Genryu Fishing of Japan #44

One miracle day in the valley of Yakuwa.

The Asahi Mountains are a mountain district of 60km from north to south and 30km from east to west across the prefectural border between Niigata and Yamagata prefectures. Ohasahidake (1870m) as highest peak, there are ridge line of Shoujigatake (1482m), Itodake (1771m), Kankozan (169m) etc. are called “Asahi Renpo (mountain range)”. This mountain district is one of the heaviest snowfall areas in Japan, and many snow gorges remain even in the summer. In the area up to 1200m above sea level, a vast primeval beech forests spread, and there are many mammals such as Asiatic black bears and Japanese serows, and birds of prey such as golden eagles and goshawks. In addition, there are big mountain streams such as the Sagae River on the Yamagata Prefecture side and the Miomote River on the Niigata Prefecture side form deep valleys. This vast and untouched virgin forests and deep valleys do not let people go in easily. Yes, Asahi Mountains has one of the deepest forests in Japan. In other words, it is a symbol of nature in the Tohoku region. 

The Yakuwa River is the large mountain stream located in the northern surface of the Asahi Mountains. Along with the Miomote River, which flows in the south surface, it is one of the two major mountain streams that represent the Asahi Mountains. I think it is also one of the most famous mountain streams in Japan and is a sacred place for genryu fishing and sawanobori (river climbing). The flow of the Yakuwa River, which gathers the meltwater of the Asahi Mountains, which is the heavy snowfall area, is deep and strong, and we can not fish or wade at the time of run off or when the water rises after heavy rain.

The Yakuwa River has a Yakuwa Dam (We think such a stupid construction.) in the downstream, and popular fishing area is upstream from the dam backwater. The distance from the backwater to the fish-stop waterfall is about 27 km in distance, with an altitude difference of about 500 m. The altitude is from 400m to altitude 900. Faithfully going through this area doing fishing from the dam's backwater, it takes about 5 days and 4 nights. From the fish stop waterfall, you can go up to the mountain path on the ridge line by climbing an appropriate stream.

The Yakuwa River was famous for being a large mountain stream that flows through untouched wilderness, but it was also the Iwana who lived there that made Yakuwa River very famous. In Japanese mountain streams and headwaters, iwana and yamame are said to be big if they exceed about 30 cm. Unlike North America and Europe, iwana and yamame (Japanese native trout) can not grow that big in the Japanese natural environment. Although there are individuals can be exceeding 60 cm and 80 cm that have fallen into dam lakes, etc., individuals exceeding 50 cm are very rare in a natural mountain stream environment. I have been fishing in mountain streams for a long time. Occasionally I saw a 50cm class iwana that stayed in the bottom of the big pool, but I never caught it. Even under such circumstances, it was said that the average size of iwana in Yakuwa River is about 33 cm, and many of the ancestors of the genryu fishing caught iwana over 50 cm and sometimes over 60 cm in Yakuwa River. One angler said that he saw more than 10 big iwana starting with a 50 cm class at the top were lined up in the big pool.

Even now, every year, many genryu fishing enthusiasts go to Yakuwa River in search of the dream of a large iwana. It is said that the middle stream is most likely to catch the largest iwana. Walk for 6-7 hours along the river to Kakunedaira, the site there was the old zenmai hut (Hut for fern harvesting) that would be the base camp site. From there, the upstream section of Naga-sawa, Oguni-sawa, and Heishichi-zawa is the area where there is a lot of water and the highest encounters with giant iwana. Other than that, the pool of Komas waterfall in the begining of upper genryu area, and the vast pool of Ro waterfall that stands as the largest landmark of the Yakuwa River upstream are the points where the giant Iwana live. Many anglers had seen unbelievably giant iwana in the pool of Ro waterfall and from some day they started calling that giant iwana “submarine of Yakuwa”. It is a place like a legend. Beyond Lo Waterfall, it becomes the most upstream part of the Yakuwa River. This is not the place where many anglers can easily reach. And from there till fish stop waterfall is the last paradise, where large iwana sometimes over 40cm bend our fishing rod. 

