dimanche 30 août 2015

Itoshiro Tenkara

It was only 7:30 a.m when I joined my friend Kazumi "Ajari" Saigo in his car and this day was beginning under good omens: the sky was prefectly clear and bright blue. Although the previous days had been rainy and stormy we hoped for clear waters on the Itoshiro river where we had planned to join friends and go fishing. We did drive for a little more than three hours during which we had the opportunity to get acquainted because until now we only know each other though social network. We of course mainly talked about tenkara and I was satisfied to realize that we had a  very similar idea of tenkara.
Before arriving at our final destinataiton we made a detour by Hirata-san's tackle shop that is located only a few steps away from the Itoshiro so nobody can give more updated informations about the stream condition better than him. 

It was really a nice experience to meet him in person and to have an overview of his talents that encompass tamo making, horsehair furled lines and more. I did take advantage of this opportunity to purchase a few of his famous "Mamushi kebari".

Arrived at our home base I had the opportunity to meet Akai Kitsune who is really friendly and truly passionate about tenkara with whom I share many viewpoints about this fishing technique. He has been living in Japan for several years and has met the most famous and experienced tenkara anglers from whom he has learned a lot. He has the good idea to document his meetings with the tenkara masters to help the conservation of these anglers techniques and knowledge. 

Our conversation was interupted by the arrival of a car from which came a man know by anyone interested in tenkara at least for his famous kebari pattern: Hisao Ishigaki.
If you have watched some of his videos or DVDs and think that this very experienced tenkara angler is very friendly and does not take himself for serious you are right. This is probably why he decided to call himself the "King of tenkara"! A funny and healthy way to ridicule the fake experts and other self-proclaimed specialists.

It was decided to split the group in two, Ishigaki sensei and I would fish together while others would fish further upstream so I joined my guide onboard his vehicle. We continued the conversation seriously this time and I was not very surprised that ishigaki sensei was interested by the development of tenkara in Europe, I even think that ha is happy to know that some European anglers are sincerely interested in tenkara. After a few minutes we did arrive at a temple, the Chukyo Hakusan Jinja where Ishigaki sensei is used to come when he goes fishing  the Itoshiro. Mount Hakusan is, along with Mount Fuji and Mount Tateyama, one of the three sacred mountains in the Japanese beliefs. People are used to come here and pay homage to the mountains. When leaving the temple Ishigaki sensei asked me what I had asked the mountains to give me.
"A good day of tenkara" did I answer
"So did I" answered Ishigaki sensei.
We had no doubt about the fact we were going to have a great fishing time.

Arrived on the banks of the river we were talking about the theory of Ishigaki sensei on the vision of the fish and handed me one of his kebari and I knotted it to my tippet before giving him my rod. Having seriously studied everything I could find on the subject and viewed countless times his videos I thought I understood the technique of Ishigaki sensei and I would now have the chance to have him for a personal tuition.

I was a little bit surprised when the doctor asked me why I had caught this Iwana. I replied that the fish had bitten because I had used the right technique then Ishigaki sensei told me, laughing, "No, it is because a kebari used up by the king of tenkara". These famous kebari are very simple but if they are used by a fisherman who understans that a single pattern can fish in any water they can do wonders. Tenkara  is based on the fishing technique, not the choice of a particular pattern. A rod, a line, a fly.

I was invited by Ishigaki sensei to take the lead. I quickly hooked an Iwana, a beautiful fish with  its sides studded with white dots.

It was followed by many others. We fished either in turn or one behind the other, one in front was fishing upstream and the other downstream which allowed us to take a lot of fish over fairly short distances. The downstream fishing technique of Ishigaki sensei is very effective as I realized it. The afternoon passed quickly despite the sweltering heat that day we spent a lovely time and we noted with enthusiasm that the mountain of the gods had granted our wish.

Running out of cold tea and satisfied by our tenkara fishing session we decided to wuietly walk down the stream to go back to the car.  Along the way we discussed about tenkara and I realized also that Isihgaki sensei was very interested by what is happening with tenkara in Europe and the United States. We will continue the conversation with the entire group during a dinner under the stars placed under the auspices of good humor, friendship and tenkara.

