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Silver Week Tenkara

September 26, 2015

There are many waterfalls deep in the Tanzawa Mountains but there is one that draws me in a way that none of the others do. What intrigues me the most with this waterfall is not its stature (it is only a scant 12 meters in height) but the relentless, voluminous, crystal clear and turquoise hue of the water that leaps from its apex. I first came across this waterfall last winter which is when, the trees and bushes have lost their green finery, you can easily see an old wooden ladder bolted to the cliff beside the waterfall. However, during the spring and summer when the greenery engulfs the countryside the ladder nearly disappears from sight and only the memory of it remains.

A few weeks back I got curious to see where the ladder would take me and how far the river goes above the waterfall. Surprisingly the little blue line on the Japanese trail map was very short (Google Maps does not even show a creek). I figured that that much water could not just erupt from the mountain a few hundred meters back - so I decided to find out for myself. On the first day of autumn, and the last week of the official fishing season, I made the long journey out to explore this mysterious place.

The past five days had been the second biggest holiday in Japan - Silver Week. Silver Week is comprised by a normal two day weekend, which is followed by the Celebration of the Aged on Monday, a national bridge holiday (nothing to celebrate on this day other than the government wanting to hook everyone up with a five day weekend), and then Wednesday was the celebration of the Autumn Equinox. Last time I had visited a river after a major Japanese holiday the fishing had been lackluster (but the scenery was still spectacular) because the rivers population of Yamame had been decimated by the Japanese shock and awe fishing ethics. I was hoping that this mythical genryu would have survived the onslaught of Japanese anglers looking to kill every fish in the river.


As I climbed up the rickety and rapidly decomposing ladder I tried not to think about the fact that the ladder was now being held on by one of its four bolts and that the single remaining bolt had pulled out of the rock by at least 12cm. I scampered up quickly and thinking light thoughts. After successfully navigating the ladder I darted up the steep hillside, but as I made my way down to the river valley above the waterfall I spotted fresh footprints! They could not have been more than 48 hours old - my heart sank. Most likely what little fish had been in this river were now either on a one way trip down a sewage line somewhere in Tokyo or they were cowering under a rock hoping and praying to make it five more days till the end of the fishing season. Either way I was probably going to get skunked. I halfheartedly rigged up my keiryu rod and began to fish the first pool. When suddenly - wham! A fish slammed my fly with such ferocity there was no mistaking it for a leaf or a Nihon Kawanezumi. Most of the time I am not happy to be proven wrong but this time I was ecstatic. As I made my way upstream I came across a fish in nearly every pool. They were smart fish though if I missed the first set a second chance almost never came.

After a short distance the river passed through a very narrow and steep gorge. It was a great opportunity to test my sawanabori shoes. Over the summer I have come to really love these shoes. On my most recent back-country tenkara trip I humped a 16 kilogram backpack over 10km wearing these shoes and a further 7km fishing. Today I got a chance to see how they performed on vertical wet rock. As I progressed upstream I had to traverse and climb on steep rock faces sometimes six plus meters above the water! Other times the only way up was climbing straight up the waterfall. Not once did I slip and my footing always felt very secure.

About half-way up the keiryu I came across a double stacked weir that was about 15 meters tall overall. Once I had scrambled up the side of the mountain to regain the river I was met with a much different genryu. Below the weir it was rugged, steep, narrow, and filled with many deep pools that were perfect for Yamame. Above the weir the massive amount of accumulated silt, gravel, and rock created a much more shallow and spread out creek system. Still I came across a few pools with fish and after a bit of hiking upstream the river began to make its way back to a more natural state. It was in this section that I caught a beautiful Iwana (and only my second in the Tanzawa Mountains)! She was very full of eggs so I took extra precautions in handling her. She was the most difficult fish I have ever tried to photograph though, she would not hold still not even for a second. After releasing her back to her home I continued upstream and hooked into a fairly large Yamame, coming in at around 25cm.

In the distance I could hear thunder and when it began to rain I figured it would not be wise to continue upward as I did not want to be caught in a very narrow slot canyon during a flash flood. As I descended the rain picked up in ferocity and by the time I made it back to the car it was an all out downpour. In my excitement to explore this river I had forgotten to pick up some food and so I was starving. After re-hydrating at a nearby spring I drove to the 7-11 where I found a delicious kimchi and pork rice bowl and salad to dine on. As I sat in my car, eating my lunch, and listening to the rain pounding on the roof I thought back to the magnificent river I had explored. It had been a great day and I thanked God for bringing me to this magical island in the Pacific.

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