We turn onto a very narrow little road that cuts between two expansive rice fields and which has a dead meter drop on either side and the SUV accelerates somewhat precariously. He reaches over and with his left hand turns the volume up a bit.
“Imagination sets in, pretty soon I’m singing,”
This little road is really long and the fields are wide and stretch to far away. There is a big house with laundry hung outside off in the distance and the modest mountains surrounding the valley we are passing through are soft with only just what you would call peaks.
The interior of the truck is well worn and smells of old leather, pipe-smoke and licorice. The back of the truck is packed nearly to ceiling with fishing and other outdoor gear. It’s packed in a way that tells you it’s rarely unpacked, if ever at all, except when fishing or outdoor things are going to be done. In the middle console between the driver side on the right and me on the left is a flashlight, a water bottle, a row of old tapes for the tape player, a pipe, an old Tiffany’s butane pipe lighter, a dented flask with what looks like a trout on it and a buck knife.
“Doo, doo, doo, Looking out my back door.”
It takes about an hour to reach the spot by the river he wants to fish at. It’s a good spot. It’s not busy, it’s down a bit from a bend in the river and is fairly desolate; a good spot.
He changes into his black waders behind the old SUV with it’s silver paint peeling in certain areas. We don’t talk but he hands me a pair of fishing tabi, split toed, stiff soled moccasins meant for wearing in the water. They are a size 30, brand new in the package and I wonder how long it took him to find these. They fit me well. I help him grab some of the other gear and then we wonder down to the river.
We wade through thigh-high grass and ankle deep mud to reach a solid little spot right at the edge of the water. It’s flowing swiftly in the middle of the river and is a light blue hue that reminds me of the sea in Nijima. Directly across from us, in the middle of the fast blue water is a large rock, about three meters high, covered in bushes and vines.
We wade into the water and it’s cold and pulls at my legs. He explains to me that he wants me to look under the bigger rocks under foot, and collect bugs for bait. The bugs look like little black slugs and are easy to find. I collect a couple dozen. It takes about an hour and the sun is high now in the middle of the sky. I wade back to our area at the shore. Still standing in the cool river water I lean over, open up a small blue cooler and pull out an ice-cold Kirin Lager. I take a long drink and the beer is freezing and delicious. There are small pieces of ice in the beer. I take another long, cold swallow. “Damn, that’s good.” I say to the river.
Just then I see him in the middle of the river about fifteen meters away from me and down stream. His legs are set wide and he suddenly drops his weight a bit and I see the long rod of his fishing pole bend first slightly and then much more deeply.
He moves the rod to the left, then back up, then to the right. He takes in a little line. He repeats this a couple of times, then with his left hand he reaches to his belt and retrieves his net. He holds the net out to his side and slightly turns his body and with his right hand and arm he manipulates the rod. Several meters away down stream, suddenly a fish, caught on the end of his line, shoots out of the river water and flies through the air towards him. He quickly turns his body bringing his net wide and left and the fish travels through the air and skillfully lands deep in the net. He then easily slings the long rod under his arm and across his upper back and crouches down into the current to attend to his prey.
The first catch of the day.
Later, I take another beer and wade across the river to the big rock. I circle around it and find a spot I can grab onto firmly with my hands, beer in my deep cargo pocket of my shorts, and I pull myself up. I climb on top of the rock where it’s so hot. The vines are all over and a large beetle walks slowly across the hot surface and into one of the bushes nearby on the rock. I sit down and the cold water of the river pours off me and cools the hot rock face. The beer is almost as good as the first one and I watch the river and the fisherman. He catches more fish and the river keeps flowing.
After some time I jump off the rock into the cold deep part of the river just below it and the current, faster here, easily whips me down stream feet first back into the shallows.
He has a beer with me and we cut big chunks off a roll of sweet, country ham to eat with the beer. He talks about the fishing, how it’s not bad today but nothing too special. He tells me about the type of fish, Ayu, and that all these are for tonight’s big family dinner. He tells me he has caught many Ayu in the river. I look at his tanned, heavily lined face and long black and white coarse hair, pulled back in an unruly pony tail, and I believe he has caught many fish. He talks about fishing easily and with an expertise. Fishing in Gifu is something he has done for a long time.
The short break in the hot sun with the beer and ham finishes and he continues to fish. I find more bait and I go up and watch him work the line, the rod and manipulate the net. He shows me how to bait properly and walks me through teasing a fish before netting it. By four in the afternoon he has caught nine fish.
We load back into the SUV with the fish on ice and he turns the ignition over.
Creedence pours out of the door speakers.
“Forward troubles Illinois, lock the front door, oh boy!
Look at all the happy creatures dancing on the lawn.
Bother me tomorrow, today, I’ll buy no sorrows.”
“Doo, doo, doo, Looking out my back door.”
I eat two Ayu that night and they are delicious. Everyone enjoys them and the big dinner is light and people smile and eat a lot. The old man who did the fishing gets a little drunk on beer and shochu but in a familiar way and handles it well. We are both tanned from our day at the river.
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