The time came Ishigaki sensei left us and I thanked him for being my guide during this anthology day. Thank you!

samedi 22 août 2015

Amago fishing with Eiji Yamakawa and Nishi-san

After a restful night I took the road to Totsukawa, Nara prefecture, to discover tenkara fishing for amago accompanied by Eiji Yamakawa and Nishi-san. I had no doubt that it was going to be a marvelous experience because I had the chance to have a couple of Harima tenkara Club members as guides. They are experienced tenkara anglers and know this area better than anyone.

We arrived near the Totsukawa river after an over three hours drive but what we found was a stream swollen by the heavy rains of the previous days so we had to drive a few miles more to gain altitude for the opportunity to fish a stretch of this river with clear water even though we would also have water level higher than the seasonal average.

Finally out of the car we took the time to relax and watch the river which is at this place about 32ft wide and features all the characteristics of the perfect stream for amago tenkara fishing: a powerful current, alternating deep pools and shallow stretches where the water is very well oxygenated. It would have been useless to us to hurry up, amago can only live in streams and by chance we had one a few meters under our feet.
Arrived on the banks of the stream I let Eiji-san and Nishi-san fish first in order to observe their technique, faithful to the tenkara basics "One rod, one line, one fly", and it proved to be effective as the first amago were caught fairly quickly. I was happy for them but Eiji-san told that the water level on this portion was really high and would make fishing pretty difficult so he decided to bring us a little further upstream.

We took back the road and then a forest trail that led us at the top of a steep path traced by unlikely passage of forest animals, serow or sika , that we we were going to walk down for an access to the stream. Nishi-san who has had an accident on this steep path a few months ago decided not to follow us so Eiji-san and I only took this path that the heavy rains had made, as we were going to realize soon, very slippery. After a slow and cautious descent we reached the edge of the river and started fishing. This time Eiji-san invited me to take the lead and fish before him. 

I did catch my first amago after a few casts and I was quite happy with it because this fish is not easy to reach as it stays at the bottom of the most powerful current parts of the stream. The hook setting has to be fast when the strike has been detected otherwise success will remain out of reach.  This amago released I  thanked Eiji-san for bringing me here and offering the opportunity to fish this iconic fish of this part of Japan. 
Amago is an endemic salmonid species that lives in only three islands of the Japanese archipelago. I had literally dreamed of these little red dots for several years!
We will wade up the stream for nearly three hours exploring one by one the most promising spots and we caught enough amago to be satisfied by this outing.

We were progressing in a fairly narrow and shaded stretch of the stream ans as the hours were passing by the temperature was rising, we really were feeling the threatening storm and probably fishes were also feeling it because the catch frequency was declining. Still some amago did were catching our kebari and we did enjoy this final moments with enthusiasm.

We will finally reach the downstream of a deep pool supplied with very cold and very well oxygenated water where we had the opportunity to watch amago waiting for insects, this was the last spot we did fish this day. Struggling like a devil at the end of the line he put all the others in alarm and none of them showed any activity after so we decided to collapse down our rods and to go back to the spot where we arrived on the stream.

If the descent of the trail was perilous the ascent was grueling and once at the top we raised our eyes and found a blackened sky: the storm was about to burst. We did not have the time to arrive at the parking lot where Nishi-san was waiting for us before heavy rain starts. We did use the roof of branches of a chestnut as an umbrella in front of the car!
We had a great fishing outing despite the high water level and we shared our thoughts about the day and tenkara along the road back to Kobe. Arrived at the station from which I was going to go back to Kyoto I warmly greeted my friends who helped to realize a dream that may seems banal  but that was dear to me: tenkara fishing for amago.
Thank you!

samedi 15 août 2015

Two days with a no-tarin club ambassador

After leaving Kyoto I went to Sannomiya where I was to meet a member of the oldest tenkara club: Kiyoshi Ishihara, a member of , the no-tarin club. 
We did meet at the station as it was planned and after a quick meal at a local restaurant we took the road to go fishing in the Tottori prefecture. We had a three hours drive to go, enough to get to know each other, as until we were only virtual friends on social network, and talk about our common passion for tenkara. It was very hot, the sky was azure blue and we were obviously in a jovial mood. The conversation was very rich and most interesting as Yu Gyojin, Kyoshi's fishing nickname, has been interested in tenkara history, technique and philosophy for a very long time. He first learned by studying everything published dealing with tenkara then joined the famous no-tarin club and through time and experience he has developed his tenkara. 
As we were driving to our destination the sky was darkening but our enthusiasm remained unspoiled, we were not only happy to go fishing together but we also realized that we had a lot of common viewpoints about many topics. 

