sweet fish

As I fish the rural creeks in Korea, I have occasionally come across anglers that carry super long reel less rod and a round large landing net. They also carry a small plastic box which resembles a suitcase which floats on the water. From conversations, I learned that they are fishing for “silver-fish” as they are called in Korea (in other places, they are called sweet fish, sweet smelt, ayu). Their scientific name is Plecoglossus altivelis, which translated basically means “textured tongue” - descriptive of the tongue on these silver-fish which feeds off the algae, crustaceans, insects, sponges, and worms attached to the rocks. They are native to Asia - Korean Peninsula, Northern Japan, Eastern China, and parts of Taiwan. They have a short lifespan of one year where they spawn and die. As the name suggests, these are highly prized fish for their good taste. They are also known to have a sweet scent that resembles the scent of watermelon or cucumber when freshly caught.

There are a few ways to catch these silver-fish including the standard traps & nets, but there is also a very unique method which plays off their extremely territorial behavior. I have only seen this unique method used in Korea & Japan, where this style is a very establish fishing method. The lure or decoy is a living silver-fish placed on a hook (hooked at nose & belly), which swims when in water. As the fish swims around and tries to find a hiding place, it provokes the territorial behavior of other fish and the other fish will attack the "intruder" and get snagged on the hook that’s attached to the belly. The hook attachment to the belly comes off, and only the nose hook remains. Both fish are flung in the air and into the large round landing net which acts like a baseball glove to the flung fish. When observed in action, it’s a series of smooth movements and the landing part is amazing. When a fresh fish is caught, the previous fish is put into the plastic fish holder and the new one is hooked at the nose & belly. They grow in sizes generally from 20 – 30cm, but some have know to grow slightly larger.

As mentioned there is a strong following & culture with this style of fishing both in Japan & Korea (called Tomo-zuri fishing). There are plenty of specific gears produced for this style of fishing, and some of these rods costs in the thousands of dollars, sometimes more. The more expensive rods are the ones that are super light, which would be important if you are carrying & maneuvering this 26 feet (8meter) rod around the mountain creeks. Another unique gear is the floating bait holder, which to me looks like a small vacuum cleaner canister. Anglers of this style seems to prefer wetsuits vs. waders, probably because they are sometimes submerged chest/ neck deep in moving waters. There are numerous competitions, teams, & clubs for this style of fishing and even a larger number of people who enjoy eating them. I look forward to both fishing this style & eating the catch sometime soon.

Very unique indeed. Below are some images and illustrations I found online that describe this style.


  1. Welcome back!

    I guess there is a lesson to be learned. Don't get greedy...with fish holes... Get it? 쑤셔잉?

    I wonder if you can apply that method to any other territorial fish?

  2. Thanks man, although the trip was fantastic, it’s good to be back in my own bed after nearly 3 months of travel. Yes, I have a reputation for moving quickly up the stream in order to get onto the good spots – but you have to recognize that I skip every other spot so the follow guy can fish it. I also admit that the spots I kindly leave for the next guy following is the hard to cast, difficult to land, and loose a fly spot ;-)

    We should try this someday, just for the fun of it. I have heard these can also be caught with hairy flies, but I am not sure what they are supposed to resemble. I have fished areas with this fish in it but failed to catch any of them. I tried nymphs and top surface flies.

  3. I haven't hear anyone who fly fish here in Korea talk about this. I guess, we need some large fish like fly that we use for salt water.

  4. I guess snagging doesn't fit well with fly fisher but looks so damn fun! Especially with a cute girl like that in tight neoprene suit. UH HMM....

  5. I really would like to give this a try. both the sweet fish and the sweet fishing as it were....

  6. cute girl in tight neoprene suit..always works ;-)