Genryu Fishing of Japan #36


Iwaimata-zawa, which is flowing through the Asahi mountains, is a major tributary of the Miomote river. Its middle area is one of the most famous and the hardest genryu in Japan with gorge bands as if it continues indefinitely. This summer, I and my friends went on a genryu trip aiming for the most upper section of the stream, which can also be said to be the heaven of Tenkara fishing, by breaking through the core gorge part of this Iwaimata-zawa.

We were a group of 5 people on this trip. Members were my usual partner Tsurumi-san, Takano-san and Fukuda-san from the well-known genryu fishing club "Tanidoraku", Yagi-san from Shizuoka, and me. As we would challenge a very famous tough genryu Iwaimata-zawa, the members gathered were people with experience and strength.

Destination, Iwaimata-zawa flows through the center of the Asahi Mountains spreading over Niigata Prefecture and Yamagata Prefecture. I joined with Tsurumi-san on the way and went to Iwaimata-zawa via Yamagata prefecture. We crossed the pass at the forest road of dart and aimed at the climbing mouth of Asahi Mountains which is car stoppage of this trip. The other three guys joined near Tokyo and came from Niigata prefecture side. This time it was a fishing trip using a three days holidays including national holiday “Marine day”, so we left our homes earlier if there might be other parties at the car parking, but there was no precedent in the parking lot. We had a toast with beer.

The weather forecast for 3 days was cloudy and sometimes rain. It was inevitable because the rainy season had not yet ended. However, in the sky at 1 AM there was a fair number of stars twinkling. After a small hour, three guys from Tokyo arrived safely. Tsurumi-san met with Fukuda-san and Yagi-san for the first time, so I briefly introduced them and drank beer again.

We drunk and talked for about an hour and took a short sleep in the cars. Two cars came over when a day got lighter, but as soon as they saw our cars, they drove away. Perhaps they were 1day fishers. We woke up and checked the packing. After taking quick breakfast we stepped onto the mountain path along the Miomote River. Takano-san had been to Iwaimata-zawa twice. He said it was about 10 years ago and did not remember the route well, but we were encouraged to have him.

In the beautiful beech forest, we walked the mountain path along the Miomote River for about an hour and arrived at the crossing point of Miomote River to Iwaimata-zawa. We had one job there. I decided to stretch 40 meter climbing rope across the river to prepare for water increase of the river due to heavy rain. The width of the river was about 15 m, and if it is not a too big rise of water, we can cross the river with this 40m climbing rope. There was the experience I had been saved by climbing rope to cross the river which had been increased water due to heavy rain. Besides Miomote River is such a big mountain stream. All members agreed with me and brought some 8mm climbing ropes.

After setting up the climbing rope, we crossed Miomote River. That strong flow had the depth of our chest. We climbed the steep slope of the opposite shore about 20 m. The footprints were almost disappeared and we got held the shrubs and managed to climb the steep slope somehow. When we climbed over the slope, a rich beech forest was spreading in a gently sloping terrace. We walked to upstream along the Iwaimata-zawa looking the old "Natame(Cut mark by hatchet)" attached to large beech trees as a route sign.

Natame" is the wisdom of old mountain people. They engraved a mark on a huge beech tree with a hatchet and used it as a signpost for such as zenmai paths in the mountains. They engraved simple marks to show the right route or sometimes person's names, recordss, simple route guides etc. Even in places where the foot path has disappeared, it can be possible to trace the right route somehow by this "natame".

We walk through the terrace for about 30 minutes and descend to Iwaimata-zawa once because there was deep valley of the tributary, but then we did not know where we could go up to the opposite terraces again. There must have been the footprints but it was completely disappeared. We lost 20 minutes to find out the route. Cross the Iwaimata-zawa under F1(Water fall No.1) and climbed very steep slope to the forest of the opposite shore. From there it was almost no foot paths. We searched for slopes that we could somehow walk and progressed looking for occasional "Natame". Originally, we planned to go to the temba(camp site) right under F3(Water fall No.3), but our physical strength have been exhausted rapidly and time has passed. After all, we went down from the forest to the stream under F2 and decided to set up a temba there in a small river beach.

