On the banks of the Mikuma River in the Japanese city of Hita sits Matsuo Fishing Shop, a family owned store that is very well stocked with a vast selection of tackle and other fishing-related items.
The Mikuma River is known for ayu fishing. The ayu, or sweetfish, is quite popular in Japan and other parts of Asia as both a game fish and a food fish. The closest relative that most anglers would recognize would be the smelt. Upon entering the Matsuo shop, one is greeted by a display of ayu related items–from photographs to artwork and mounts.
Ayu are caught by fly fishing, using long cane poles, or another interesting method explained to me by the shop owners. In this approach, a specially-rigged ayu is held in the water by the anglers like a piece of bait. When other ayu in the river sense the intruder they attack it, hooking themselves in the process. Live ayu are available for purchase at the Matsuo shop for this very purpose.
The Matsuo Fishing Shop is not a gigantic store, but it is quite big for a local operation. And nearly every inch of the store is used to display the vast array of products available here.
In one corner, several aisles are filled from top to bottom with carp and catfish supplies, from hooks and terminal tackle to rigs and baits. Don’t expect to find the kind of things that are typically used on these fish in the United States, though. The sort of equipment popular in East Asia is much different. Long cane poles, small hooks, and rigs with small hooks, weights and floats are the order of the day. Europeans may find a lot they are familiar with, especially if they have experience with match fishing and rough fish.
The trout section is something else all together. While there is a large display of Japanese spoons and mini crankbaits in an impressive array of colors and sizes, one can also find a number of lures common in the US like rooster tails and a few offerings from Berkley.
There are also a number of accessories for the small-lure fisher that I have not seen elsewhere, and you can even find a few flies on the wall.
The bass fishing section seems to have the most to offer. Here I spotted a large number of familiar lures. Brands like Cotton Cordell, Rapala and Storm intermingle with Japanese creations, some of which I have not seen in the States. There is also a wide selection of soft plastics, including Gary Yamamoto’s Senko. The owners are definitely up on what’s popular in bass fishing: I even saw some “Alabama Rigs” for sale.
As seems to be the case everywhere in Japan, fishing equipment goes for a lot more here than you would pay practically anywhere else. There are also a number of “lifestyle” and collectibles on offer that are made to appeal to fishers more than fish. A display case filled with elaborately designed and painted custom plugs that sell from $50 – $300 confirms this, though some are quite nice.
The back wall of the shop is filled with fishing rods of various shapes and styles. If you need it, this store probably has it, at least in some form. Long collapsible fiberglass rods are stacked up next to fly rods and spinning and baitcasting rods of different actions. And just in case you don’t find what you’re looking for, there are several more rods on display in racks to your left and right.
Another aisle is filled with marine fishing supplies. Still elsewhere in the store is a big selection of floats. Terminal tackle — hook, line and sinker — also gets a good amount of shelf space.
Near the entrance, there is a decent selection of magazines, books and videos. If you don’t understand Japanese, most of this won’t be of any use to you, but it’s still interesting to look at. Often times you can find maps and photos here too that you may actually be able to work with.
Finally, there is a very extensive selection of fishing accessories. This ranges from decorative stickers for vehicles to some really useful and inventive equipment. There are a number of very functional storage products as well as tools for everything from knot tying to magnifying to line untangling. In case you haven’t spent enough money yet, apparel from vests to hats and t-shirts is also available.
Perhaps of most value to the traveling or visiting angler would be the fact that the youngest member of the family that owns Matsuo Fishing Shop speaks English. As would be expected, he’s also quite knowledgeable about the fishing available in the area, from carp to trout, freshwater to salt. If you ever find your way to Hita, Japan, don’t be afraid to stop in. Ask for Koji.