I’m lolling in near-scalding mineral water, a gusty southern wind kicking up steam. Somewhere to the southwest, a typhoon is speeding my way, proceeded by gusty winds and banks of dark clouds that, admittedly, are a bit ominous.
From my vantage in the natural hot springs, which are on the roof of the Akan Yuku no Sato Tsuruga hotel, it’s an impressive sight. Already, whitecaps are kicking up on the wide expanse of Lake Akan. For now, I settle a bit deeper into the steamy water, feeling my sore muscles protest; after 34 hours of flights from the United States, followed by a morning of two-handed casting, my shoulders are a bit cranky. A white-tailed eagle wheels overhead and I tip my head back, mulling the odd attractions that have drawn me to Japan, fly rods in tow.
The densely wooded country surrounding Kushiro and Lake Akan brings to mind broad, forested Pacific Northwest steelhead rivers, and the rugged countryside reminds one of parts of Russia. Those who imagine Japan only as city sprawl filled with businessmen and neon lights would be surprised—this is rural Japan, a land of Ezo deer, halcyon rivers, dense forests, towering active volcanos, and more than its fair share of large brown bears. Waterways are in abundance and a quick stroll through a local craftsmen’s market shows the fish that swim here are held in regard; carved wooden fish are everywhere, and vendors take great pride in the distinctions between each species. Chief among the carvings is the species I’m looking for—Lake Akan’s “golden” char.
These white-spotted char take on a particular golden coloration on their bellies, fins and jaws. That tint, termed proudly by locals as “champagne gold,” adds a nearly divine-looking glow. The fish fight well and take streamers and nymphs, although during my stay I had one rather spectacular take on an orange Stimulator in the midst of a torrential rainstorm.