The Opening Day
On January 31st, 1989, I was driving northwest from Tokyo. It was such warm winter that there was little snow on either side of the road. Then I drove into Hokuriku Road and found some snow piling on both sides of the road, even if a small amount for the season. Anyway I felt relieved when I arrived at Fukui because I had been worrying about a bad weather. Remembering my drives in the past winters, I thought I was lucky to come here safely.
In the evening I was standing on the embankment of the Kuzuryu River after half-a-year absence. Faraway mountains were completely covered with snow, while white lumps of snow were thinly scattered on the bank, which was covered with brown trees and grasses. There was no green on the bank as far as I could see. The river flowed through the bank, shining icy blue.
Spring is coming soon under the blue sky in Hokuriku district. But the mountains have the same scenery as winter.
Now snow melting water was flowing into the river but the volume of water was much less than I had expected.
Before dark I drove around most of my old pools. They looked the same as the last year probably because there was no flood in the last autumn. Every pool reminded me of the last year’s experiences as if they had happened only a few days before. I wanted to run down the bank with my rod now. But it was not allowed to fish before the opening day.
Have cherry salmon come upstream from the sea? Do they stay in pools I just drove around? Until late at night I thought about every pool, one by one, and wondered from which pool I should start fishing.
In the next morning I woke up late and had breakfast with Mr.Toyoji Hiraiwa, who had come from Okazaki and met me the previous day. He dashed to go fishing after breakfast but I did not because I had planned to fish in the warmest daytime when the morning chill disappeared.
It was after 10 a.m. It was cloudy now unlike the sunny previous day. It was time for start. I headed for Gomatsu Bridge, checking the weather. Somehow the sky looked darker than the morning.
Suddenly the sky turned dark and snowstorm hit the area. Snow and hail fluttered on a cold wind above the junction pool.
Standing on the bridge, I watched the Kuzuryu River. There was no angler about as I had expected. Almost every one sneered at my plan to fish on February 1st. I headed upstream. The pool of the front of kindergarten was spreading at the upper reaches of the bridge. Each pool I had checked on the previous day looked attractive but I chose that pool as the first one for the opening day without any hesitation. Finally I came to the same conclusion as I had drawn some months before.
Preparing for fishing, I walked on the embankment. It was the same scenery as the last year, even if covered in brown. I remembered the shape of the branches of the wax tree at the top of stairs, although it had no leaf now. Everything looked like the last year except for one thing, that is, 17ft rod on my shoulder.
After walking on the dead grass, I stood at the waterfront. It was almost 11 a.m. The water temperature was 5 degs C. The sky turned darker. I could not expect the water temperature to go up.
I put pink-blue Aquamarine on Waddington shank to the tip of minus 4X leader. It was the first try. I was so tense that I felt my finger move very slowly. Taking a deep breath, I swung 17ft rod with a momentary flash. Type II line powerfully flew towards the opposite bank. Look! The line performance was completely different from the last year. I felt as if the river had become narrower.
Some snow on the plain flowed into the river, although not so much as the highest season. The snow melting water flows into the river during winter, too, if it is warm.
Now my dream came true after half-a-year wait. I really enjoyed fishing down. Although it was not high water, snow melting water made the river muddy. My waist was not soaked in the water yet but I could not see my shoes clearly.
At first, in my excitement, I did not mind the cold water or the wet wind. But then I realized snowflakes sometimes fluttered on the wet wind. Nothing happened in my fishing. I felt that only damp and cold air settled down all around.
Aquamarine is drifting on a little muddy water.
There was no one about. I swung the rod, soaking and wading in icy water. If somebody had watched me, he must have thought me to be mad. I came here impatiently to fish cherry salmon. But I wondered whether I should have come a month later.
When my fingers went numb I came near to the spot where I had caught my 4th cherry salmon in the last year. The river flowed perfectly strong. Are there some cherry salmon?
I made sure that the line settled properly on the heart of the stream 35m ahead. Then I started retrieving Flat Beam Shooting Line with my left hand. When I retrieved it several times I felt some tension like the hook caught the drifting grass. Half in doubt, I raised the rod. The feeling I have never forgotton came to me!
“A cherry salmon!”
It was definitely a fish that was struggling violently at the end of the line. It must be a cherry salmon, judging from how to swing its head.
This cherry salmon came under my feet. It was a miracle that it met my Aquamarine in such a large pool.
I still told myself not to congratulate too early. Cherry salmon had never been caught in such early season. It might be a Japanese dace or a grey carp. I had to see it before I congratulate myself.
When I wound the reel the fish came near to me without fierce fighting. I felt uneasy. Is it a big Japanese dace? No, I hope not.
It came near to me about 5m away and I raised the rod high. I could not wait to see the fish.
The fish nearly broke the surface. Muddy water was an obstacle to a good view. Wait, wait! I can see it soon. But the next moment it turned over and ran downstream at high speed. Reverse sound of the reel echoed in the silence.
A cherry salmon and 1712D instead of old Landlock.
A Freezing Rain
The fish suddenly turned over. It might run away. But my excitement of hooking up a cherry salmon was much bigger than my worry. The fish, running downstream, was swinging its head now.
I used to be nervous at that situation but now I kept cool. Aquamarine in its mouth was different from old ones. #4 treble hook was set on Waddington shank. It never comes off!
I had every confidence at that time. I had never imagined even treble hooks sometimes came off. I retrieved the line with the fish without any hesitation.
When the fish came near to my feet, it ran downstream again. I was nervous when it headed for the dead grass soaked in water. Fortunately fish became calm and came in front of me.
The fish split the water and I watched it. A beautiful face of cherry salmon was there. After I scooped it into the net I still gazed it. It looked a bit more blackish than ones in the highest season. Definitely some time had passed since it came upstream from the sea. Then I looked into its slightly open mouth. Two hooks were stuck firmly in the upper jaw. Waddington shank made a great performance!
This is the first cherry salmon in the season but it is clear that some time had passed since it came upstream from the sea.
From this angle the cherry salmon looked a giant yamame trout.
Then I headed for the bank. Light snow turned into a freezing rain and it fell harder. I had to take photos immediately not to damage the camera. I hurried to look for the photo spot and devoted myself to taking photos.
When I spent 2 films the frizzling rain had fallen much harder. No more photos. I put my camera in the safe place and started walking towards the head of the pool which looked far in the mist. Snow was falling in the mountains but rain was falling on the plain. Snow melted around here was going to flow into the river. Hurry up!
On arriving at the head of the pool, I drew out the line and cast it towards the opposite bank. I had no time to waste. My breath looked white in the air. It was very cold but my head was steaming.
Soon some dead leaves flowed by me. Then suddenly an increasing number of leaves flowed and the water colour changed. Immediately I turned back. The river was changed into muddy water.
The fishing spot where I had just caught the cherry salmon was a bit farther downstream. There was no time left. I reeled in the line and walked to the bank carefully. I walked on the embankment to the front of the very fishing point. When I arrived there, the river condition had completely changed. Ah, fishing seemed to be impossible until the next day.
“Cast the fly again immediately after you caught a fish. Pick up the camera later.”
So says the famous maxim in the salmon fishing world. I wish I had known it in those days.
-- To be continued --