Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Unfinished Business Trip Part Two: Yamame Quest

April 7-8, 2018
After about a week in Taiwan it was time for the next leg of the trip, nine days in Japan.  I contacted Koji months ahead of this trip to let him know there as a very good chance I'll be stopping by his neck of the woods in the Spring.  Koji no longer leaves in Yokohama but twice  a month he returns to Tokyo for business meetings, so I have to give him a fair warning to give him ample time to arrange his schedule to make it back to the Tokyo region while I'm visiting.  Unlike last year which was more of an impromptu trip this one was far more planned and this year I came much better prepared.
For over 20 years I've been visiting Japan and for all that time I've wanting to land some of their native trout.  Last year I had my first chance.  Koji gave me the option of fishing for their most famous trout, the yamame, or try another area where we could knock out two species at once, the amago (a subspecies of the yamame) and the iwana (a char similar to our brookies).   Not knowing when I would return I chose to knock out two of the three in one trip,  leaving the yamame for another time.  Well that time was this spring.
I arrived Friday night and planned to hit the fly shop in Yokohama to pick up some supplies.  Unfortunately getting out of the airport took longer than anticipated so I had to cancel that plan.  After dinner I unpacked my fishing gear for tomorrow's outing.  I noticed the winds were steadily increasing and by late night I was worried that I'd get a call from Koji canceling the trip.  I would later learn the winds were typhoon grade.  At 4:30am I made my way down from the 17th floor our residence to meet Koji outside in front of my building.  When I walked out I noticed a Land Rover Defender 90 parked in front.  I wondered if Koji got himself a new rig.  But when I cleared obstacles I saw Koji's Honda "mini" van.  Not the soccer mom minivans we are accustomed to here in the States but a "mini" van that is  more like a "micro" van.  The D90 parked in front of his van was owned by his friend Taka who was joining us for the day.  After initial greetings I put my gear in the back of Koji's van and we headed toward Yamanashi Prefecture.
Our destination was the city of Tsuru, in southeastern Yamanashi Prefecture, in the foothills of Mount Fuji.  It would take us about 3 hours to reach our destination not because it is far in terms of distance but rather we would avoid the Expressway and take surface streets all the way there.  Japan's highway tolls can be quite high so most avoid them when they can.  Koji's thinking was use surface streets on the way there as the streets would be empty at this time of day and use the highway system on the way home.  On the way we'd stop at a convenience store for coffee and breakfast.  While there Taka and I bonded over our love of Land Rovers particularly Defenders as they've not been imported in the US since the 90s due to airbags laws.  Taka was shocked that with all the freedoms the US has that we couldn't get them.  He let me know that he actually self-imported his rig from South Africa.  It was his vehicle while he was working there and couldn't part with it.  He told me that no insurance company would insure the truck while in cargo so he added as much armor to it as he could, fender flares, roof rack, bumpers, sliders, etc.  He figured if anything would fall or drop on his rig the additions would take most of the brunt.  At least that was his rationale.  But his theory went unproven as the D90 made it to japan in perfect condition.
After our brief breakfast and discussion we were on the road again.  We drove the few hours through the mountains with views of Mount Fuji until we made it to Koji's first location on the Sueno River.  Unfortunately it was already taken by an angler so he changed his plan.  After locating the next spot and finding no anglers nearby we made our way to the local 7-11 to pick up lunch and our fishing passes.  Once we were done we hit the river and began rigging up.  Koji would guide and fish with me upstream, Taka armed with his bamboo rod would head downstream and fish alone.
The river flows straight through town and is the sidewalls are fortified with concrete.  While it is not the most scenic of locations it's definitely not the LA river.   It was springtime though which meant the sakura (cherry blossom) were in bloom.  While the Tokyo region was now past blooming time, the sakura were just past peak in the Yamanashi area.  So at least that would be scenic.   I rigged up my new rod, an Orvis Superfine carbon 8 foot 4 weight that I bought specifically for Japanese trout.  I learned from an Japanese guide and later learned firsthand on my trip last year that most modern rods are way too fast for these fish.  At maximum you'll need a medium action rod.  Any faster you risk losing fish as I did last year with my fast action GLoomis IMX 4weight.  These fish will buck, dive, twist and do the "Dundee" death roll once hooked so if you're rod doesn't act like a shock absorber he'll likely come loose.  Having only fished my new Orvis rod on one occasion prior to this trip I was still trying to get used to the slow action.
With a size 14 black emerger fly tied on, Koji had me take the first several holes.    The water in this area was skinny and failed to produce any fish.  So we moved on and looked for better holding water.  We'd come to our first check dam and while it looked fishy it also failed to produce any fish.  Koji began to fish to check if it was me or just the water.  Eventually he managed his first fish, a rather silvery version, not ornate as most.  I secretly was glad this was not my fish simply because I wanted one in full coloration or at least I wanted my first one to be like that.  After he landed his fish he gave me a light colored size 18 parachute fly.  We'd separate from each other and hop-scotch each other to each hole.  I'd eventually reach a nice seam where I casted in between the fast and the slow water and managed my first yamame.  While bringing him in I detached my net to land him.  I noticed that the net was folded over the top of the loop and it was not fully extended causing the net to be only a couple inches deep.  I thought nothing of it and proceeded to net the fish anyways without fixing the net.  The fish now safely in the net I took out my camera to get a shot of my first ever yamame, a fish I've wanted for the past 20 years.  Because the net was now only a few inches deep the fish flopped and jumped out of the net and came lose and swam away.  My first ever yamame disappeared before I could ever get a picture!  Luckily it was captured on the GoPro but I was still pissed.  Koji downstream of me looked on confused and all I could do was gesture that I lost it.
