A Day Fishing Trip to Touge-zawa

One day in June, I received an email from my American friend John-san. He said he was coming to Japan for a few weeks on business in July, so he asked me if he could meet me somewhere for a day. In fact, I only exchanged emails with John-san, and it would be the first time for us to meet. We talked about going fishing if we were going to see each other, and we decided to go fishing to some genryu where we could go on a day trip.

I got acquainted with John-san through the introduction of Adam-san, who is a fishing friend of mine and the webmaster of this “tenkara fisher”. Adam-san told me that they have been friends since they were teenagers. After that, John-san came to Japan for work when he was on his 20's and get married to a Japanese woman. John-san said that he worked in Tokyo until he was 50 years old. That's why John-san is very fluent in Japanese, especially when it comes to writing and using kanji. I lived in Tokyo for 4 years during my university days and afterwards I was working in Tokyo until I was 40 years old, so We may have met somewhere without knowing.

Well, we exchanged emails several times and decided to go to the genryu of my home river Naka River. However, this time I decided to go to Yukawa, a tributary, instead of the main stream of Naka River I usually go to. John-san told me that he would go to a town near the destination the night before and stay overnight. So, I decided to pick him up at the hotel early in the morning next day.

Yukawa means “river of hot water”. The name derives from the fact that hot springs spring up in the headwaters of Yukawa, and this Yukawa and surrounding areas are a special place because of two reasons. One reason is in the past, along the headwaters of the Yukawa, an old road called Aizu Naka Kaido was crossing the Nasu mountain range from north, Aizu Domain, to the south in Edo period. The road was built along the Yukawa. After the end of Meiji era, there were no more people using the road, and now it has become a trail that is inferior to mountain trails. The remains of this road and iwana fishing at the genryu of Yukawa are introduced in detail in a previous book written by Mr. Takakuwa.(Refer to #45 Takakuwa-san)

Second reason is there is a hot spring source area called 'Hakuyusan” at the tributaries of Yukawa. From the late Edo period to the Meiji period, the folk religion called "Kou" who came to worship “Hakuyusan” as an object of faith was very popular. If you walk upstream along the river for about an hour on the forest road from the car stop of Yukawa, you will find a surprisingly wide flat land in the mountains with an altitude of 1,100m. The size is about 3 soccer courts. This is the place where there used to be a post town called "Santogoya-shuku". During the Edo period, it was used as a post station on the road, and during the Meiji period, it was used as a post town for worshipers of Hakuyusan. During the peak period, more than 30 inns were built in this mountain, and it is said that more than 1,000 worshipers visited on a busy day.

It is said that ko was originally a group formed by Buddhist monks to study doctrines, but later came to refer to groups and acts of folk worshiping ethnic religions and nature. During the Edo period, "Fuji-ko," which worshiped Mt. Fuji as a religious object, was very popular. Here in Yukawa, the source of hot spring "Gohozen", which gushes out in Ozawa, a tributary of Yukawa, had become an object of worship. Hot spring water is still gushing out from Gohozen today, but it is used as a source for the Itamuro hot spring town at the foot of the mountain.

Well, the day came. I left my house early in the morning before sunrise, picked up John-san at the hotel after driving for about two hours, and we arrived at the car stop in Yukawa after 6:00 in the morning. Yukawa around here is taken the water by the intake dam a little upstream, so it is not the original amount of water. However, John-san, who said that it is the first time for genryu fishing in Japan, said that it was a wonderful and beautiful flow. The surrounding mountains create an atmosphere of deep mountains and hidden valleys. There were already two cars parked at the car stop, but as Sawanobori(Stream climbing) is popular around here, I arbitrarily judged they were for sawanobori.

We quickly prepared for fishing and started walking the forest road. For about 30 minutes, the forest road went along the Yukawa, but after that, the road left the stream a little and turns sharply and climbs the slope of the mountain. Before long, Aizu Naka Kaido joined from the right. The stone signpost at the three-way intersection said 'Bakuhan-zaka to the right'. Interesting name. Bakuhan-zaka means “barley rice slope”. According to Takakuwa-san's book, “Once upon a time, if a traveler had cried out to the inn at Santogoya-shuku from the top of Bakuhan-zaka, Inn staff started cooking rice and the rice was cooked about when the traveler arrived at the inn. That is interesting story.

