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Bear Creek

October 05, 2015

Read Part I here

After discovering a beautiful, yet strangely void of trout, keiryu I rallied at a local convenience store for some lunch and to pour over my trail map. As I was looking over the map I came across a little blue line that had escaped my attention before. This blue line was long, in an area I had not been to before, and it was only an 18 minute drive from where I was currently enjoying a kimchi rice bowl! Normally the longer blue lines are the best, the short ones tend to be a trickle without any trout and so it was settled, I was going to scope this place out. Well it took a little longer than 18 minutes as I got lost repeatedly in a maze of Japanese roads that would have passed as small sidewalks in the US. When I finally got on the right road I came to a small parking area with a gate across the road. There was not any other cars parked here and no fresh tire tracks in the mud either. Things were already looking up.

I got lost again navigating the maze of logging roads on my bike but I eventually found the right one and a short while later I was standing in a beautiful keiryu. I rigged my keiryu rod and began making my way upstream, fishing the promising pools. It did not take to long for me to get a strong bite! I was ecstatic, there were fish in this stream! I am struck by where the Iwana prefer taking up residence often times in the most unlikely of places. More often than not you can find them in the small homely spots over the more obvious "mansions". I believe that this humble hardiness combined with their tenacity is what makes them such a formidable creature - gram for gram they are fighters and an absolute blast to bring to hand.

I was so immersed in the fishing that I did not notice until it was practically in my face but I had stumbled into a long term hunting camp. There was a huge kennel inhabited by several hunting dogs and another smaller kennel with a wild boar inside! There were broken down vehicles in disarray across the property, piles of trash most likely waiting to be burned (or to be pushed into the creek during the next flood), and a few tractors. I had heard about these types of places, that were populated by Japanese rednecks, and the one thing that resonated the most was that they had guns and liked their privacy. Not wanting to find out what redneck Japanese hunters thought of gaijins I quickly collapsed my rod and crept quietly by. Safely past the camp I re-rigged my rod and began fishing again. But I did occasionally look over my shoulder to make sure I was not being tailed.

As a kid I grew up in the San Bernardino Mountains Mill Creek Valley. Some of my earliest childhood memories were of the bears. I remember hearing them ripping into our trash shed at night and terrified I would dive under my sheets. A few seconds latter I would hear my dad go charging out of the house, with our dogs close on his heels, to chase the bear away from our home and deep into the mountains. Fast forward a decade or so to when I was in college, and I got a summer job chasing the bears from the local summer camp. Armed with a super soaker filled with ammonia, a slingshot with a bag of steel ball bearings, and bear mace I patrolled the 500+ acre camp chasing the bears off the property. There were even several times that the cards were turned on me and I was the one being chased. With this type of upbringing I have come to know a bears habits and smells, so when I came across a moss covered boulder that had been recently stripped of its moss, as if something had tried to climb it and then a short while later a freshly excavated hole that was most likely the site of some grubs I broke out my bear whistle. I covered my ears and let out a few short blasts, just to let the bear know that I was there. A surprised bear can quickly become an aggressive bear. I continued fishing upstream but the going was much slower, the creek was getting much steeper and I was keeping a sharp eye out for a bear. Bears in Japan are the second most deadly creature (only surpassed by the Giant Japanese Hornet) and I did not want to become a statistic but I did want to catch a few more fish too. I came to a section of the river where there had been a landslide in the last year or two that had dumped a few hundred trees into the river. It was in that section that I also came across a very fresh paw print in the mud.  I knew that I was closing in on the bear and between the risk of getting eaten and having to climb up and over a million logs, that were most likely inhabited by spiders, I decided I had done enough fishing for the day and turned around.

The fishing on this river was exceptional, and probably the best fishing I had experienced to date in Japan. In nearly every pool I hooked an Iwana. Since I almost exclusively practice catch and release my hooks are barbless so while many did escape I did bring two to hand and had at least 20 more that got off. Overall I saw close to one hundred fish in that short section of river. This small keiryu was possibly the most densely populated stream I have fished all season. It was an awesome end to a great season of Tenkara fly fishing.

So what is next?

Well there is plenty of hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, and in a month or so skiing so I am sure I will stay busy - plus there are several bigger rivers around here that are rumored to be inhabited by Bass and Carp. So stay tuned for some tenkara Carp and Bass stories and before you know it March 1st will be here and the mountain stream fishing season will kick off in earnest once again!

Written by Isaac Tait who now lives in San Diego but dreams of returning, one day, to Japan. You should follow him on Twitter