In the River OSHINO  --Vol.50--

A Spider's Thread

Let me talk about an old story how I was fascinated by fly fishing in a real meaning and entered into the lofty world of wet fly.

In summer of 1969 I found two words in fine print in one of the fishing columns of the Japanese newspaper. My eyes were fixed on the words "brown trout"

"A brown trout, Oshino area at the upper reaches of the Katsura River." That was all. At first I could not believe my eyes. Then I doubted the article. Are there really brown trout in Japan? In the Katsura River?

I had known the Katsura River since my childhood, where I used to fish sweet fish. But I had never heard about brown trout. Where is Oshino area? I checked the map, tracing my visiting places along the river.

Uenohara, Yanagawa, Torisawa, Saruhashi and Ohtsuki. No Oshino. Is it farther upstream? I had never been farther upstream for my sweet fish. The blue line on the map became thinner but there was no Oshino. When the river line almost disappeared in the skirts of Mt. Fuji I finally found the name. It was just near Lake Yamanaka, where I had fished pond smelt, not sweet fish, by boring a hole on the ice in midwinter. It was quite natural that I did not know the place.

I was still half in doubt whether brown trout were really staying there. But I wanted to check once I found the place on the map. What wonderful news it would be if brown trout really stayed there!
The upper reaches of the Katsura River. Are brown trout really staying farther upstream?

The Year of 1969

Now let me talk about my fishing in 1969. In those days I was crazy about lure fishing, which was quite new in Japan. I preferred trout to bass and walked around various mountain streams to fish yamame trout and char. I enjoyed trolling from the boat on the lake. I found rainbow trout in Lake Ashinoko and also fished countless big char and cherry salmon in lakes in Echigo or Urabandai district.

Before 1969 when I was eager to fish flat crucian I often went to Lake Sagami and Lake Tsukui. Then I went to Lake Saiko and Lake Kawaguchi to fish them and preferred the latter lakes of clear water higher above the sea level. Therefore quite naturally I preferred trout to bass. Cold-water fish and their living place looked extraordinarily beautiful to me.

As for fly fishing, my first experience went back to 1968. In those days there was no mention on fly fishing in any Japanese book or magazine. I knew nothing. Only some photos in Western books showed me that a big trout could be caught with a fly.

As for lure fishing, in spite of my enthusiasm, I felt that I would get tired of it soon because it easily gave anglers too much fish. In addition, lure had once looked beautiful but no more. On the contrary, fly fishing was more mysterious as I tried more. At first I simply thought that it was a Western version of Japanese traditional style fly fishing but soon I realized I was completely wrong.
After only a little casting practice on the lawn I went fishing for yamame trout. But you can easily imagine what would happen if you cast the line here.

I swung my fly rod for the first time, dreaming of the line extended straight like magic. But, ah, the line entangled around me like a spider's thread. I was at a loss, as was often the case of many fly fishermen at their first challenge. It was quite different from casting the lure.

I practiced on the lawn a little and then felt I got the knack. Immediately I went down the bank, having high expectations. I imagined how a yamame trout would bite my fly when I cast.

For the next half an hour I had to put a new fly to the line end every time I swung the rod. I wanted to see a yamame trout come to my drifting fly but the fly disappeared before it drifted. I worried if I did not put the fly to the line properly but I did. Why didn't my fly settle on the surface? When I found the answer my fly box had been empty.

"If you want my fish, come back after a lot of practice." I heard my old mountain stream of Okutama crying aloud.

My fighting spirit aroused. It cannot be easy to fish in a beautiful way, extending the beautiful line. All beautiful human activities are not done without a lot of effort. So I persuaded myself. Then I thought from morning till night how to master fly fishing.

In spite of my passion I knew nothing about fly fishing. I did not know that brown trout had been imported in Japan before the 2nd world war, their descendents were staying in Nikko and Kamikouchi or Western military officers had enjoyed fly fishing of released brown trout in Oshino.

Anyway I went to Oshino with a map in my hand to make sure whether brown trout were really staying in Japan as well as in English books.
As I got accustomed to fly fishing I went to the mountain stream in Okutama to try my skill, where I miserably failed.

The Mysterious River

Passing through Fujiyoshida I saw larch trees spreading along the both sides of the street. I had sometimes driven past there to Lake Yamanaka but never paid attention to a narrow lane through the small wood.

Turning from the national road with the aid of a map, I found a muddy lane running towards a pine wood. Soon I drove past a narrow river. Only a little water was flowing under the bridge. Brown trout cannot be there.

Then I turned a curve and found irrigation water. It looked like a river but dammed by a block of concrete.

I drove ahead until I found a river at the right side of the lane. It was dammed up, too. I got off the car and stood on the bridge upstream. Clear water was running underfoot but the both banks were reedy and the river bottom was covered with sand and green algae. Paddy fields were spreading along both banks. It must be irrigation water but not a river with trout!
Oshino area surrounded with fresh green. In June, 1970 when I first visited I thought that a channel was running through the paddy field.

As I believed that a river with trout was that with char and yamame trout, my image of the upper reaches of the Katsura River was crystal-clear water running through countless rocks. In Japan only a few river was traced to its source as a spring, different from England with the Chalk Stream. I had seen some springs in my neighbourhood but they were not a fishing river but just a river for children, including me, to catch crayfish, crucian carp or loaches. Therefore, when I first saw the Katsura River running through Oshino area it seemed to be suitable for crucian carp or carp but not trout. Needless to say, I could see no trout from the bridge.

That article of the newspaper was a little bit inaccurate, so I thought. If there are really brown trout they will stay farther downstream. It was an ordinary river downstream, where yamame trout were staying. It would be possible for brown trout to live, too.

Thus my first year in Oshino went into the wrong direction. I could not imagine how frequently I would come back here to fish big fish from the next year and actually most frequently for the next over 10 years.

-- To be continued --
2002/08/04  KEN SAWADA
Tranlated into English by Miyoko Ohtake