Temba was not a very safe location if water increases with hard rain. The place was about 1.5 meters from the stream, but we had no chance to find out better place. Just in case, we found an escape place on the back slope. Fortunately, the weather became very fine, under the refreshing blue sky of the summer, we cooled down the hot bodies in the pleasant flow of Iwaimata-zawa.

We had lunch on the beach of the stream and set the tarp there and made the temba. I took a nap on the shore under in the shed. Other guys started fishing immediately near the temba. Fishing seemed quite good. Everyone caught good sized iwana right away. Takano-san and Yagi-san kept 3 or 4 iwana for the night. Right upstream of the tembla was the gorges that we can’t go through and the end of the gorge was Iwaimata-zawa's largest 8 m waterfall F 2.

By the evening, everyone gathered firewood and made a bonfire. We had a toast with beer and started cooking with drinking. I cooked grilled meat. Then Yagi-san made a grilled wonton with the Iwana meat. This was really good. The main dish was Tsurumi-san’s udon with pork miso soup. We were totally getting full. We went under the tarp and got into the sleeping bag one after another. I fell in asleep praying for the good weather for the next day.

I slept well and woke up at 6:30 in the next morning. Yagi-san and Tsurumi-san were already awake and making a bonfire. Unfortunately, the weather was cloudy with occasional light rain. The sky looked it would rain soon.

We finished quick breakfast and left the temba before 8 o'clock. We climbed over F2 and got off to the stream immediately. We prepared for fishing and started fishing. I walked a little downstream and fished in a big pool under a low but wide waterfall of about 1m. A good sized over 30cm Iwana bit my kebari at the 3rd cast. I enjoyed nice fight. After that, I fished 25cm iwana a little downstream of the same flow. I truly admired Iwaimata-zawa that I could catch this good sized iwana from the beginning.

After that we fished one by one and waded upstream, but the reaction of the fish gradually worsened for some reason. Both valleys and waters looked wonderful, and also there were no signs of people entered there for a long time, it was really strange feeling. By around 10 o'clock we reached the flat free stone area under F 3. It was one of wonderful sections of Iwaimata-zawa. Everywhere looked best fishing point, but for some reason we can’t catch good iwana at all. Sometimes we could only catch small 24 cm iwana only. At 11 o'clock, it began to rain in earnest. We took shelter from the rain under the trees, and we had lunch and watched the situation, but there was no sign of rain stopping. Weather was getting worse and fishing was not good. We thought that something was very strange on that day because of iwana’s reaction. So, we decided to go back to the temba.

We arrived at the temba before 14:00. Firstly, we arranged the baggage to escape from the temba at any time because we thought the rain was getting harder.

We decided to withdraw temba if the water level of the stream rise to the top of one rock on the opposite riverside, and we were seeing the situation. The water level was calming for a while, but rain repeatedly got stronger and weaker, and there was no sign to stop. In about an hour, I noticed the water became very turbid. "It might be very quick when the water starts increasing." We were talking about such a thing, then, suddenly, water level rose sharply by about 1 m. "We have to withdraw temba now." I said. So that everyone rushed to collect things around us. When we carried our backpacks to the high place of the slope. Then the next wave came. That time it brought water to the temp level. The water level rose by 1.5 m in only 3 minutes.

Takano-san and tsurumi-san climbed on the slope and carried the backpacks and other staff to the higher place. Yagi-san and Fukuda-san were collecting the tarp in the water. 10 minutes later, we were watching the swollen stream from the slope. Water level was then probably more than 2 m higher than usual. We talked it was just like a flash flood. I thought that perhaps the increased water flow was compressed by Gorges under the waterfall and it was spirited out downstream of it.

