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Following a weekend of typhoon weather, with very heavy rains that raised water levels by about 3ft, yesterday I didn’t fish. But, I couldn’t sit still. I wanted to see what kind of photography I could capture with water levels still a bit high in most places (though not nearly as high as it was on Monday). The light was pretty interesting. I spent a few hours hiking along sections of the Maze river and found this spot. The climb down to the river was very difficult, and perhaps a bit dangerous, but the setting idyllic. The moss remained on the rocks despite a roaring river the day before. It was meditative, not a person nearby. I plan to fish this stretch when water levels return to normal.
I know, I know – I promised to write a bunch while on my “sabbatical” in Japan, and I haven’t been delivering. I have been fishing though. I have fished with a bunch of great people and some of the masters of the art of tenkara. I have been enjoying some of the most beautiful streams I have seen and seeking others. I have also found some wood for my new tenkara nets. So much going on, so little time. It’s already been almost 20 days since I arrived in Japan. And, yes, I have been learning more about tenkara. I will share more. Meanwhile, here are some pictures from the last couple of days:
A gorgeous stream, a “shiryu”, or “tributary” of the Mazegawa:
While many people take a lot of fish, I’m happy to know fish can find sanctuaries of gorgeous water, but no fishing allowed, this is what the sign looks like:
Fishing with Eiji Yamakawa, and two of his friends from their tenkara fishing club, awesome guys:
After much looking, finally found the rare “kaya” tree [update: they were not kaya, but rather the more commonly found "momi" trees, I finally found an ancient kaya forest and learned about their differences]. I found the trees 2 days after reading that as much as 45% of the forests of Japan have been replaced with cedar (“sugi”) tree plantations. Indeed, cedar is about all you can find here, but deep in the woods there are other trees. I climbed a kaya momi, and found others where the branches were accessible. What an impressive tree:
There will be some new content for those of you who have been reading our blog for over a year. I do not want to keep duplicating entries, but, this one is a timely one for our area of Japan.
Last year I talked about how the Fuji flower (藤花, fuji flower, wisteria japonica), is considered to be the “tenkara flower”. This is because when the fuji flower’s blossom is an indication that fishing is good. I have been in Japan for over 15 days now. Sadly, the fishing in this area has been very poor, and, tellingly, until yesterday I had not noticed the Fuji flowers in the area I’m staying. Today, they seem to have bloomed and are starting to appear in many places. While I still suspect the fishing here won’t improve all that much (I’ll talk some other time about the poor management of fisheries in Japan), the almost overnight flower’s blossom is a sign for hope.
Originally posted on June 10, 2010, after fishing in Japan at this exact time of year last year.
This time of year is considered the best time for tenkara fishing in the mountain streams of Japan. One of the main indicators of this is the Fuji hana (藤花, fuji flower, wisteria japonica). The fuji flower is commonly found near streams in Japan at this time of year, and when it’s blooming it’s said to be tenkara fishing time. So, I’ll call the fuji flower, the tenkara flower. Now we need to find one for tenkara in the US.
The character for the fuji flower (藤) is the same character as Fujioka-san (藤岡), so they joke that’s his flower. This is the fish he caught just about an hour earlier:
Fujioka-san with a nice Iwana
One morning I was able to get very close to the fuji flowers, they tend to be found a bit high, but a few hours before I was able to I had dunked my camera’s lens, a big SLR lens, into the water as I landed a fish. It’s what I call my karma neutralizer. I didn’t realize it until later, but the picture I took was a bit foggy. Luckily I was able to get back there before the trip was over and take a better picture.
As I spend time in Japan, I realize how much I have already covered in our blog in regards to tenkara. This blog has a wealth of information regarding tenkara, unmatched anywhere. Yesterday a local reporter came to speak to me about tenkara as he’s helping put together some type of museum of fishing . I started bringing up all these things that he wasn’t aware of, and pulled my computer to show him what I was talking about. Among these posts was one about the use of the Zenmai Fern dubbing material on some old flies.
It seems like I’m too late to collect zenmai fern in this area (they came up in early March this year), but I thought some of you may have not read this post before and may be interested in reading it.
Originally posted on June 16, 2010 after my last year’s visit to Japan.
I love the idea of using natural materials on all my flies. Through tenkara I learned about a material most people accustomed to the western fly-tying traditions have never heard of and very few have used, even though its properties make it a great material and it’s available in most parts of the world, including the US: the zenmai.
The zenmai was first introduced to me by Fujioka sensei, my teacher of tenkara flies, through his excellent website. A few months ago he sent me some flies, and also a small bit of zenmai, which I would not dare use as they belong to the “museum”. While fishing with Fujioka sensei, I asked if he had seen any zenmai around, “it’s a bit too late in the season”, he replied. Usually the zenmai comes out in very early spring and the fleece falls off soon after. However, as luck would have it, Fujioka sensei later went to an onsen (hot springs) at a higher elevation and there he was able to find some.
Fly tied by Fujioka sensei using the zenmai dubbing material.
The zenmai is a type of fern that, in early spring, has a cotton-like material on its body. This cotton-like material makes for excellent dubbing material, it is relatively waterproof, and can be easily made into a tight thread. Depending on the time it is picked or the plant it is picked from, the zenmai will vary slightly in color, with some being darker, and more commonly found in a light tan color.
Usually referred to as “flowering fern”, the zenmai belongs to the Osmunda family. The Japanese species is the Osmunda japonica, but according to Fujioka sensei the zenmai may be found worldwide, except for Australasia. The plant can be found in two stages with fleece still on its body: more commonly it’s found as a fiddlehead fern, a young shoot coming out of the ground and still curled up with fleece covering it almost entirely. Or, as a grown plant with the fleece material still on its stems, like in this video.
