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Honryu - A Tale Of A Remote Japanese River Valley

April 15, 2016

According to Keiichi Okushi's interview on Tenkara Fisher a honryu is "When two or more of the rivers are joined, the flow that forms the most fundamental". In a way I guess all rivers are honryu when viewed in this manner; but the kanji 本流, which translates directly to "mainstream" in English, helps shed some light on the significance of the word. As a Tenkara angler who spends a fair amount of time chasing the little blue lines on a topo map, it is a promising sign that the fishing is good when you see a lot of intersecting blue lines (aka honryu) on the map. It means there is a lot of water. Put it in a remote location with no nearby roads and the wheels in my brain really start churning.

I had been eyeing one location, in particular, for over a year. Lots of little blue intersecting lines on the map? Check! Easy road access? Nope! A promised long and epic approach on an overgrown deer path? Sign me up! The only thing holding me back was finding someone with some free time and who was crazy enough to be down for such a daft undertaking - and so the trip idea went on the back-burner. Then last month a client, who had gone on two or three of my previous Tenkara trips, reached out to me about places to fish. We started talking and one thing led to another and soon we were making plans for a back country tenkara expedition. We met for lunch a few days before our scheduled trip to discuss plans. I laid out a map on the table and told him about this idea I had had a while back. I walked him through my plans for the insertion and egress as well as potential hazards - both environmental and biological (lots of leeches, snakes, and wild boar) and packing lists. After my brilliant pitch he was still keen on the adventure and so it was settled - we would be hiking into the remote river valley I had dreamed about for over a year to camp and fish for two days.

Day 1

After a pleasant, yet long drive, through the Tanzawa Mountains we arrived at the trail-head, only to find that there was a chain across the entrance! We continued on down the country highway for a bit until we found a large turnout where we could park (thankfully it was only a few hundred meters further down the road). After donning our packs and tightening our boot laces ,we began the steep slog to the top of an unnamed peak. Supposedly there was an unmarked trail somewhere near this "peak" that would take us into the river valley.

The beginning of the long and arduous trek to the valley, some 600 meters, below.

Well we found the trail, which as promised was very steep and covered in insanely thick bamboo thickets that were over our heads. There were downed trees, rock slides, and slick roots and leaves all over the trail too. But after 90 minutes of walking, falling, and getting stabbed bloody by bamboo we made it to the valley.

We both quickly dropped our packs and dug out our Tenkara rods and in no time we were fishing. I headed upstream and my buddy downstream.The night before I had tied up a few flies, following loosely the recent Zenmai Dou kebari post from Tenkara Enso (I used the chenille and wooley bugger hackle from the April Postfly Fly Tying Kit with black thread).  At the first pool and on my first cast a nice sized Iwana slammed my fly but quickly got off. At the next pool it happened again, and again, and again! It was nice to see this ugly (Christophe looked a lot nicer) kebari working so effectively but it was also frustrating that the fish kept getting away. In the past when this had happened if I switched to a smaller fly I would then be more likely to bring to hand 魚. So a little begrudgingly I tied on a smaller kebari. Yet the fish kept getting off! They would dart out, taste the fly, spit it out, and disappear in a blink of an eye. I was thoroughly impressed by these little guys feeding techniques.

After about an hour, where we both spotted close to 30 fish but landed none, we returned to our packs and began to look for a place to make camp. In short order we found a nice flat spot with a numerous cedar and two rivers nearby that flowed into the main river! We set up our hammocks and built a fire pit and got a nice fire going. That night we both dined on curry and rice as well as cheese and whiskey. It was a beautiful night, clear and not too cold.

Day 2

Around 0130 a windstorm hit. I was awoken not by the noise but by the violent swinging my hammock was making because of the wind! In a few minutes the winds subsided though and then the rain started falling. I got up and rigged a tarp over my hammock and proceeded to fall back to sleep. Unfortunately the tarp had seen better days and I woke up soaked. Thankfully my sleeping bag was stuffed with a mixture of synthetic and waterproof down so I stayed warm and dry (I really like my REI Flash sleeping bag and this trip really cemented that admiration).

We got a nice fire going using bark and dead tree limbs and after a cup of hot coffee and a huge bowl of soba with tamago and midori negi the suffering from the previous night slipped into distant memory. After breakfast I explored the two creeks by our camp and found several Iwana. However, in similar fashion as the day before they would taste the fly, spit it out, and disappear in a blink of an eye. These were some feisty fish.

After a bit of fishing we packed up camp and stashed our packs under a tarp, opting to travel light with just Tenkara gear and our Lifestraws to the next river. When we got to the river we were very impressed at how beautiful it was. The water was crystal clear and there were hundreds of pools.

We began to fish, leapfrogging our way up the stream and in one of the first pools we fished I finally hooked and brought to hand a exquisite Yamame.

As we made our way up the stream we hooked into more and more fish, in total we brought to hand and released 21 Yamame! I had been told that there were Iwana in the streams too but we did not catch any this trip.

After fishing for four or five hours it was time to begin the long trek back to the car. The hike out was very steep and my pack felt like lead on my back. As we climbed up the mountainside I could hear the river fading into the distance, I wanted so badly to stay but my buddy had to get back to work and I had another Tenkara trip planned for the next day. As we battled our way through the bamboo the skies opened up and it began to rain. By the time we got back to the car we were pretty well soaked but our spirits were not dampened in the slightest.

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