Cherry Salmon • The Second Stage  --Vol.66--

Spring Thunder

I did not forget about the Kuzuryu River. Coming back from the Kitakami River, I phoned some acquaintances to get information. I thought that the Kuzuryu River had the highest water in a year now because snow melting water was flowing most. Since walking into the river was difficult, it was possible that most points might be vacant.

Lucky enough I heard that there was almost no angler in the river. Learning closely, however, I found it was not high water but low water that kept anglers away.

I could not believe at first but the real truth was that the water began to be taken from the river just after the peak of snow melting season, which suddenly changed the river into low water with no fish.
I ran down the embankment and headed for the pool of the front of kindergarten as usual.

I knew that there had been a little snow in winter and that spring had come earlier. On the opening day of February 1st, snow melting water was already flowing and there was no snow on the bank. The season seemed to pass a month earlier than usual. After the snow on the mountains melted and flowed, it was quite natural that the river was changed into low water so quickly.

I remembered low water in May several years before. But now it was the beginning of April. Does low water really happen now? I wanted to see the river with my own eyes. I headed for the Kuzuryu River on the 1st week of April.


At dawn I crossed Gomatsu Bridge. The first glance from the bridge told me that something was strange. I parked under the power transmission lines as usual. Cherry blossoms on the embankment were not in bloom yet but I did not feel chilly even in the early morning. I looked down the river from the embankment. It flowed, murmuring and shining brightly in the same way as low water in 2 years before. I heard there was no catch recently, while I caught a cherry salmon in March which, excited by snow melting water, came upstream. Where are cherry salmon staying now? They swam farther upstream over the barrier of Naruka or went back to the sea?
Fish often hide between the tetrapods during low water.

If it were May now, the situation would be the same as 2 years before and I would result in cast-and-catch of so many Japanese dace, wherever I cast the fly. But now it was the 1st week of April when I started fishing in the previous year. I believed that I would have some chance of catch in spite of low water.

I planned to fish every point which was cut off from each other due to low water. I did not know whereabouts of cherry salmon but it looked easy to catch one if knowing its whereabouts. Fortunately there was no angler near Gomatsu Bridge.

First I headed for the upper reaches of Hatayaura. The place is a fast current at the time of high water but was cut off into several points now. I cast the fly in each point carefully so that I could cover the whole area at one try. Then I moved to the next point.

I had to walk a long distance on the bank to move to the next point. When it became too far to walk, I went back to the car to drive to the next point. I repeated to walk and drive. The sunshine became stronger after 9 a.m. It was comfortable to swing the rod in the water but too hot to walk on the bank in spite of no jumper.

The water temperature was over 10 degs C. in the morning. I kept casting the fly tied on 25mm Waddington Shank especially to the current in the head of the pool and also to the heart of the stream where the water was flowing fast and smoothly.

I finished fishing the upper reaches of Gomatsu Bridge. Then I fished the current up the power transmission lines which was changed into a monotonous shallow current and next the tail of the pool down the power transmission lines which turned into a pond. Finally I reached the junction. So far I only got several bites from probably Japanese dace but down the junction spread the current where I caught an Amago sea trout in the previous year. I really looked forwards to fishing there but I saw two lure fishermen. I gave up fishing and drove farther downstream.
Shallow current appeared here and there and I could walk to the opposite bank.

The Final Round

By the evening I fished 3 pools down National Route 8. I was exhausted. I dragged myself through the withered pampas grass and walked up the embankment. Cool breeze was comfortable to my heavy hot body.

On that day I cast the fly at 10 points and got more than 10 bites. I caught several Japanese dace and other bites seemed to come from the same fish. Where have cherry salmon gone?

I cast the fly at the most of main points. Although the river had low water and the water temperature was high, it was not too bad for cherry salmon to stay. Why were they at none of those points? Probably the water was too low for new ones to come upstream. Or they might wait in the sea because they knew the water would become farther lower? When I fish sweet fish I can guess how low or high the water is going to be, judging from where wagtail or long-legged wasp makes their nests on the bank. But now it was too early for their nesting season. I drove along the dyke, thinking in this way or that.

It was 6 p.m. but the sky was already dark. The sky had been clear since the morning and the temperature had risen sharply. Unusual clouds were spreading in the west sky, through which two rays of the evening sun beamed like two searchlights.
Low water revealed the unexpected condition of the bottom, which made me surprised.

When I drove under the motorway I watched the dyke. There was a long current over there. It was the only point I could not challenge in spite of my wish. There was no car in the field or on the embankment. Probably there was no angler now.

To go to the pool down the long current I had to pass over the dyke and walk through the grass. I still wore my waders in case but could not make up my mind so soon. I parked and watched the clouds and the dyke in turn. Clearly it would be better to go to the new pool than the same pools that I fished in the morning.

I turned at the prefectural road and parked on the farm road under the embankment. I walked up and down the dyke, with my knees shaking and creaking. The pool spreading at the upper reaches of the motorway was shallow but I could not see the pebbles on the bottom after the sun was clouded, which made the pool look more attractive than the daytime. I started fishing from the old stake on the right bank. Both the red sunshine reflected on the water and the cool breeze told me that the storm was coming soon.
The point condition, good or bad, completely depends on the change of the water level.