Thinking about with travelling time to the river, it would take a week if you want to fish Yakuwa River from downstream to the fish stop waterfall. However, the anglers who can only take 3 to 4 days holidays like us can only enter the upper part of the river directly using the aforementioned mountain trail. In recent years, the most popular route to the upper part of genryu area is the route via Mt. Tengusumoutori down along Iwaya-zawa to the Yakuwa River, using the mountain trail from Oizawa, Nishikawa Town on the east side of the Yakuwa River. (By the way, this Tengusumoutori mountain is named after the legend that Tengu (Long-nosed goblins) made a dohyo (Sumo wresling ring) near the top of this mountain and played sumo, and there is still flat dohyo like place near the summit.) It takes about 8 hours for a healthy person to enter the Yakuwa River using this route. By the way, there is also a route that walks further down the mountain trail along the ridgeline and descends to Yakuwa River, which is a little upstream after climbing down through a small stream called Ushi-zawa. It is a route that you can go directly to the downstream of Hirogawara upon Komas Falls, making it easier to approach the Ro Falls.

This year, on the weekend of mid-July, I challenged this Yakuwa River genryu with 5 friends, Tsuru-chan, Yagi-san, Hama-chan, Fuku-chan, Matsuzawa-san. The route is via Mt. Tengusumoutor. I had fished the downstream part a long time ago, but this was the first time I went to the core genryu part. However, the rainy season was prolonged this year, and there was not much rainfall, but it was a rainy forecast during the schedule. Once the Yakuwa River is hit by a high flow, we can not do fishing or even wade the river. On Thursday night, we split into two cars and headed for Oizawa. It was already raining by the time we arrived at the gate of climbing trail at midnight. We parked the cars in the near-by museum parking lot and slept under the roofed entrance.

It continued to rain in the morning, but we prepared for departure, wore rainwear and drove to the trailhead by cars. Anyway, we decided to leave, and after 6:00 am, we started walking. The mountain trail first continued with a gentle climb in the forest, but suddenly it became steep climb after 30 minutes of walking. Rainwear has been soaked in the rain. On top of that, a sudden climb made a lot of sweat and my body became totally soaked. As the altitude increased, the temperature decreased. We took short breaks taking care not to cool down our bodies too much and kept on climbing. After 10:00 am, we finally passed through the forest zone and went into the low shrub zone, but we couldn't see the scenery because of fog. 

It was already around 12 o'clock when we continued to climb the mountain trail that continued from there and finally reached the top of Mt. Tengusumoutori. Although it was not strong, it continued to rain, my body was cold, and I was exhausted considerably. From there, if we walk along the ridgeline and descend Ushizawa, we may arrive at Tenba around 17:00. The weather was bad and the time was tight. Besides, spending the night just under the tarp in this bad weather would be hard. After a short discussion, we gave up the descent and decided to stay in an evacuation hut right below the peak. We walked about 30 minutes to arrive at the Tengu hut. The hut was a surprisingly beautiful mountain hut. The interior was just renovated with flooring, and a wonderful and comfortable space promised us a night where you can sleep with peace of mind.

From early afternoon, we had drinks and cooked small meals for drinks one by one. It was a hut on a minor route at the timing just before the mountain climbing season, so there were no other guests and we were in a state of chartering. At night, when I opened the hut window and looked outside, the rain was not so strong, but it was very windy like a storm. I thought in my heart that it was right choice not to go down into the river.

The next morning, I woke up after 4 o'clock with the sound Yagi-san cooking rice. The day before, I was able to have a rest enough on the day before, so I was very fine. I tried opening the window, but it was still raining and the wind was strong. To be honest, the weather looked difficult to decide going down to the river, but when a friend looked at the weather forecast on a smartphone (the hut was near the top of the mountain, the smartphone could catch radio wave.). It was saying “The weather was fairly stable today.” When we heard that, everyone suddenly got well. Then, we finished breakfast quickly and packed our backpacks. By the time we left the hut around 5:30 am, the rain and wind stopped, and a thick fog began to spread. But morning fog is a sign for good weather. We climbed from the hut to the summit and walked along the trail on the ridgeline, aiming for the descending point to Ushi-zawa. 