Before arriving to our destination we did a slight detour to a beautiful ancient temple that was built in a cave, one of the most unusual place. Meanwhile the weather continued to deteriorate and as we were driving the last miles before arriving on the banks of the Hiketa-sawa the first raindrops began to fall. 

I let Ishihara-san fish first as I think that it is never useless to watch an angler fish especially if he is more experienced than yourself. One can learn a lot if you are willing to. 

It did not take him a lot of time to catch the first fish. We were very happy to see that the capricious weather conditions did not disturb the fishes as much as one could expect. We fished in turn because the stream is pretty narrow and has a lot of overhanging trees thus we were wading upstream slowly to check all the possible spots likely to be inhabited by a yamame. 

We arrived at the point of the stream where with the altitude increasing the current becomes more powerful, the water colder and where yamame give way to iwana. 

Fishing for iwana is different from yamame or amago fishing but it does not require any gear change, one can use the same line, even the same kebari. The angler's technique has to adapt to the fish behavior and what I had learned a few days before in Tadami has been really useful to me. 

Hours passing by we did spend increasingly long minutes under the trees during showers and the catches of iwana became also less regular. The tension in the air was palpable, the grey sky was growing darker and darker so when the first thunderclap rung we decided to collapse down our rods and go back to the car. Once arrived at the car Ishihara-san told: "We played very well!". I agreed with him. It was really worth fishing in the rain. 
After changing our clothes as fast as possible we jumped in the car and took the road to a local ryokan where Ishihara-san is used to go when fishing in the area. We were happy with our fishing day, very stormy but productive. At the ryokan where we were warmly greeted by the hostess we spent a great evening which was devoted to only one topic: tenkara. Ishihara-san has a very rich fishing culture and he is not stingy with it and I really liked talking to him and cohabit with him. 

We both fell in the arms of Morpheus without the slightest resistance...Maybe with the hope to meet the tsuchinoko during our sleep. 
The next morning we got up at dawn but finally took time for a delicious breakfast because it was already raining. We set our plan for the day: fishing two short tributaries of the Hatto-gawa because Ishihara-san was afraid that the heavy rains of the previous and even more those of this morning had made the main streams of the area in a very dirty state. Thanks to his idea we had a plan "A" and a plan "B".
So during this fishing day we caught, without surprise, less fishes than the day before but it is very good for a tenkara angler, if not scared of challenges, to cope with difficult conditions. It is even the best way to improve your technique.

After exploring the Hosomi-sawa and the Kurumino-sawa and watching beautiful iwana we deicided to back to our starting point. In the beginning of the afternoon the rain did become even harder as we were back on the road to Kobe, where we were expected, discussing many topics related to tenkara, music, and many more. I have much sympathy for Ishihara-san who is not only a great tenkara angler but also a very cultured and incredibly kind man. After a little bit more than four hours drive we arrived in Kobe city where I met for the first time Eiji Yamakawa and Nishi-san.

We spent a great evening talking about all things tenkara, the passion that had brought together. 
It is truly a privilege to meet sincere tenkara enthusiasts who have acquired from a long experience a wealth of knowledge about tenkara and who are, even if they do not like this title, masters who have a sincere pleasure to share their tenkara. 

lundi 10 août 2015

Encountering the father of modern tenkara

After leaving Yamano-san I went to Kyoto that I visited under thunderstorms and rain which did not make the former capital of Japan less interesting. I visited the sites that interested me early in the morning and late in the evening after the rain stopped. The rainy season has been longer than usual this year and I had to deal with the vagaries of weather during my stay in Japan. I had the chance to stay very close to the most interesting sights of the town so I was not going to let the rain stop me.

