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Part 6: Keiichi's First Genryu Camp

Keiichi's Genryu Camping Initiation

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Keiichi Writes... 

Genryu Fishing Early Steps

At the beginning of my genryu fishing "career", I went to a relatively easy-to-reach genryu streams that I could approach by car. Of course, I had to walk to get to the good fishing area from the place I parked the car, but these were not long-distance hikes. At that time, my genryu fishing style was really based on taking just a day trip or, perhaps, camping in a road-side "car stop" area. It was not the adventurous style of genryu fishing. I think that it was like a practice period - so that I could build myself up to authentic genryu fishing.

Beautiful Genryu Setting

After fishing in this way for about 2 seasons, a friend of mine and I planned the first genryu camp fishing. As I write this, that first trip is already about 20 years ago. The destination we chose was Ohshira-sawa. It's a tributary of a big mountain stream called the Tadami River which flows through a vast mountainous area straddling the border between Niigata and Fukushima. The Tadami river flows to the Sea of Japan through a long journey originating from Oze Lake in the Oze National Park. Ohshira-sawa is a large tributary in the genryu area feeding the Tadami River. It is a very popular stream among fishers and "sawanobori" (waterfall climbing) lovers with its beautiful cliffs of white granite rocks.

Exploring Remote Genryu

In addition, the mountains are in the range of 2000 meters tall and are home to untouched beech and pristine forests of Mizunara (or "water-oak" much prized for whisky barrels) which can be seen spreading at the foot of the mountain.  These features combine to create beautiful scenery.

First True Genryu Camping Experience

For this very first genryu camping trip, we headed out in mid-September. Our trip to Ohshirasawa was scheduled for 2 nights of camping with 3 days to travel and fish. We were not used to the skills and arrangements needed for a full-fledged genryu camp yet. Even so, we started walking carrying a 60-litre backpack filled with tents, heavy burners, dishes, fishing gear and food. We crossed the Tadami river main stream via a Kagowatashi (A suspended rope-bridge that you can cross in a basket - using pulley wheels) and started walking upstream from the confluence point of Ohshira-sawa.

Kagowatashi (rope-basket crossing): An adventurous feature of many genryu trips

Because our inexperience had caused us to pack too much, our packs were too heavy - so we found a comfortable sandy terrace and walked for about an hour and set up a tent there.  

Genryu walk

It was still around 10 a.m. We packed our lunches with us and then went fishing upstream immediately. The weather was good and, liberated from heavy luggage,  the fishing was comfortable. We made our way upstream above an "O-taki" (Big waterfall); which was something that we had never done before.

Genryu waterfall or "O-taki"

We caught good size Iwana at fairly regular intervals, fishing at a moderate pace. So as to avoid doing too much on our first day (and since we planned to fish next day also) we returned to camp-site around 15:00 so that we could prepare for cooking dinner.

Lessons on Camp-site Selection

Genryu camping gets easier with experience

We made a bonfire by the river and made a celebratory toast to our adventure with cold beers. The dinner was a very simple menu after that. We cooked only ramen noodles and some fast-cooked things that worked well as "beer snacks", but the night was so enjoyable drinking by the bonfire, we talked until late at night. I realised it was about 23:00 and suddenly it began to rain.

We retreated to the tent and decided to sleep, ready for the next day of fishing. However, the weather had other ideas. Although it never rained too hard, it continued for a long time. We worried about rising the water level. All through the night from time to time we had to wake up and check the water level.  This was worrying because, when we pitched it, our tent was only about 1 meter higher than the river. So it was very fortunate for us that the water level did not increase much.

Genryu Conditions Can Change Fast

Even after the night was over, the rain continued to fall into the morning of the next day. The water level had increased by only about 10 cm or 20 cm, but the water was very turbid unfortunately. This was going to make the day's fishing very difficult. Because of that, we decided it was best to withdraw our tent early and head back to safety.

Just as we began tidying up, the water of the stream began to rise quickly, and by the time we'd finished packing up all of our kit, the plateau where we had pitched our tent was completely immersed in water. To put this in perspective, the water level had risen by 1 meter in about 30 minutes.  I felt a little scared when I realised that this could easily have happened at midnight while we were asleep.

Fortunately for us, right behind the camp ground there was a forest zone that was about two meters higher than the river bank. We went up to the forest zone and found the zenmai path ("zenmai michi" the paths used by mountain-forest folk  to gather wild edibles such as the fiddle-head fern known as zenmai (Osmunda japonica)) and managed to walk to the Kagowatashi in safety.

Kago watashi make for exciting crossings of genryu and honryu streams

Well - my first genryu camp fishing came to an end like this. In the end, although I could not experience quite such wonderful fishing as I had hoped - I learned a lot. The schedule for 2 nights had to be shortened to just 1 night because of the rain. I learned that our camping equipment was a poor match for what we needed to do - and the meals were not also good - so it was never a comfortable camp. Still, I felt that I'd gained a little confidence and  real satisfaction that I had managed to achieve an independent genryu camping trip for the first time. Walking back towards civilisation through the forest  rain I was, all the while, already dreaming of my next genryu fishing trip!

Keiichi Okushi, Genryu Addict and owner of “Tenkara-ya”

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