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June 17, 2016

West of Tokyo lies the mountain town of Hakone. Hakone is located in the heart of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park and offers many attractions, both natural and manmade, that make this area a popular tourist destination. There are sulfur springs, shrines, a huge lake, a castle, black eggs that add seven years to your life when consumed, outlet malls, dozens of museums, and of course epic views of Mount Fuji! Despite Hakone's close proximity to where we live I had yet to fully explore it. With my wife's family visiting from California we decided to rent a van and explore Hakone and the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park.

Naturally whenever I visit a new area in Japan I ravenously pour over maps looking for promising places to deploy my Tenkara rod. My visit to Hakone was no different and after a bit of research I did find a few rivers that looked promising for Tenkara but not before running into a few snags.

Due to the topography of Hakone there are limited areas to build roads, accommodations, and infrastructure. Consequently, most of the valleys in Hakone are heavily populated, making it difficult to find "remote" mountain streams. To top it off Hakone is famous for its many onsens aka hot springs and sadly many hotels dump their used onsen water directly into the rivers. This makes the water quite dirty, warm, and unsuitable for fishing. To find good fishing typically one must look outside of Hakone (there is one exception though discussed in more detail later). Thankfully though you do not have to go very far to find rivers teeming with Amago, Yamame, and various zatsugo.

Before my sister-in-law, Christa, arrived she told me that she wanted to learn Tenkara - obviously I was more than happy to teach her. So on a rainy morning we ventured over to Izu Peninsula to the outskirts of the city of Manazuru (真鶴町) where there is rumored to be a keiryu that offers good fishing for Yamame.

After a five minute walk from the parking lot we plunged into the verdant valley towards the roar of a distant weir. Above the weir and on the banks of a placid pool I gave Christa a quick lesson on casting and set her loose. Surprisingly, she took to Tenkara like a natural and after about five minutes she was looking like a pro! Her casts were exceptional, her drifts were drag-less, and she had fish chasing her fly like maniacs. We ended up catching four fish in an hour or two - one of which was an Amago! Then an unplanned slide down a waterfall sprained Christa's finger, and put a kibosh on fishing for the day, but it did not put a kibosh on the smiles on our faces. While it had been a short day of fishing action maybe it was the delightful scenery, my fishing partner, or both but it was the second best days of Tenkara fly fishing this season (fishing for Grayling earlier this year takes the cake).

The other river I had scoped out was in the town of Hakone - up a small tributary that had considerably less development. Due to its proximity to a large population center though the river's population of native fish has long ago been decimated. However, the upper reaches of the river is the location of a fishing co-op and I suspect all of the fish that currently live in the lower portions of the river are "wild" fish with a stocked heritage. The river has very long stretches of calm water and fairly deep pools - both of which are unsuitable habitat for Yamame, Iwana, and Amago. However, Zatsugo can live anywhere and I did see a lot of the them.

It was the maiden voyage for my new Tenkara rod which I acquired for a whomping ¥801! Unfortunately I did not catch any Yamame or Amago but I did come close a few times.

In high pressure streams I have found that the unassuming pools are where you can catch fish. I have watched countless times as anglers walk right past a whole section of river filled with fish just to fish an impressive pool that another angler just left empty handed not five minutes ago. If you take the time to fish every spot and skip the obvious pools and unsuitable habitat you can cover a lot of ground and up your chances of catching fish.

I posted a few photos from the trip to the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park on my Facebook page, be sure to check them out

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