About 15 minutes later, the steep uphill ended, and the vast plain of the Santogoya-shuku spread out in front of us. There were splendid stone lanterns, water bowls, stone monuments, and signboards explaining Santogoya-shuku, reminiscent of the past. At the end of the post town, there was a path on the right, and at the end there was a magnificent torii gate. There was nothing behind the Torii gate. Only the Ozawa Valley, a tributary that separated it from the Yukawa Valley, and the mountains spread out. I thought the direction ahead of this torii must be the direction of Gohozen, which is the object of Hakuyusan worship.

There were three tents on the side of the forest road, and two people were preparing breakfast. When I greeted them, they said that they had come to camp and sawanobori with two cars at the parking lot.

After passing the ruins of the post town, we parted ways with the mountain trail and followed the ruins of the road Aizu Naka Kaido along the Yukawa. The road was very narrow almost disappearing foot paths. After walking for about 15 minutes, we got off onto Yukawa. Although it is the genryu of Yukawa, decent number of anglers coming up to this area often. Immediately, John-san prepared for fishing and he start fishing. John-san said he does fishing quite often in USA. His casting was very beautiful and there was no problem for fishing in genryu. I thought that if there was a fish, he would catch fish immediately, but there was no bite at all. We decided to walk upstream to the stream divides in two, and we devoted to stream walking for a while. The morning sun had risen considerably, and the sunlight was entering to the valley. The Nasu mountain range was beautiful on both sides of the stream. The weather was forecasted to be downhill from the afternoon, but it looked like there would be no problems until after noon. It was a lovely morning.

After walking for about 30 minutes, we arrived at confluence of the stream. Nakanomata-zawa on the right and Touge-zawa on the left. We proceeded to Toge-zawa to the more upstream side. Toge-zawa means the mountain pass stream. Beyond this stream source was the pass of the Aizu Nakakaido in the Nasu mountain range, and beyond that was the Aizu Domain in Edo period. The water volume of the stream had halved and become smaller, but Touge-zawa is the very upper part of genryu of Yukawa. The water was infinitely clear and beautiful.

Here, I also set the fishing rod and start fishing. There was good looking flow, so when I cast the kebari, iwana came out from the first cast. It was small iwana about 20 cm. It seemed that the downstream of the flow was still good, so I cast once more and another iwana bit kebari at the end of the flow. This time it was a nice iwana about 25cm long.

There was a nice pool with a small waterfall when we walked a little upstream. The depth of the pool was perfect and the water is lush and beautiful. I gave this place to John-san. John-san's cast drew a beautiful loop and the kebari just landed on the water at the falling edge of a small waterfall. When the kebari was drifting in the pool for a while, a nice-sized iwana suddenly bit the kebari. John-san set the hook perfectly, and a beautiful iwana bent John-san's rod. It was John-san's first iwana. At this time of year, the iwana was probably the best size in this stream. I thought it was good that John-san caught a good fish first. John-san was also smiling and taking pictures.

From there, we fished up Touge-zawa that flowed down like a staircase. At the very end of the stream, the spots where we can fish are limited. John-san fished picking up points with a right depth of water. Time passed quickly, it was about noon and the weather was still beautiful with blue skies. The ridgeline of the Nasu mountain range became quite close. We arrived at a place where the old Aizu Naka Kaido crosses Touge-zawa as a mountain trail. John-san seemed to be satisfied with catching 7 or 8 iwana until then, so we folded the fishing rods there.

When we walked a little downstream direction on the trail, the trail split in two. The road on the left toward the ridgeline and crosses the pass to Santogoya Onsen, an old hot spring with 2 onsen inns in the middle of Nasu mountain range, and the road on the right is the old Aizu Naka-kaido. We took right to the old road. We ate lunch on the riverbed on the way and again walked down the old road to the car stop while looking up at the sky where the clouds were moving a little faster.

