Let me first say that a fishing trip in Japan is an amazing experience - a gift from the many generous hosts who allowed me to share in their joy for fishing, culture and food.
Beginner Welcome Novice Stream.
That's how Eiji Yamakawa describes the first stream we were going to fish. I was very careful about explicitly describing my skill level as a fisherman and tenkara angler. Basically, I'm a very soft American, and a beginner fisherman with flat feet making me a very poor hiker. I'll drive as far as 4 hours to get to a stream as long as I get to fish for as much time, including breaks for streamside snacks and if I remember to eat, some form of lunch. I'll also hike as much as 3 miles to get to fishing, but so far that has been my physical limit (6 miles round trip/day), and these are along relatively flat fisherman trails.
Eiji (goes by Eddie to Americans) is one of several hardcore Tenkara fisherman in the Harima Fishing Club southwest of Tokyo and Kyoto. As it turns out, not all Japanese anglers are as hardcore as Eiji (more on that later). I knew Eiji was a little crazy because he taught my wife, Tamiyah, to fish tenkara on the Lower Provo during the Tenkara Summit in Salt Lake City. She was climbing up car sized boulders and hoisting herself onto huge deadfall logs to get drifts into fast moving pockets out of reach for most anglers. I cheered them on from the opposite bank with our then 7 month old daughter Anju slung from my shoulders.
Eiji confided in me that Tamiyah also made it clear to him that I was not an acrobat and stuck mostly to more mellow stuff.
So when Eiji said we were going to fish "Novice Welcome Beginner Stream" (and yes, he would shuffle the words around each time) and that I was certain to catch at least one fish on this stream. I was stoked and a little relieved. I heard rumors from the Tenkara Guides, Erik and John, who preceded my trip to Japan by just one week, of swimming half naked across a pool below a raging waterfall just to get a prime casting position.
I'm no Tenkara Guide.
Here's what I pictured...
I swear the map Eiji showed me looked just like this...
At least, that's how I remembered it. A harmless, Japanese river park with 3 waterfalls accessible along a manicured path.
This is the goal - the place Eiji and I hiked to -- an amazingly beautiful waterfall with a plunge pool full of hungry Iwana. Novice Beginner Welcome Stream!
It was my best chance at catching a fish in Japan. Eiji knew this well as we pushed farther into the steep overgrown canyon.
It was at least a thousand foot descent into the narrow canyon.
While I stopped to snap pictures of flowers and take in the sights...Eiji zipped up the trail.
When I'd look up he'd be just a tiny speck among the lush rainforest, waving me forward.
Eiji moves fast.
I move very very slowly. Especially if its steep. And Eiji assured me I wouldn't need my wading staff since there was a path.
So I left it behind. Big mistake.
I had my new Simms boots outfitted with aluminum star cleats for extra traction. You can't have too much traction - a lesson I learned after fishing in Kauai. But this river just plucked them off my boots like they were candy. So as the day progressed I had less and less traction.
I WANNA IWANA
Iwana are the Japanese brook trout only shaded in fine gradations of gray. If you took a low contrast, black and white picture of a pretty Vermont brookie - you'd have an Iwana. The Japanese cousin prefers hiding under boulders in very slow, sometimes basically dead water. They charge out from under the rocks and hit unsuspecting bugs and such that are unfortunate enough to drift into their pocket.