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A Day on the Otaba River - 大丹波川

April 29, 2015

As I reflect back on the three days I spent in the Kanto Mountain Range (関東山脈) the highlight for me was the last day which was spent exploring Otaba River (a special thanks to Ridgeline Images for his fortuitous comment which put this river on my radar). After some research I realized that the Kanto Mountains trip I was planning was going to be very close to the Otaba River. Naturally I had to check it out!

Mossy boulder & river Plunge pool

On the morning of the third day we arose with the sun and headed down to the Tama to fish before breakfast. My buddy caught a beautiful Yamame from a large pool and I had a fish on but she got off. It was a good sign for the day to come (especially since the Tama had bested us for the past two days). We took down camp and made several trips with our camping gear up the steep road from the river to our car. The parking lot is perched on the hillside in the midst of a collection of quaint cabins available for rent, if sleeping in a tent is not your thing.

Hikawa camping cabin Fishing in a barrel

After we finished packing up and settling our parking bill, we stopped by the local Hemlock Coffee Shop to get our caffeine fix, but they were not open until noon so we suppressed our craving for caffeine and headed over to Hikawa International Fishing Spot (氷川国際釣り場). The facilities are very nice and there are numerous man made pools and natural river sections to catch stocked Brook, Rainbow and Yamame trout from. It costs ¥3200 for a one day fishing ticket. Unfortunately they do not allow Tenkara. It was not readily apparent why, but they are happy to provide bamboo rods for an extra charge (¥300 I believe). After looking around for a bit we headed back to our car and made our way to the Otaba River.

Concrete plant Wooden map

Turning off Highway 413 onto route 202 I was struck by the small village of Otaba juxtaposed against the backdrop of the rugged mountains. Down low the Otaba River hardly looks like a mountain stream. The valley is a complex maze of roads and homes improbably balanced on the hillside. However, as we continued up the 202 the valley constricted and the homes began to thin out. Soon we were surrounded by forest and wasabi farms planted in the small streams seeping from the mountainside. We found a three car turnout and parked. On the other side of the road was a faint path down to the river. There were numerous deep pools, waterfalls, and even some huge boulders which apparently have a few climbing routes on them. I began making my way upstream and fishing the plethora of pools. There were a lot of fish in the river including many 3-5cm long fingerlings.

A happy spot to fish A Japanese mountains stream

As the day progressed I landed two small Yamame! The first was in the first pool I fished that day and the second was in a large pool below a small waterfall. Ounce for ounce they are a very ferocious fish. Their acrobatic display when hooked is quite impressive and reminded me of the native Brown Trout I caught in the spring fed creeks of Frederick County Maryland. Both slipped off my barbless hooks though before I could finagle my camera out of my pack.

God is good This river has been here for thousands of years...

After a half day of fishing on the Otaba (boy does time fly when you Tenkara fly fish huh?) it was time to make our way home before the Friday evening rush hour traffic became intolerable. The transition from the mountains into the urban sprawl of Tokyo was abrupt. Every fiber of my being was straining to turn the car around and get lost in the Kanto Mountain Range all over again. But we both had responsibilities that could not be shirked any longer. The drive back home was largely spent in silence. As I watched the mountains fade into the haze through my rearview mirror, I was simultaneously looking forward to a shower and wishing I could spend just one more night camped out under the stars on the bank of the Tama River. I consoled myself with the knowledge that this little piece of heaven was less than two hours from my home and that I could visit whenever I wanted.

Smile Campground

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