Last March I traveled to Tokyo to visit my brother Al for the first time since he moved there. Midway through my trip we hired a car and booked a rental house in Kawana, near Ito. This is on the Izu Peninsula, a 3 hour drive from Tokyo. The plan was to see some of the local tourist attractions, walk up a grass covered volcano and do whatever else took our fancy during our stay including a spot of fishing. This area has a very diverse coast line with beaches, rock marks and lots of various concrete piers and jetties. As we drove around there seemed to be locals fishing at every available spot. Not wanting to join the masses on the piers we decided to do some reconnaissance of a couple of good looking areas found on Google earth. The first was the Jogasaki coast. This is a popular hiking area and has various rock platforms that looked good to fish from. When we visited there was a bit of a swell running and we weren’t equipped to go clambering over the rocks and had no way of retrieving a large fish if we were to hook one. The locals weren’t deterred and a lot of good spots were occupied.
Due to the swell and the wind we thought it would be a good idea to try the opposite side of the peninsula so we hopped in the car and sped off. Here the waters were a lot calmer and it seemed a little less crowded. We came upon a large bay with a relatively narrow entrance. This looked a likely spot if any.
The small concrete pier looked the best spot but as usual this was occupied so we stood on the rocky shoreline at the entrance to the bay and cast some lures into the channel. I kept a beady eye on the pier and as soon as the anglers left we occupied it. Off the end, the water was pretty deep. Who knew what fish might be lurking about down there? I didn’t do any research on what fish we were likely to catch at all. About 60m away the water started boiling in a similar fashion to a mackerel shoal passing by and some decent fish jumped into the air. I quickly clipped on some sabiki feathers and cast into the boil and on the third cast hooked or rather snagged a fish of about 3lbs in weight. Just before I beached it, the hook snood snapped and it swam away to freedom.
We packed up and decided to come back the next day, leaving super early to get the prime spot on the pier. The lure fishing wasn’t that successful when boiling shoals were absent so we would try bait fishing also. The supermarkets had plenty of fresh bluey in the fridges.
Reveille at 4am, breakfast and on the road by 430am. Al navigated us along the most direct route using Google maps on his phone. The journey took us up and down a very enjoyable forested mountain road and first light broke around 530pm. We arrived back at the pier just before 6am and to our dismay there were two anglers already on it! Damn it, we should have left at 3am, but it was obvious even that was no guarantee. I decided it wouldn’t hurt to share the pier so we set up half way along. They left after about 20 minutes leaving it all to us. I set Al up with a paddle tail on a 20 gram jig head and set my rod up on a running ledger with a circle hook, 3 ounce weight and nice chunk of bluey. A short cast of about 40 yards put me in a least 5-10m of water at a guess. Al got busy working the lure.
There were 4 of 5 very decent looking fish swimming about in full view at the end of the pier at about 2m depth. They paid zero attention to our lures or bait waived in front of their nose, similar to the fussy eating mullet back in the UK. After about 10 minutes my rod bent over and line started peeling of the spool. I took up the rod, tightened the drag somewhat and bent into the fish. It felt quite heavy and I gingerly started playing it in towards the pier, allowing it to take line when it was disagreeable and then reeling in when it was more obliging. Halfway through the fight it got hung up or snagged in something. I released the tension in the line and waited for it to swim out of whatever was impeding its journey towards me. I gingerly applied more tension and the fish started coming my way again. Eventually it surfaced near the end of the pier and I couldn’t believe it, a moray eel! I never ever expected to hook one of these. I guess if I done my home work it was probably a prolific fish in these parts. It was tangled in weed and was foul hooked in the body. I estimated its length of 80cm and weight about 4-5lb. Mindful of the very recent snap off and fish escape yesterday I played it carefully up and onto the beach. As I set about untangling the mess of weed and line and removing the hook, the eel suddenly lunged and viciously bit my left hand.
Immediately my thumb no longer extended and blood started pouring from the wound. I quickly applied the nearest thing, my fishing tea towel, to the wound to apply direct pressure. I still had the fish to deal with, which was now unhooked and writhing about in the sand. With no hard feelings on my part I roughly kicked it back into the water and then looked around thinking, oh no, what do I do now? I needed urgent medical attention. My thumb no longer worked, the bleeding was heavy and who knew what infections I could now get? The tea towel plugging the wound wasn’t exactly something you’d want to dry your dishes with. My brother couldn’t drive, I couldn’t now either. We had no idea where the nearest hospital was. I didn’t bring my first aid kit with me on this trip because I didn’t think I would need it. Very amateurish mistake, in that kit was blood clotting gauze sponges, antiseptic wound wash and plenty of dressings and bandages, exactly what I needed right now.