Japanese Trout Figurine Kickstarter Campain


Ichi Katsumoto sent these to me asking if I would help him reach the tenkara community. His friend has a Kickstarter campain to get his trout figurine business going. I'm a sucker for fish pins so I told him that I would post a page about them. The Iwana and the Yamame at the bottom are available for sale at the campaign in this link.

I'll stick the above Iwana on my favorite fishing hat, I do not wear a vest otherwise I would pin one there.

The figurine below will go well with my others, and I am very impressed with the realism.












天野勝利さん、下田和也さん、石垣久男さんなど、多くの日本のテンカラ釣り師を取材していたのです。山本素石の本を読んでセバターさんのことは知っていましたし、日本式のフライフィッシングを深く学びたいという私の夢は実現しつつあると思いました 私は再び日本を訪れ、瀬畑さんと友人の家に滞在しました。キャンプをしながら、穏やかな源流アドベンチャーに連れて行ってもらいました。澤登が何を意味するのかがよくわかりました。私には少し難しかったのですが、この経験は私の夢でした。






Clear Lines

In the 90's I was a cross country hang glider pilot. My idea of summertime fun was to drive to the biggest mountains I could, and my favorites were 8,000' or higher. I would set up my hang glider and put on my snowmobile suit, walk my hang glider to the edge of a cliff, imagine what the wind and thermals were doing and then run off the mountain testing my skill and knowledge of the air that I couldn't see. It would be 90 degrees on the ground standing there wrestling the glider in the invisible hot wind, sweating, nervous, heightened senses, sometimes a little afraid of what was going to happen in the next few minutes or even seconds. I would fly off into thermals that I would have to imagine that they were there using all of my visual clues, my knowledge of the flow of the air, circling in that thermal up and up, sometimes more than 1,500' per minute. The air temperature drops 7 degrees every thousand feet as you ascend so if I remained in that thermal for 10 minutes, you do the math, it was freezing and the wind chill at the base of the clouds at 17,000' was skin burning cold.

What does this have to do with fishing?

I'm trying to catch things I can't see.

You can't see the air, but it acts like water. I used my fishing and surfing to understand what it was that I could not see. My experiences watching the flow of water, I took to my soaring and that imagination is what I am going to discuss here in this article about fishing.

About this same time in my life, I was doing all of this cross-country soaring, my friends were dying in accidents. Most of them were better at hang gliding than I was. They took risks or didn't follow a methodical approach toward safe practices. Flying was optional, landing was mandatory and when you go to so many funerals of friends you practice the same sport with, for me it was a wakeup call, was my time coming soon? 

I knew I was going to quit, and I wanted to pass my time much like I did hang gliding, alone, way out in the wild and that's when I dove straight into fly fishing small streams.

I applied and was accepted at an Orvis fly shop where I would work for a few hours after my day job. I was working at a local hospital in anesthesia, and I didn't need the money. I wanted to surround myself with experts in fly fishing and that is exactly what I did. I focused on small streams because that was the environment that went deep into the forest, often near the top of the mountain and at the time, there was not a lot of interest in this type of fly fishing so I would be alone or with a friend and could concentrate on becoming very good at fly fishing small streams.

I began to fish with experienced fly fishermen, most were older and had lots of time on the water. But the best teacher that I had was a young man of 18, he was a phenomenon. No one could catch like he could. He was the whole package too. Professional fly tyer tying dozens and dozens of flys, selling them and he also worked at the fly shop that I did, and he fly fished streams, rivers, lakes and the sea. We began to fish together quite a bit and it was an odd arrangement, I was twice his age, and I was following him around. 

He didn't do what everyone else did. He looked methodically at each situation and crafted his own answer and succeeded every time. We would go to a river where a good fly fisherman might catch a dozen fish in a day and he would make bets on catching fish on the first cast. In all that I do, when learning a new skill, I surround myself with the best and then I learn from them and that's what happened knowing this young man. Pretty soon I was catching almost as many fish as he was and on a couple of occasions, I caught more. He would just smile and talk to me and learn from what I was doing. I told him. Knowledge was passed back and forth, and we both increased in our skills, he in small increments and me in huge leaps and bounds because I was learning so much more.

