Father, Son Bond Over Bass Fishing

Photos by Lance Sawa

Happy Holidays from California Sportsman! On this Christmas morning, we thought you’d like this story about a father, a son, and a Japanese lake full of hungry bass. Enjoy!

The following appears in the December issue of CS:

By Lance Sawa 

Growing up I mostly fished for trout, primarily in rivers and streams, though lakes always added the chance to catch a large fish.

A few times I tried for crappie at the Eastern Sierra’s Crowley Lake or bluegills at various places. It wasn’t until high school that I tried largemouth bass fishing for the first time.

Once, my dad and I were talking with one of his fishing friends about how bad the weather was for the next week. We all wanted to go fishing, but the ocean was too rough. Our friend convinced us to go bass fishing in one of the lakes near his house in Ventura. He would drive us there and bring some bass tackle because he knew we had mostly trout tackle.

The next morning – with it still nice and dark out – we all left and got to the lake just as the sun was coming over the tree line. Our friend set up our rods with Texas rigs and told us to fish them very slowly. As I was a restless teenager, you can imagine how much I enjoyed this. We fished for about an hour and our friend only caught one little bass. Changing spots didn’t bring too many more either. My dad ended up catching one little bass, our friend a couple more.

A storm began to move in and we were getting ready to head out when I spotted a submerged tree trunk. Its branches were covered in moss and weeds, with a few lures stuck for good measure. This was my last chance.

I hit that tree for about 30 minutes trying to tease a bass out. The wind picked up as I threw that plastic worm next to the trunk. Rain began to fall and I got the rig stuck on an underwater branch. I pulled a little harder and got it unstuck, and right then a bass came from under the branch to grab it.

Setting the hook, I yelled to my dad and his friend that I had something. As a restless, overexcited teenager, my voice was a little too loud. But I got it onto shore and held it up for them to see. It was only about 8 inches, nothing to get loud over, but it was my first largemouth and it was a milestone catch. Also, after a whole day of fishing I didn’t go home without catching anything.

NOW, MANY YEARS LATER, I am sharing the joy of fishing with my son Nico here in Japan. He is still young and very much only wants to be in on the fun part of fishing. The bugs, water, plants, clouds, and, of course, the fish all interest him.

An idea will randomly float into his head that he wants to go fishing. Most of the time I say yes and load up the car.

He had heard me talk about a new pond I had found and that was full of bass and carp. Since I was curious about fishing it for bass, we made plans to go the next day.

Sleep didn’t come easy for us that night. Nico had gone trout fishing a few times and loved it, so I thought he was expecting about the same experience. Luckily, I had hit the lake a few days earlier and knew what the fish liked to bite.

We did not leave early the next day; Nico is not that type of go-getter yet. We ate breakfast and packed the car with fishing gear, water and extra clothes – just in case he fell in while exploring (yes, he’s done that).

Lizuna Lake is only about a 25-minute drive from home through the mountains in Nagano Prefecture, which is northwest of Tokyo. The views are breathtaking, as are the roads. Paths and pavement circle the lake, making it easy to fish and walk around.

I took Nico straight to a little pier to fish. Days before this had been a hot spot for bass to feed on insects and carp fry. Finding bass in this pond was highly surprising.

I mainly fish for trout, so my gear is mostly trout-specific – lots of spinners and spoons. One lure I did have, though, was a 20-year-old mini Rapala Floating Minnow. It’s a bait that outfished everything else I had in my limited tackle box.

I tied it on and showed Nico about how we were going to fish: cast the lure and slowly reel it in. Fortunately it was a floating lure and he didn’t have to rush and worry about weeds.

As I was showing him what to do I caught a fish, which had him excited about seeing a new fish. After feeling the scales, the bass went back into the water with a splash.

Then it was time for Nico to learn to cast. Nerve-racked does not begin to describe how I felt. Mostly I hoped he didn’t hook himself or me.

The first cast went well, though, and my concerns were soon put to rest. The floating lure was great, as there was no pressure to quickly reel in. He turned the handle and began to bring in the line. The lure was getting closer. Just as it reached open water away from the weeds, a bass charged up and grabbed it.