Koji caught up with me and asked me what happened and laughed.  So we moved on.  At one section Koji waited for me and told me to fish this particular hole.  On one of my first few casts I launched a backcast straight into the branches.  I was stuck and while I went to go retrieve it I told Koji to take the hole.  He'd get six rises in this hole but failed to connect with any of them.
We moved on to another check dam with a larger pool.   Koji told me to take it and pointed out the best areas to cast.  In no time I was on my second fish.  This time a much larger fish.  Large enough to impress Koji.  He said it was definitely one of the larger fish in the system.  Once I landed it Koji commented "not to lose this one."  Koji used his net to land it and gave it to me so I could document it on film.  I bought this new rod from a friend of mine at Orvis and I wanted to make sure I took a pic with it with a nice yamame for him.  While positioning the fish and rod, the fish squirmed away from me and again I failed to get my picture!  This time with a more impressive fish no less.  My head sank in shame as Koji laughed once again.  This was not my day. 
The winds I feared in Tokyo area had now started to show in this side of the country.  I would get two more fish before we left this river for another.  One the last fish I set the hook so hard the fish flew out of the water and was coming directly for my nutsack.  All I could do was react by shielding baby-makers by lifting my knee and turning the waist slightly.  The fish hit my upper thigh right under the butt causing the loudest smack I've ever heard.  Koji would get another fish along the way.  We climbed out of there and made our way to the car.  Taka would text Koji that he managed two himself.
At the vehicles we'd have lunch and talk about today's catches.  When we were done we drove around to find some new water.  With the winds picking up and the water now turning color, we found it hard to get a another fish to rise.  After checking two other rivers Taka needed to head back to home and Koji and I would try one last piece of water.
We drove to a few more locations but again we failed to get any fish to take.  Not sure if it was the change in weather or the change in water conditions but the fish completely shut down even in the rivers still with clear water.  It could have been the area had already been fished but who knows.
We looked at one last location near the road high in the mountains and it looked promising.  Again none proved as such though.  So we ended the day and headed into town for dinner and our bed.
Day Two
We woke early at 5am and after packing our stuff, brushing our teeth we headed out by 6am.  Koji drove around doing his recon of possible areas to fish.  After he established a plan we headed for gas and then to the 7-11 for our fishing passes.  The first location was a bust.  Koji told me it was one of Japan's most popular rivers as it is easy to access by car and it is constantly written about in fishing publications.  For us it proved fruitless, most likely it was fished the day prior.
We drove up the mountain and looked for more spots and at each location it failed to produce any fish.  Some areas were blown out while others that looked promising failed to produce a single rise.   Koji asked if I brought a small rod and I told him I had a 6ft 2 weight I bought just for this trip, another Orvis Superfine Carbon.  So we headed to a small tributary similar to what we'd fish in our local SoCal rivers.  Narrow and brushy.  Casting space was at a premium and you'd constantly need to look out for your backcast.  In addition logs and fallen branches littered the creek.  As hard as we tried it was a no use.
We had one last location to try before heading back to Tokyo.  We wanted to be on the road by noon to hopefully bypassing any weekend warrior traffic heading back home. The new spot was more open so casting room would not be an issue.  We split up with Koji going downstream while I'd go up.  I had derigged my 8 foot rod so I fished my 6 footer.  It was for the best as it was now really windy now and the shorter rod would help get under the wind to a small degree.  Also I had yet to catch a fish on this trip on this rod that I specifically bought for these fish.  I managed to get one fish to rise on my size 18 midge but a after feeling it bend the rod briefly it came off.  That was the only fish that even considered our offerings.  I headed downstream to Koji and asked how he did.  He got skunked.  So we went back to the car to pack up.
The night before on the way to town after fishing I had asked Koji what this region was known for food-wise.  He thought about it and told me udon noodles.  Japan is unique in that each region has their own take on certain foods.  Its a sense of pride for the locals.  I asked Koji what's the difference and he said this is Kanto style and the broth is different.  I told him great I love udon and I asked if he like it.  He told me he didn't as he grew up in the west in Kyushu so he preferred the broth to be bonito based whereas the Kanto style is a soy based broth and has very little bonito flavor.  So we never had it that night.  I was slightly disappointed.
So when it was time for lunch we drove past Koji's first choice of restaurants but when he saw how many cars were parked outside he simply moved on and looked for another eatery.  He came up to a udon house from a 20 year udon master.  I asked him if it was Kanto style and he said yes.  I told him if he wanted to go somewhere else I'd be okay with that.  He said not to worry we'd try this spot.  Like everything in the place everything is handmade, the noodles were Yoshida udon which are thicker and chewier than traditional udon.  They're almost tough.  You could instantly tell these will handmade and handcut.
The condiments, the black sesame paste, seven spice red chili and the green chili in soy (I forgot to get a picture) were all handmade.  Surprisingly, contrary to the Japanese palate, these were spicy.  It was shocking to me as Japanese typically don't like their foods too spicy.  This again must have been a regional thing as this was a mountain town and they have some seriously cold winters.  After finishing this excellent bowl of noodles we were on the road I'd be home by 3pm.

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