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Oze National Park

August 30, 2015

Back in June I went on a spectacular tenkara fly fishing trip with my new friends Kado-san and Tetsuya. It was an amazing experience so when Kado-san suggested we do another trip, but this time to a place called Oze National Park in Gunma Prefecture, I eagerly agreed and cleared my calendar. Most of August I was absolutely swamped guiding Tenkara and Mount Fuji trips and was grateful to get away for a few days of Tenkara and hiking.

Kado-san and I met at his store, Kadoya Outdoor Shop, and after he closed shop for the evening we promptly hit the road. Traffic was light as we passed through Tokyo and the toll roads were empty so we made good time. After a quick stop for supplies, we arrived just before midnight, at Kado-san's small cabin in the charming mountain village of Higashiogawa (東小川). After a night cap or two we rolled out our sleeping bags and fell asleep on the straw tatami mats.

The sun rose early and we were both eager to get out on the river so we hastily prepared breakfast while soaking in the sunshine, cool breezes, and the views of the surrounding countryside. There was a trout farm right out the kitchen window and we could see the Rainbow Trout splashing about anxiously awaiting their release into the plethora of nearby mountain streams. With our bellies full we drove to the trailhead on the edge of Oze National Park, strapped on our packs and set off for the genryu Nakanomatazawa.

The hike to the river was surreal - on all sides we were surrounded by huge stands of cedar, bamboo thickets so dense they blocked out the light, and despite a long hot summer numerous springs, seeps, and bogs. After hiking for 45 minutes or so we found a suitable path from the road to the river. Every time I fish with Kado-san he teaches me a new trick or helpful tip about Tenkara, this trip was no different. When we started fishing I was moving very slowly fishing each pool and promising looking spot for several minutes. Kado-san explained to me that Tenkara is quick and that you should only cast a few times in each pool. If after a few casts you do not get a hit move on. Iwana in these mountain streams will eat a fly within a few seconds, if they do not they are not hungry, they are not interested, or there are not any fish in that location. We progressed our way upstream in this manner making quick work of the river. For the first few hours we hardly saw any fish, but there were numerous fresh signs of fishing pressure on the banks. The previous weekend had been the Japanese Bon Festival when "people return to ancestral family places and visit and clean their ancestors' graves". Kado-san surmised that the fish were in hiding after the recent fishing pressure from the previous 'holiday' weekend.

We pressed on despite the lack of fishing action. The river was gorgeous and Kado-san assured me that he had caught many fish in this river the last time he was here a few years back. They were in there, we just had to find them. As we were both about to give up we came across a pocket of fish, and they were hungry! After several strikes and missed sets the gig was up and the fish hunkered down in the depths and waited for the threat to pass them by. Pressing on upstream we came across a roaring waterfall.

katashina-japan-river-oze national park-tenkara-waterfall

With our up-river progress blocked we backtracked a bit until we spotted a cable hanging down the side of a cliff. Climbing hand over hand up the cable the Nakanomatazawa slipped from view but the roar of the waterfall still rang thick in the air. After picking our way through a substantial bamboo thicket we found our way back to the river above the waterfall. There were more fish in this section of the river but still we had no luck. After another hour or so of unsuccessful fishing we decided to return to the road and check out a smaller tributary named Kobuchizawa. That is when I stepped on an underground nest of hornets. The pain was extraordinary and I ran screaming and swatting my attackers back towards the river. I dove into a pool to escape the swarm - Kado-san, who was in front of me, thankfully only got stung once - but I got stung six times. I was very concerned about having an allergic reaction but after a few minutes without a reaction I knew I was going to live. We abandoned any further plans for fishing that day and made our way back to the car licking our wounds and ducking at every insect that buzzed by our heads.

Back at the car Kado-san cracked open a bottle of red wine, which had been reserved for celebration but was now being used to "self-medicate" the pain away. After a few glasses I felt a little better and we drove back to the cabin. We grabbed our towels and drove to an onsen. The hot water felt great and in the very hot water I could not feel the dull burning sensation from the hornet stings. It was a wonderful respite from the pain. As I soaked I remembered what Tenkara USA had said about "karma neutralizing" I certainly had neutralized a lot of karma today! Back at the cabin Kado-san I talked about Tenkara, made plans to explore another area of Oze National Park the next day, I worked on my Japanese skills, and we cooked curry rice and sipped on sake and chardonnay. And as the sun slipped behind the cedar covered mountains the pain and frustration of the day began to fade into memory.

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