Though a bit hard to find at this time of year, there were still a few plants around during my visit (late May-early June). The day after Fujioka sensei gave me some zenmai, I found one plant with the fleece still attached to its body. The following week, as I visited my wife’s grandparents farther north in Yamagata, they found some more zenmai stalks while picking sansai (mountain vegetables). That’s another cool thing about this plant, the Japanese zenmai is an edible plant, a sansai, which is commonly picked by people in the mountains areas of Japan. The cotton-like material is discarded, and the meaty vegetable prepared and eaten. On this day, vegetable picking proved to be more productive than fishing (the water was too cold, I believe). Among a couple of enormous bags we picked of warabi, and fuki were a few young fiddlehead ferns still fully covered in zenmai fleece.
After being dried for a while, the zenmai can be prepared as a delicious mountain vegetable. We had some awesome meals with these on the side.
Hands full of sansai. In this case, warabi.
I know some tenkara anglers in the US have already picked North American zenmai this year, for their own flies. But, I’m afraid this post may be too late for most people to be able to find it now.
Sakasa Kebari tied by Amano-sensei, free-hand, with no tools and eye-less hooks. Sakasa Kebari hold quite a esteem here.
It’s been 12 days since I arrived in Japan seeking to learn more about tenkara and experience the mountain fishing culture of Japan. This is my third visit to Japan, and each time I continue to learn more and more about tenkara. Who knew such a simple method of catching food would have so many subtleties to keep me coming back!
Tenkara and Tenkara USA for me are much more than selling fishing rods and other items; I’m very passionate about sharing the method of fishing with you. I’m happy to be writing this and working on videos, pictures and other content from my new room overlooking the mountains of Gifu. I will try to find time between fishing and hanging out with the people from the area to share what I learn on the blog. Rainy days like today are perfect for that.
After about a week of travelling, I have now been settled in what will be my home for the next month and half in the small mountain stream village of Maze, on the Maze River in Gifu, Japan. It’s a beautiful, idyllic setting. Very inspiring. Out of 12 days in Japan I think I have fished on 8 of them. I can’t say enough about how beautiful the streams here are, I absolutely love them. Crystal clear water, emerald gems with movie-like settings of cedar forests and mossy rocks.
Chikara fishing an idyllic stream, great fishing, poor catching
But,unfortunately, I’m quickly acquiring a new appreciation for the streams in the US and sometimes I wish I could mix the best of both worlds, where regulations, and stream management and keep-limits would make the rivers here more productive. Rivers don’t have a keep-limit and the concept of catch-and-release is virtually unknown – though I revisited the Itoshiro River, a very productive C&R river about 1 1/2 hours from here. Out of the many stretches of streams I have fished in this area, few showed much sign of life. I did catch fish just about every day, but it was hard work! Conditions are good, insect life very abundant, but the fish seem to be mostly gone. A shame, but we’ll see what I find deeper in the forests.
A beautiful example of an Amago, a native, though seemingly rare fish.
My host, Rocky Osaki, manager of the Mazegawa Fishing Center, and his wife Ikumi, have taken great care to introduce me to the community of both anglers and non-anglers in the region. I have been blessed to be invited into numerous homes where I soak all I can about tenkara, fishing culture and other aspects of life here. And, of course, have been soaking on the local onsen every chance I get.
A local kid whom I just had to nickname “Sanpei”, he doesn’t seem to mind.
This weekend there was a wonderful event here. 3 tenkara masters, and I do not use that word lightly, taught a course on tenkara to a group of about 15 people. I spent most of my time with Amano-sensei (more on him later, but quite a character and a most skilled tenkara angler).From each of them, as well as other very experienced tenkara anglers, I have learned more about tenkara.
Tenkara fishing course
Ah, and today I was featured in the regional newspaper, in an article talking about the event and the presence of Tenkara USA there:
But, in case anyone is curious, here’s a panorama I did yesterday with my iPhone of the Mazegawa Fishing Center. This is the place I’m spending almost my entire time. It’s one of the coolest places on earth to spend 2 months. A fishing center, with access to canyoneering gear, a tenkara-perfect river right in front of it and a hot-spring onsen just up the hill. I’ll try writing more later. Now, back to studying Japanese before I head out to fish some more.
Hope most of you can see this 360′ view of the place. You may need special software for it and I apologize for that.
Here’s the location of where I’m staying, notice the abundance of mountains and streams in the area!!! The town I’m staying doesn’t have a convenience store, nor traffic lights. It’s very quite, and gorgeous. Mountain view galore, and streams in abundance:
View Larger Map
As I have been preparing for a 2-month long trip to Japan to learn more about tenkara, I have put off writing about a phenomenal backpacking tenkara trip in Montana with Ryan Jordan from BackpackingLight. Ryan was quicker to put his insights “on paper”, and wrote a great post on how tenkara is not only the domain of small streams and small fish. Here is a bit of my account before I board my plane to Japan (by the way, keep checking in, I’ll be writing and posting a lot of pictures and videos while I visit the birth-place of tenkara). If this post seems a bit disorganized – it is. Please forgive me; besides packing, I still have to finish Canadian sales taxes, CA sales taxes, copy for a new catalogue, final procedures and all the fun stuff that a business owner who’s decided to spend a couple of months away learning more about his passion has to take care of.
One of the highlights of the trip, Daniel with a 19" brown caught with tenkara on the Madison, photo by Ryan Jordan