I quickly got a grip of myself and instructed Alan to start packing up all the gear and we would move back to the car. A kayaker came past so Al beckoned him over to assist, Al spoke some basic Japanese and the kayaker rang an ambulance for us. It took a while to explain the situation and also for the kayaker to explain to the emergency services where we were exactly. A hiker saw the commotion and came over and gave me a water bottle which I poured over the wound and he also gave me a towel which I replaced the filthy one with. We walked back to the car, loaded up the gear and then waited for the ambulance which came about 5 minutes later.
2 medics jumped out and ushered me into the back of the ambulance. They plugged me into the ECG monitor, took my blood pressure and then replaced the towel with some proper dressings. Al jumped in the back and after what seemed like a very long and complicated phone call between the ambulance driver and his base (though was probably not very long at all) we set off towards the hospital. The wound was starting to sting a bit and because it was in a crease in my hand direct pressure wasn’t being applied and the blood quickly soaked right through the bandages. As we bumped along the county roads the medic replaced the bandages a couple of times and in the end I resorted to applying direct pressure with my right hand and stemmed the flow. On arrival at the hospital I was wheeled into an emergency treatment bay and the doctors got to work right away. First order of business was cutting my beloved Snugpak jacket off, a garment I have treasured since 2004. Seeing that sliced off my arm was almost as painful as the wound itself! I consoled myself in that I could always buy another one. I looked away as they went to work on the wound, firstly with injecting anaesthesia and cauterising the bleeding vein with some sort of electronic machine. It was quite painful at this stage but eventually my hand went numb. The doctor explained that my two extensor tendons had been cut. He couldn’t repair them because of the risk of infection to the wound which would need to stabilise prior to reconstructive surgery. They aggressively cleaned the wound and then loosely stitched it up. I recovered for about 20 minutes in a cubicle and then went to pay for the treatment with my visa card and get some antibiotics and painkillers from the pharmacy. What to do now?
Al had already called his wife Emmy and she was en-route to us from Tokyo by train with an ETA of about 40 minutes. We needed her to drive the car. I felt a little drained so we went to the hospital cafeteria and I bought a bottle of coke and some noodles in a salty soup which made me feel a lot better. Then we located the train station on Google maps and walked towards it to meet Emmy. She arrived just as we approached and then we jumped in a taxi and headed back to the car park at the fishing mark. I took the co-pilots seat and the old taxi driver and I had a laugh when I explained, through Emmy, what had happened. He wished me well. Back at the car, the filthy blood soaked tea towel was sat underneath the car, a grim reminder of what had happened earlier. I was still wearing my blood stained shirt and trousers. We packed this and the shirt away in a bag and then drove back to the digs, collected our gear and lit out back to Tokyo.
When I got back to my Tokyo digs I called the travel insurance company and they arranged for me to have the tendon surgery in Japan. I was admitted to the Tokyo Takanawa hospital for this just over a week later. The aggressive cleaning and antibiotics back in the ER had prevented an infection taking hold.
In the theatre they applied a nerve block which made my arm go completely dead. The surgeon reopened the wound and repaired the tendons and also a nerve that was severed. The Japanese hospital staff were fantastic. All of them were very attentive and friendly. They assigned an interpreter to me during the surgery who chatted with me to distract me from the ghastly business that was going on. The food was also very nice and I have to say I was almost sad to leave!
I flew back home a couple of days later and now four weeks later, the tendons are slowly healing and getting stronger again daily. It’s going to be a battle to regain full range of movement but I’m sure I will get there in the end. I learned some good lessons. It is very easy to get caught up in the moment when on holiday and enjoying yourself. It has taught me to apply a more critical eye of safety and potential hazards and to have a plan if things go wrong. It won’t stop me fishing though I’ll make damn sure I don’t get bitten by a fish again!
The fish finally got their revenge on me as an angler. I’ll take this one with grace and move on.