We were using 1-weight fly rods. The lightest lines you could buy at the time and fishing for sub-surface trout. Dylan would sometimes not use an indicator, "I'm learning..." and he would look over at me with a smile as he lifted a hyper wiggly wild trout from deep in the forest. I took to indicator fishing quickly, it was like cane pole fishing that I did as a child, bobber and all. Later I would go fishing with him in the Colorado River above Lees Ferry. We used indicators there too, but I would always remember casting a single egg with a small split shot with my ultra-light spinning rod letting it tic tic tic along the bottom for trout when I was younger. Super effective, I loved that technique, but I just couldn't get it with the fly line, the drag free drift was too hard without the indicator.

At the same river, we began to experiment with line color. We would compare line color and the effect on the fish count. It was drastic. Red and orange lines were less effective, more noticeable to the trout. At that time, I was writing content for my small stream fly fishing web site, and I had even written a article on "Fly Line Color Fun" Much like the article I am writing here, I was chronicling my progress at the time.

Throughout my time fly fishing, and now the last fourteen years of only practicing tenkara, I have been working on removing the indicator and I have finally gotten to that place, and it feels great. Magic for me, but when I fish with other talented fishers, I do about the same while they are using a color line and or an indicator.

Clear lines are a progression for me, they are what I do in order for me to learn new skills. 

I would not suggest them for you. But since you have gotten this far, I'll continue.

At my favorite rivers, fishing Honryu tenkara, I use a 5m rod with a 7m clear line and .5m tippet for' about 40' of maximum reach. With a size #22 hook, and 20/20 vision, the fly or kebari is nearly lost once it leaves my hand. I lose sight of the line just beyond a rod length in most lighting conditions.

Every cast is blind!

But it isn't. I have imagination and knowledge of what is going on. I know what the water is doing, even though I cannot see it clearly. I know how it acts from my study of it. I can see evidence of the river bottom from my vantage point of looking down at where I am standing. I know if there are cobblestone sized rocks, there is a rolling turbulence at the bottom that the trout are hovering above and can dip down into at places where the current is to their advantage. I know if there are larger rocks that they can hold behind and or in front of riding the pressure wave, holding place to look for concentrated food in the flow. If I can see the fish, they usually indicate that my imagination is correct.

I'm looking for evidence to correlate past experiences when fishing new areas.

Everything about my rod is known. I'm experienced with using it for many many hours. Same rod, same length line, same size fly, same cast, same same.

I'm using a methodical approach towards my fishing and the clear line is augmenting the tactility in my approach. This methodical approach starts with my feet, and it moves out to the fly. I'll move to a spot that is advantageous to the area that I am searching for fish. I'll get comfortable where I am standing and typically, I am parallel to the flow of the water or slightly angled up or down stream depending on the "fan shape" of my search pattern. I'll cast and then rotate at the hips as I tight line drift or sasoi (move the fly) with the flow. Pick up, rotate back, cast, rotate, pick up, rotate back and cast again.

I am a machine, a computer analyzing anything different and learning yet not thinking.

I've got the visuals down to where I can imagine them in my mind, now I want to increase the feel in the system and the way for me to do that is to use the same system every time but remove the color so that it removes the vision.

It is a fact that the blind has increased other senses. 

That's the point. I know what the water is doing, I know where the fish are and how they are behaving, I know how my fishing rod and line works, now I want to increase the feel for what I cannot see. The way that I do that is to balance the visuals to a point where tactility is promoted. Yes, I still indicate the trout taking my fly. I'm fishing, it's what I do. 

With my clear line system, I substitute the line color with the natural environment. Before anything indicating on my rod and line, I am looking at the fish I am casting to if I can see it. The white wink of its mouth opening to take the fly, the subtle turn of its body, the movement of its shadow below on the bottom, the silver arrow of its body shortening, I'm looking for visual clues that are not indicated by my fishing line or fly.

