Japanese wooden bait boxes (esa bako) are as beautiful as they are functional.
I suppose all endeavors have their share of paraphernalia - the bits and pieces of gear you need to do what you are doing. In tenkara, we are told you only need a rod, a line and a fly. In keiryu fishing (at least in the Japanese style, fishing with bait) you also need a bait box.
The bait boxes used by Japanese keiryu anglers range from simple utilitarian plastic bait boxes that clip to your wader belt all the way to intricately hand carved or hand painted wooden boxes that are truly works of art.
Simple need not be utilitarian. It can be artistic and beautiful as well.
Traditional wooden bait boxes are worn around the neck. The cord runs through the lid so the lid can't be lost. The lid is held closed by a combination of gravity and friction.
On one of my wife's visits to my supplier's shop in Japan, she saw the simple wooden bait box shown above. With the wonders of Apple's Face Time feature (the "video phone" that futurists had forecast for the last 50 years), she showed me the box and I bought it on the spot.
Fast forward a couple years.
A customer, Les Albjerg, got interested (and then excited) about keiryu fishing - to the point that he started a worm farm (worm fishing for trout is extremely effective). About the same time, Jared K stated on his "Your Keiryu Stories" submission that he wanted one of the wooden Japanese bait boxes. Les asked about the boxes so I sent him a photo. He got excited again. As it happens, he is a woodworker who has learned the Japanese method of wood turning. He currently makes duck and goose calls, and tampers for espresso machines (to make it right you have to have one). He contacted me and offered to make traditional Japanese wooden bait boxes. It did not take me long to say "yes."
Les makes the boxes from myrtlewood, a hard, light weight wood that is ideal for bait boxes. The wood has an interesting grain, and Les makes the bait boxes so the grain in the lid is a continuation of the grain in the lower part of the box. Each one is a bit different. The one pictured above is a bit more tapered than some, but all are a bit over 3" tall and a bit under 3" in diameter.
The inside of the box is finished with a clay pigment. The early Japanese wooden bait boxes were finished with a clay pigment before they started using lacquer. (Besides being highly toxic, traditional Japanese lacquer is not available in the US anyway.) The outside of each box is finished with a urethane that will stand up to the elements.
Les makes his boxes with a cord that is longer than the ones on the traditional Japanese boxes. One of the biggest complaints I have with the Japanese box (and with lanyards, for that matter) is that when I bend over to unhook a fish the box or the lanyard is always hanging right in the way. With Les' longer cord I can hang the bait box over one shoulder bandolier style rather than around my neck. When I bend over, the bait box is still at my side, not in the way. However, if you decide you'd prefer a shorter cord, it is easy to cut to the length you wish.
Use the box for red wigglers, wax worms, meal worms, salmon eggs, nymphs taken from the streambed (where legal) and kept moist with damp moss, etc. I've seen videos of Japanese anglers with more than one bait box, so they can carry more than one type of bait.
I hope you'll get as excited about keiryu fishing as I am (and as Les is). I also hope you'll try one of his bait boxes. You will need a bait box. May as well have a traditional wooden bait box that is as attractive as it is functional.
Each box comes with a note from Les with information about the box and care instructions.Traditional Wooden Bait Box - $40
Made in the USA.
On one of my wife's more recent trips to Japan, she again showed me a wooden bait box at my supplier's shop. I thought it was unique and again, I bought a couple of them on the spot.
These boxes are substantially larger than Les Albjerg's boxes (roughly 6" x 5 3/8" x 2 1/4"), and not as attractive, but they are cleverly designed. They give you the ability to carry two different types of bait. The photo at the upper right shows a small plastic cup for holding salmon eggs. The photo at the upper left shows a compartment intended for nymphs taken from the stream bottom (check your local regulations, that is not legal in New York). I am sure you could also carry red wigglers in it (which luckily are legal here). The dark plastic square slides from one side to the other to keep either the eggs or the nymphs in place.
The photo at the lower left shows a dark horizontal line, which is a groove cut into the side of the box. The lower right photo shows a similar groove. Two flanges in the plastic backing plate slide into the grooves. When the box is held horizontally, you can open the lid to access the bait. When the box is held vertically, the lid is held closed by the backing plate so you can be clambering over and around rocks without having to worry about losing your bait. It sounds more complex than it is. Within a minute you will have it all figured out.
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