Occasionally the fog cleared partially, and we could see a spectacular view of the blue sky and the majestic Asahi Mountains. Our feelings became high. “This was the most regretful pattern if we gave up and went back home.” I told Tsuru-chan. Tsuru-chan laughed and nodded many times. Following the footsteps in the bamboo grass bush for 10 minutes from the descending point, we reached the head of Ushi-zawa. However, we were able to stand on the Yakuwa River for about 3 hours after repeating the zile works and climbing downs. Although water was a little cloudy due to rain for a few days, it was not bad that we can not do fishing or wading. We were relieved and immediately went over Komas Falls to the tenba.

The Tenba above Komas Falls were located on the terrace that is one step higher than the river and provided the comfort and spaciousness for six people to sleep. We quickly set up a tarp, made up a temba, and started to cook an early lunch. Around that time, suddenly the clouds disappeared, and a deep blue sky began to spread in Yakuwa's sky. The river and the valley began to shine in the sunlight. 

In that spectacle scene, we ate Udon cooked by Yagi-san in the riverside. It was so delicious.

At 11 o'clock, we prepared for fishing and went upstream. Iwana was fished from immediately upstream of the tenba, but average size of wana we fished was a little dissatisfied, because the size was 27cm up. In recent years, Yakuwa river has a lot of anglers during the season. After all, I think the fish had become sensitive to anglers. We saw some large iwana on the bottom of the big pools, but they were not atructed to our kebari. After a small hour of fishing and walking upstream, the valley suddenly opened, and a surprisingly wide Hirogawara (wide flat stream) appeared in the depths of this mountain. “Oku no Hirokawara”. It was very famouse area of Yakuwa River. Around that time, a perfect cloudless summer sky spread, and underneath it, the Hirogawara that shimmers in the sunlight was like a fisherman's Togenkyo. “This is a miraculous weather, a mountain god gift,” I told my friends. 

Hirokawara is dotted with the best points for kebari fishing. I was so happy to watch friends who cast the kebari against the current, backdrop of the rich forest and beautiful mountains. As I walked upstream, there were 4 or 5 of iwana in a big clear pool. I cast kebari as far from the downstream as possible and quietly. The largest iwana came surface and bit the kebari. It wasn't very big iwana, but I enjoyed a small fight and released him tenderly. He slowly disappeared into the depths of the pool. I was satisfied and felt I had enough today. I lay on the white sandy riverside next to the pool and looked at the mountains of Asahi and the blue sky. 

When Hirogawara continued for a while and the valley turned to the right, a big waterfall with a huge pool appeared. “It's Ro-taki (Ro Falls).” It was a much larger waterfall than I had seen in magazine photos. The waterfall that dropped a large amount of water and the deep blue pool were picturesque scenery with mountains in the background. Yagi-san caught a splendid iwana about 35cm in the pool just downstream of the waterfall. And we challenged the pool of Ro Falls, which seems to be 30m in diameter, by bait fishing. I felt that we could not catch iwana with kebari fishing in that too deep big pool. Unfortunately, Iwana floating in the upper layer could not be confirmed too. Yagi-san struggled for about 15 minutes, but the waterfall remained silent. We were just amazed and satisfied by that magnificent scenery.

Yagi-san and Hama-chan went over the waterfall saying they would fish upstream of Ro-taki, but we returned to Tenba. When we arrived at Temba about 15:00, a party of two people was making bonfire by the stream. They were the anglers from Sendai that Fuku-chan met at Yakuwa River at the same time last year. We exchanged greetings and talked sitting around the bonfire. When we were preparing dinner, Yagi-san and Hama-chan came back around 17:00. They said that they had better fishing above Ro-taki. They talked with a full of smile despite being tired. Then, in the evening, we started the party with guys from Sendai together. About mountains, fishing, stupid stories, we talked a lot until late. The calm night of Yakuwa valley, which changed from the previous day, went on. 

The next morning, when I woke up, it was raining. The sky was covered with thick clouds. The weather returned to the original rainy season sky in one day. I really wonder if yesterday was only one-day gift from the mountain god. Yagi-san cooked rice and Tsuru-chan made Iwana Kabayaki-don (grilled iwana rice bowl). We cleaned the tenba, packed our backpacks, and were sent off by Sendai guys about 7:30 to leave the tenba. Then, we had a long long climbing way of Ushi-zawa to the ridgeline. “It's three and a half hours,” someone said. "Then, the mountain trail to the cars for about 5 hours." I whispered in my heart and started climbing Ushi-zawa in the rain.

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