasses or safety goggles to protect the eyes from flying hooks.

Lure fishing for sea bass can be great fun if one keeps safety in mind. Always make overhead or underhand casts so you don't hook anyone next to you. Do not forget to handle sea bass with respect: They have sharp spines in their fins that can inflict a painful puncture wound, and their gill covers will cut a carelessly placed finger to the bone.

At night during the summer months, sea bass often move into the lower stretches of rivers to feed and can be caught by boat or shore anglers around bridge pilings. Sea bass can be caught in Tokyo's Arakawa as far upstream as Hirai-Ohashi.

There are a dozen services around Tokyo Bay offering lure charters for sea bass. Prices average less than 10,000 yen per person. The popular Suzuya has both early morning and evening outings for 8,000 yen. It is located near Ichinoe Station on the Toei Shinjuku Line. For reservations, phone or fax (03) 3659-5635.


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