After two spent visiting the town and getting to know some of its inhabitants I did meet Yoshiaki Hashimoto, a member of the Harima tenkara club, on the tiny Toji-in station platform.

After a short drive we arrived in residential area where we were awaited by someone whom I would not have not met without the help of Eiji Yamakawa who have known him for many years: Hiromichi Fuji. After introducing ourselves to each other Fuji-sensei invited the both of us to follow him in his workshop. We started talking about tenkara of course while drinking a delicious cup of black coffee. The conversation was warm, relaxed and very natural because Fuji-sensei is kindness made man. 

As we discussed the lines that Fuji-sensei still manufactures today for Nissin I pointed out that these lines, compared to any I have tried so far, are the only ones that really differentiate from one another. Fuji-sensei asked me if I would be interested to see him making some lines and have his explanations at each step of the process, it would be more interesting than a long and boring theoretical speech he said. I obviously  accepted!

First the machine used by Fuji-sensei is unique, it is unlikely any tenkara lines furling machine existing elsewhere, and this for one simple reason: he designed it by himself.

With the explanations and the demo of the master I learned the way he makes furled tenkara lines which can have different actions. I will not describe here the process in detail because it is not to me to do it but to Fuji-sensei who, when the time will have come, will do what it takes to transmit his knowledge of tenkara lines furling. From what I have seen him do I was able to understand what makes his tenkara lines so different than any other furled on the market today and so well adapted to his sutebari.  
After making a couple of lines Fuji-sensei suggested that we try them, proposal that Hashimoto-san and I accepted with enthusiasm. We had planned to go fishing together the day of our meeting but unfortunately Fuji-sensei broke his wrist during a fishing outing a few days before my arrival in Japan. Fuji-sensei is not only a great angler with a great experience in line furling, rod designing and fly-tying he is also a very good teacher who knows how to be understood despite the language barrier. The picture below is the perfect example of a missed cast with projected forearm that inevitable results in your line hitting the water.


Fuji-sensei first asked to reproduce this bad cast which I did and then he demonstrated us the good cast to obtain the best possible result with his lines and then we did see perfectly deploying line with perfect loops. One can obtain very delicate and accurate casts with any of these lines, whatever it is 12 or 20 feet long, if he strokes the rod the good way. These lines and this casting style have been refined for several decades so there is no wonder why they are the best one can use for a delicate fly presentation. It was a memorable moment to watch Fuji-sensei cast in his personal style which perfectly matches his tenkara technique. Hashimoto-san and I took over under the watchful eyes of the master. The rain became harder and we decided to go back to the workshop. 

Back in the workshop the conversation slipped from tenkara casting to kebari tying, a domain in which Fuji-sensei excels. He is not only a rod designer, a tenkara line manufacturer but also a very talented and productive fly tier as he still ties ALL the kebari sold by Nissin today. 

Fuji-sensei was the first to sit behind the vise, needless to say that I instantly knew that I waas dealing with a very experienced fly tier. His tying is very fast because the gestures economy is at a very high level. Hashimoto-san and I will then take place behind the vise of the master and after each of us had tied a kebari we discussed the possible use of this pattern. 

The first time I did sit behind Fuji-sensei's vise I noticed that it was fixed to the table in a very low position which could be be a disadvantage because I am tall but when I started tying the first kebari I understood that this position which leaves very few space under the vise is a good way to avoid unnecessary ample gestures. Once again something refined by a long experience.

We did spend a part of the afternoon tying kebari and sharing our viewpoints about the evolution of kebari through out time, sasoi techniques and many other topics encompassing our passion. It is always rewarding to meet very experienced anglers who have remained simple and true to themselves, this is really what tears apart the common "experts" and the truly great fishermen. 
At about seven o'clock we left Fuji sensei's workshop to have a dinner of soba noodles in a local restaurant and go on talking about tenkara. 
I can not thank enough Fuji sensei for welcoming me in his workshop and being kind to share a little bit of his knowledge with me.