Nico did not see the splash but he could feel the bass on the end of the line making a run toward the weeds. His first bass was about the size of my first bass, but he fought it like it was a marlin. The bass even jumped once, which was fun to watch. The sound of his feet tapping in excitement was funny to hear.

The fight was over in less than a minute, but my son was all out of energy. We got a quick picture and he gently put the bass back into the lake.

I asked him if he wanted to try again and he grabbed the rod and pulled the pail back. About five fish were caught in total, all about the same size, but he had a blast, and that is why we went fishing that day.

Nico Sawa and his dad Lance celebrating their bass catches.

ABOUT TWO WEEKS LATER Nico once again overheard me talking about another new lake with bass, so we made plans to go the next day. This one is much easier to get to, with paved roads the whole way and only about a 15-minute drive from home.

It was a great layout. There were little piers to fish from but you had to walk through the woods to get to them.

Nico’s feet were dancing with the thought of fishing once again. He told me he hoped to catch another bass.

As we got closer, I could see the bass feeding close to shore, so I put the lure on early and cast from the woods. Nico gave me a look that said “you’re crazy,” but he trusts me. I’d reeled the floating minnow almost back to the shore when the bass attacked it with a splash.

Setting the hook a little bit too hard, I pulled the bass onto the bank. I quickly grabbed it, took out the hook, and released the fish. With all the noise, the feeding bass were scared away from shore. But that wasn’t a problem for us as we were standing on a pier and could cast into deeper water. Slowly Nico is getting better and beginning to enjoy fishing even more. Less pressure means he can look at the water and nature.

This day had slightly larger bass,  about 12 inches. We caught so many I lost count at about 20 as I paid more attention to my son.

All of the fish were released safely after we snapped a few pictures for Mom and Grandma. Nico did ask that every fish should be brought home to eat. But you are not allowed to remove any fish from this lake.

Photo by Lance Sawa

FAST FORWARD TO THE end of summer vacation, and once again Nico wanted to fish for some bass. This time he asked to fish for bass and not trout. It was the afternoon, so we were able to go right away.

Luckily, it was a hot day, so the lake was empty and we had the run of the place. Once again the trusty Rapala was tied on and cast into the open water.

We caught a few fish and then moved to another area, where we kept catching them. We moved for a while as we caught more of the 12-inchers and smaller fish. I was so happy that Nico was enjoying himself. Every time he returned a fish to the water he’d watch it swim away. The carp would sometimes swim by to see if they could get an easy meal.

Like all anglers, Nico said he wanted to catch something bigger, like a bass or especially the carp, since some of those easily reach 30 pounds. But he wants a big bass to get a picture he could show his mom and grandma.

Luckily, I had been getting more bass tackle and learning more bass fishing techniques. I was learning not just for my own enjoyment, but also so that I could teach Nico when it was time.

I knew that the lake was full of bottom weeds, so I tied on a drop-shot rig with a weedless hook and a worm. I showed Nico how to cast and very slowly reel the line in with slight twitches. He didn’t quite understand at first, but by the third cast he felt a bite on the end. Normally he could see the fish fighting on the surface, but this time it was in deep water.

For the first time he had a real fight on his hands. The mini bass didn’t do much against him, but this fish was not getting to shore without a fight. It was pulling drag and going straight for the weeds.

Nico held tight as the rod tip bent and the drag sang to him. It was not a huge fish, but they both refused to give up.

Finally, after a five-minute fight it was close enough for me to grab it by the lip and lift it out of the water. Yelling with joy that the fight was over and the fish was in his hand, we snapped some more pictures. The hook was perfectly in the side of the mouth and quickly removed. Nico released it and there was one more splash as the fish swam away.

After straightening out the line and checking the hook and line for frays, I handed him the rod to continue fishing. But Nico didn’t want to fish for big fish anymore. They were too hard and tiring to catch. He was so tired he just wanted to go home.

We shared a laugh, got into the car and headed home. It was not even 30 minutes away, but I got home to a sleeping boy next to me after a memorable fishing experience. CS