It was still 3:15pm when I saw the watch. There was no reason for being on the uncomfortable slope. We turned back the way to make a temba in a safe and flat place in the forest. At 5 o'clock we found a place where five people could lie down. We set a tarp and made a temba right away. It was never a comfortable place, but we had foods, water, mosquito-coiles and beer. Above all, the place was 20 meters higher than the stream a safe place. When the forest darkened, we began preparing dinner. Although it is a narrow tempba, food was abundant and we had beer to celebrate everyone's safety. We talked about today's happenings eating the dinner.

We talked about many things. If we carried on fishing more, or if we did not mind the rain, we were supposed to have been in real danger. Or we should have withdrawn the temba as soon as we got there. However, more than anything, we talked that Iwana’s reaction of the day was real abnormal situation. Perhaps Iwana were supposed to have evacuated in the safe deep places or under the big rocks, as they predicted that great rise of water of the stream. That made us gave up fishing and went back to the temba, and we could escape from the danger. We might have been saved by Iwana. Really nature can’t be revealed, but I thought if we have the antenna of our sense against the nature carefully, we can be able to sense the sign of nature.

Contrary to our wishes, the rain did not stop even at night. If water increase continues, we can’t go home tomorrow because we can’t cross the stream. I prayed for the rain to stop by mid night and fell into a shallow sleep. The next morning, I woke up at daybreak. When Yagi-san went to see the stream, and he said that the water was considerably decreased. Rain had almost stopped, and the clouds were getting thinner. We cooked breakfast with steamed rice which we made last night. We also made side dishes and ate firmly. We left the temba at 7:30. By then we could see the bottom stones in the shallow of the stream. "I think we can go home today" I said to encourage everyone. Actually, if we can cross Iwaimata-zawa under F1, I thought we can go home. As long as the remaining climbing rope across the Miomote River is alive, we can cross Miomote River. I thought the rope was probably okay now, but it might be raining hard again. We hurried ahead.

As we returned the route a lot yesterday, we could arrive at the crossing point of Iwaimata-zawa under F1 in about an hour. The shallow part of the stream was about our chest to the waist. Moreover, it was not such a strong flow. "I can go." so I held the climbing rope to secure me and went to the other side of the stream safely. And everybody crossed the stream one by one safely. After that, we walked in the calm forest for about an hour and finally arrived at the crossing point of the mainstream Miomote River. "Wow, there are lots of water. I can’t cross." Someone said. The other two guys had uneasy faces, but when I saw the river, it was much deeper than 2 days ago but it was not such a torrent. Moreover, the landing point of the opposite side of the river was the depth of the upper knee. The remaining climbing rope set on the river was firmly alive. "Okay, this is not problem at all. We can make it." I said so, and I lectured how to cross the river with “Furiko Watashi method”.

"Furiko Watashi method” is to jump into the river grabbing a rope with the fulcrum of the opposite shore as its peak, you are flowed as it is and arrives at the downstream of the fulcrum of the opposite riverside. 40m rope is long enough if you keep the end part of the rope, you can pull over the rope stretch it again and cross the river one by one in the same way. "Just look at what I do" I said and then jumped into the river for the first time. It was nice feeling to be flown by the river and I was shouting "Yahoo". Five seconds later I safely landed on the riverside of the opposite side. It seemed that everyone was relieved looking at that. Fukuda-san, Yagi-san, Takano-san and Tsurumi-san all crossed the three main-stream without any problem. In the end, we all did high touch with full of smiles.

Well really, it was quite a difficult two days, but on the other hand it was the best fishing trip with great colleagues. None of the members made any complaints or negative remarks to the anxiety that we might not be able to return on the scheduled day, evacuation from the flash flood or even to the emergency camping in the forest. Everyone was coping with any difficult situation with a smile and humor. Although I could not go to the core part of Iwaimata-zawa, I would like to try next year again. By the time we went down the climbing path along the Miomote River, mid-summer sunlight began to fall on the valley of Miomote river.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I think the Iwana sent you back.

    Fantastic story, very exciting.