Often, I use water droplets on the drape of the line, I watch the droplets for movement. I watch the drape of the line for straightening, I watch the meniscus if I can see it where I imagine the line is entering into the water. I will watch the lillian as I rotate for any movement down.

I use nature, what is already there to indicate the take.

Setting the line on a long history of success, knowing what is happening now that has happened before causes me to tighten the line by lifting the rod to drive home the tiny hook.

The purpose of this article is to describe what I'm doing, not what I'm thinking, I already know what is going on, I'm just creating more opportunities for my senses to realize to set the hook to catch the fish.

Now when I am fishing Honryu, I often feel my #22 hook ticking along the bottom, 30' away, two feet below the surface of the water. I can feel the ticking stop and sometimes even feel the lightening and then increasing pressure which triggers my arm to lift the rod. I'm not thinking, it's happening, and my body is anticipating and reacting without thinking.

 Using a clear line is just another step in my tenkara journey.

I no longer want to catch every fish in the stream, I don't need to, nor do I want to. The method of tenkara has already increased my catch rate. Now when I fish, I enjoy what I am doing and it is such a surprise to catch fish on a system I can't see, I am learning more and more to increase my catch by feel. 

I use a clear line to increase the sensation of feel.

I imagine most of the fish that I catch, yes, I do sight cast to quite a few of my catch but in a large river, most of the fish that I catch, I can't see.

I still have the ability to feel the take and that is the point of the hook.

The more you know, the less you need.

I've tried other lines in this brand (like Tatsu) but InvizX has the best suppleness for casting, handling and knot tying.

I use a slip knot to connect the lillian and a tippet ring to connect the tippet to.

That's it.

No need to make this any more complicated.

I've been using it for years now and it works well.

Yoshikazu Fujioka Greeting Cards for a Happy New Year!


I am honored to know Yoshikazu Fujioka for a long time. We have share our love of small stream fly fishing. He sends me a New Year Greeting card and I look forward to it every year. 2020 has been skipped due to morning. I asked Fujioka san if I could share his cards and he said by all means. We are in Tsuttenkai together, I think I may be the one who takes a nap in the grass...

Zimmerbuilt Custom Products

Chris Zimmerbuilt knows tenkara, high tech fabrics and customer service. *I’ve worked with him on several projects now and all have been nothing less than stellar performance in travel, trail and on the stream.

My wife often grabs one of my packs to use for our trips to the mountains and to the beach. She likes the Tailwater because it isn't bulky and is easy to carry and store. When it is empty, she can wad it up and stuff it into her purse or luggage.

I have traveled to Japan on a great adventure and I chose the Tailwater pack to use as my primary bag. Not only did it perform flawlessly, I forgot about it quite a bit, it just disappears on my back until I need something out of it.

My fishing bag, the Kaizen was designed after my first trip to Japan. I imagined what I wanted and put it together and sent it off to Chris. He sewed it up and sent my idea back. I've been using it since. I have taken it to Japan, Hawaii, exploring the distant rivers and streams in the Western United States. That little bag is a part of my idea of tenkara, if it can't be fit in my bag, I don't need it.

I’ve been amiss in my thanks to Chris for the last couple of pieces of my kit that he put together for me. When I received my latest custom sling pack, I was so impressed as it was exactly as I ordered.

Sending off the request for custom color and configuration I received a response, “Yes, I can do that.” In addition, he sent his address so that I could send my tenkara club patch to be sewn on. I like the stock colors Chris offers yet I’m a big fan of custom colors and white cloth for the main body of my pack. Often, I will request for this to be taken away or that added on. I draw a picture and I get back what I requested, the first time, better or exactly as I asked.

Off the patch went in an envelope addressed to Chris and in short order, my sling lite arrived in my mailbox.

My latest customized minimalist tailwater pack already has a lot of multi-sport adventures behind it. Hatsuhinode, hiking, long walks into the forest, cross country trips, the beach, bike rides and more. 

Putting this article together, searching out the images, I feel like Chris has really contributed to the advancement in my tenkara. I am grateful of his kindness, and I appreciate what he does.

* I receive no compensation from Chris Zimmer or Zimmerbuilt in any way. I am a customer, and a friend, no business.