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The Headwaters of the Tama River

April 21, 2015

Day 2 Part I - Exploring the Headwaters of the Tama River

The sun woke me up right around 5:30am. I contemplated going back to sleep but the sound of the Tama River flowing past our campsite beckoned me like a siren song. I crawled out of my sleeping bag and rubbing the sleep from my eyes I stumbled to the bank of the Tama River and began to cast. As I stood there with my fly tumbling down the river I marveled at the water flowing past me. This river had been flowing for millennia. It never stopped, it never took a break, it never grew tired, it was always yearning and straining to break free of the land and enter the ocean. Much like a heart, it just kept going even when darkness settled upon the land the river kept flowing. I began to wonder Where was this river born? Where did she begin her journey to the ocean? 

Early spring on the Tama river Not a bad spot to try and catch a few fish

I was jolted from my caffeine deprived reflections by the screech of a train far above me. The Chuo Line was headed to Tokyo, carrying her cargo of passengers to the bowels of an office building far far away. I imagined them in the train gazing out the window and seeing me on the bank of the river, with one hand in my pocket and the other grasping my trusty Tenkara rod. Instantly I knew that while their trajectory was taking them away from the mountains mine was taking me deeper into the heart of the mountains. To the place where the Tama was born. I collapsed my rod and headed back to camp to look at a map.

Plunge pools

The heart of the Tama River is on the flank of Mount Karamatsu-Oyama. It was from this mountain that many streams were born, converging, and growing until they became the Tama and eventually the Pacific Ocean. After making breakfast and purchasing another nights stay at the Hikawa Campground we set off. The drive up highway 411 was pleasant. It was a beautiful day. Clear blue skies, not a cloud in sight, and a cool breeze blowing the scent of spring through the air. As we climbed higher into the mountains the road became narrower and narrower. There were more hairpin turns and tunnels. And then there she was, Mount Karamatsu-Oyama! We turned off the highway onto a road barely wide enough for one car. Springs were seeping from the mountainside as my car struggled in the thin mountain air.

This is where the Tama River is born! I felt like I was in a holy place. The mountain was awakening from her long winters hibernation and there was electricity in the air. We rounded a bend in the road and were greeted by a waterfall hardly visible through the bare trees. During the summer when the trees are green I bet you cannot even see the waterfall from the road. We were at the confluence of the Otsunakidani River and the Tasubamidani River.

Large boulder overlooking a nice pool

We found a small turn-out to park and headed down a faint path to the rivers edge. The river bed was a jumble of monstrous boulders, deep plunge pools, and sheer cliffs slowly crumbling against the onslaught of the river and the elements. The river was teeming with fish. They were staying down deep though. The water was frigid and traces of snow could still be seen in the shadows. We spent many hours stalking from pool to pool and piecing together hair raising descents down water polished boulders and cliff faces to reach the more enticing pools. The fishing pressure was readily apparent as tackle and line could be seen dangling from many low hanging branches. We came across a group of anglers and inquired about a fishing ticket. Apparently there was no need for a fishing ticket this far up in the mountains. It was unregulated and as far as we could tell no stocking operations filled the creek on a regular basis.

A wild man on the river

In our excitement to reach the headwaters of the Tama we had neglected to stock up on food. After ignoring our growling stomachs as long as we could we gave in to our hunger pangs and set off to find a place to eat.

To Be Continued...

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