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Yamame Queen of the Mountains

March 24, 2016

Discovering Jimmy Spring Creek

I am a little surprised that I have not yet written a Yamame post. I have written about the Amago and the Iwana but no Yamame article, until now. The Yamame is an absolutely beautiful fish and one that I have brought to hand numerous times during last years mountain stream fishing season in Japan. The rivers of the Tanzawa Mountains, which are 65 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, are teeming with them. If you are lucky you can find some Iwana in the higher elevation keiryu but the rivers are by and large mostly inhabited by Yamame. To kick off the 2016 Tenkara season in Japan (I am a few weeks late - opening day is March 1st) I decided to visit a stream I accidently discovered last season - Epidote Creek. I was pretty sure I was not going to catch any fish, an assumption I had arrived at for two reasons:

1 - Last season on an opening day Tenkara fishing "expedition" not only did I not catch any fish but I did not see any either.

2 - Through various sources I had heard that the early season fishing in Japan is very challenging.

I did not care if I did not catch any fish though, I just wanted to get outside and find some solitude. I had just returned a few days prior from a wonderful trip to England for my brothers wedding (I did manage to squeeze in a phenomenal trip with the folks from Discover Tenkara to fish for Grayling too). While it had been a great time the travelling portion back home had been exhausting. Between driving to the airport in Manchester, flying first to Amsterdam and then to Tokyo, and then taking the 2+ hour train ride home we had been traveling exactly 21 hours, and I had gotten about 1 hour of sleep. So to say that I was in sore need of some peace and calm would be an understatement.

The traffic was unusually light and besides a quick stop at 7-Eleven for some onigiri, there were no delays in getting to the "trailhead". The stream is tucked in a remote valley that can only be accessed by a very dilapidated trail or an old logging/hunting road. I prefer the road as I can ride my mountain bike and it makes the 5 km trek go by much faster. I recently picked up a set of Pub Pedals that make pedaling my bike, while wearing Sawanobori shoes, much more comfortable and safe. Once at the river I stashed my bike underneath a tall cedar and covered it with some branches in case anyone wandered by (theft is not a problem in Japan, I just did not want anyone to know I was there). Thankfully it was still too cold and the yamabiru (mountain leeches) were not out yet. For the first part of the river I used my Tenkara USA Ito rod, the zoom action was great for getting just a little more reach when sneaking up on a pool from behind a large boulder (I was headed downstream and so stealth was especially important).

The first few pools I did not see any sign of fish and soon I was at a 10 meter tall weir that required some scrambling to bypass. Safely at the bottom I plopped my fly into a very promising looking pool and came up empty handed. I was starting to resign myself to the possibility of getting skunked. While I had left home expecting to I had held a glimmer of hope that that would not be the case. Soon enough I was at the terminus of Epidote Creek and I put away the Ito rod in favor for my keiryu Tenkara rod that is 570 cm long! It had been a gift from my Tenkara sensei and when rigged with a 1-2 meter line it is perfectly suited for very tight mountain streams with dense overhead foliage - a situation that "traditional" rigs and casting methods would be impossible to effectively fish most of the river with.

As I made my way up the river I spotted a fish and then another. From one vantage point I watched as two fish swam up to my fly and nibbled it before darting away. My fly was to big. As I was digging through my fly box trying to decide what to try next a small mayfly flew by me. I looked up, there were at least a dozen fluttering about, I had never seen a hatch on a keiryu before! Ecstatic I tied on a small mayfly and the second she alighted on the water a small Yamame came out of nowhere and gobbled it up.

First fish of the 2016 mountain stream fishing season.

The next pool up another Yamame slammed my fly and after a quick battle she freed herself. Nearly every pool had a fish or four in it. Throughout the day I probably had about 15-20 bites, nibbles, or long distance releases ;) This river had become quite the nursery during the off season, despite the evidence of a large flood or two.

There are many forks on the river which I still have not explored yet. I decided to head up a new tributary and came upon several fun cliffs that required my full concentration and technical ability to climb. If I have not mentioned it yet I will say it now "I LOVE my Sawanobori shoes" They are exceptional footwear for navigating slimy moss covered cliff faces and waterfalls.

As I ascended higher the stream became tighter and much steeper. There was a lot of structure and promising looking pools but the fish were beginning to space out.

At one point I had to rock climb up a rather large pile of boulders and when I stuck my head over the top I saw the most glorious cascade plunging into a huge pool. I crept towards the pool careful to keep out of the sun so that my shadow would not alert any fish to my presence.

There in the pool was a very big Yamame frolicking in the water. I watched her play for awhile, I felt like I was in a Disney movie watching Nemo. It was beautiful. A little reluctantly I plopped my fly in the water. She looked at it for what seemed like an eternity but was probably only a second or two and then swam up and politely ate it. The battle was short and after a few quick photos I released her.

She was nearly 30 cm long, or also known as a Syaku Yamame. She was a trophy sized Yamame, I have only caught one larger in the wild. Her coloring was phenomenal.

A little further upstream I came upon a pile of discarded vehicles that had been shoved off the road high above the creek. The Suzuki Jimmy had come to rest directly on top of a spring - and right then and there I knew what I was going to call this tributary to Epidote Creek.

The inspiration for the name of the thriving tributary of Epidote Creek.

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