Only a few minutes passed. The fly stopped drifting before I extended the line long enough. The rod tip swung sharply every time the fish swung its head.

"A cherry salmon!"

"Thank God, I came to the right place. I got it at the final round!"

The fighting with the fish just started and I did not see the fish. Nevertheless I felt rather sentimental.

The Red Muddy River

As soon as I landed the cherry salmon lightning flashed among the clouds. Unseasonably hot day brought towering thunderclouds, which led to showers and thunderbolts. That was the scientific fact but I felt something mysterious. Thunderstorms got harder as it got dark and lasted until midnight.

The rain has been falling in just this area or a large area including the upper reaches of the river? How is the river tomorrow? No change or high water? All I could do during the night was just to guess.

The next morning I got up early and drove to check the river condition. The sky was clear and only the wet road showed the traces of the thunderstorm in the previous night.

The first glance at the river from the dyke surprised me. 3 times as much as water was flowing and it was terribly muddy brown. I stood still to watch the river and then found that there was no sound of flowing water. I misrecognized the muddy water as a flood but it was not extraordinary high water. It was true that 3 times more water than the previous day was flowing but it was the same level as the high season of snow melting water except that the water was muddy.

I was relieved a little. But it was no use staying here and watching the river so long. I came back to the hotel and prepared for fishing. Probably the thunderstorm in the previous night hit the large area but the weather completely recovered now. I thought the water would not rise any more but gradually fall from now on.

What are the fish doing? The previous day I fished all the points around here. Although I caught the cherry salmon at the last moment, only a few fish seemed to stay there because of low water. But now the fish that had been waiting downstream might come upstream at high water.
Sometimes I just stood still, overwhelmed by too big change of the river.

I expected new fish to come upstream but the river was still muddy. I thought that I had scarce chance to meet a new comer. Well, what is my target today? Without it I can not decide where to fish.

I remembered the cherry salmon I caught on the previous day. It came in the late evening to the spot leading to a rapid current upstream. Probably it hid behind a large rock or some barrier in the rapid current during the day. Now at high water the fish must take shelter in a gentle current. Are there any points where the fish can both hide at low water during the day and take shelter at high water?

I checked all the pools in my mind and chose hopeful ones. In the end I selected two; Hatayaura pool and the pool of the front of kindergarten. Just up the former pool there is a rapid current including a channel and also dotted with large rocks. The fish that hid in the current for safety and oxygen must move into the pool downstream at high water now. The latter pool has the same situation. It is possible that the fish that hid among the piles of tetrapods in the current in the head of the pool must take shelter in the gentle current downstream.

I watched both pools from the dyke. Both had a gentle current near the bank. I had had more fishing experience of muddy water in the pool of the front of kindergarten than Hatayaura. I knew how the river flowed there. Fortunately, although several lure fishermen were fishing on the right bank, no angler was on the left bank, my target spot. Preparing for fishing, I ran down the dyke.

I aimed at the spot down the head of the pool. The water had fallen since the morning but was still terribly muddy. Even standing in the knee-deep water I could not see my shoes clearly. Although the heart of the stream flowed rapidly, a gentle current spread in front like a pond. I cast the fly across the border, waited for the fly to sink a little and retrieved the line to fish the pond-like current in front carefully. Even type II line easily caused snag at the bottom in the gentle current. I had to retrieve the line slowly as soon as it stopped swinging.
How many times do I cast the fly to catch a next fish? Some hundreds or thousands? If anglers knew in advance all of us would give up fishing.

Half an hour passed. The fish suddenly came. When the line drifted to the end and I retrieved almost sufficient line, a whirl was formed just down me and in no time the fish drew out the line. When I raised the rod the reel had reversed violently. At the same time the fish broke the surface in front of me. It was a big pearl-coloured fish.

It jumped twice and ran to the heart of the stream. Then its black back split the muddy surface and, to my surprise, it suddenly turned and ran upstream. It drew out more than 30m of the line with metallic long sound, violently broke the surface again and jumped. Pearl-coloured splashes were shining in the midday sun.

Then the fish swung its head sharply several times and quickly ran upstream again. The reel had never reversed longer than now except for Steelhead fishing. Flat Beam extended towards the current in the head of the pool. What does this fish want to do? In no time a black silhouette jumped high in the air with a sudden gleam of light beside the current in the head of the pool far away.

Then the fish disappeared. The weight of the fish, the tension of the line, all disappeared.

I could see nothing. All the scenery looked dimly like a mirage. I could not see the mountain beyond the river. I nearly fell down in the water. Finally I waded to the bank and, with the help of the rod as a stick, turned to the spot where I had last seen the fish. All I saw was the river that was flowing quietly. I wanted to scream but no voice came from my throat. Was it a real fish or my illusion?

-- To be continued --
2002/11/24  KEN SAWADA
Tranlated into English by Miyoko Ohtake