黄色い縞を探す Searching for the Yellow Stripe

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Searching for the Yellow Stripe

The first thing I was taught in the ayu fishing class was how to distinguish wild ayu from raised ayu. “This part of wild ayu is yellow, ya’know,” the old man said as he pointed at a yellow stripe near the pectoral fin. It was a very fresh shade of yellow. Participants in the class gathered at a parking lot along the Nakaoku River. We stepped into our boots-pants-suspenders combination known as “waders”, and each borrowed a rod, scoop net, and fish carrier from the fisherman’s cooperative.

While I was walking with my teacher, I looked down at the Nakaoku River flowing below us. “Rivers with ayu in them, it’s like they’re just glistening,” he said. We climbed down to the large rocks on the river and set up our equipment. My teacher grabbed one ayu from the fish carrier and showed me how to attach the hooks. He attached hooks to the nose, back, and anal fin of the otori-ayu. At the end of the line was the kakebari hook, which looked like three anchors bound together. When the territorial wild ayu see and attack the otori-ayu, they are caught on the kakebari hook. This method of fishing is called tomotsuri, or “friend fishing”, but I don’t sense a whole lot of friendship between the ayu fish.

I walked into the river up to my knees, held the long rod with both hands, and followed my teacher’s directions. In order to let the otori-ayu swim properly, I held the rod and line at nearly a horizontal angle. Over the next two hours, we experienced the “mountains and valleys” of ayu fishing. We caught one right off the bat, but apparently it got away. When the rod felt like I had caught another one, it was just the otori-ayu caught on its own kakebari hook. When ayu are in this kind of twisted pose, they are called “shrimp”. In time, we also caught a few wild ayu with yellow stripes. We replaced the tired otori-ayu with an energetic wild ayu. Now, the wild otori-ayu swam vigorously through the rough currents. “A raised ayu wouldn’t be able to swim in those waters. The wild ones are different though. They’re different when you eat’em, too,” my teacher laughed.

This ayu fishing class was held on Marine Day by the National Rich Ocean Creation Congress, and the fisherman’s cooperatives of Nara Prefecture and Kawakami Village. Since the river’s water flows to the ocean, creating a rich ocean begins in the mountains. Also, the wild ayu who eat moss in these clean rivers grow up and show us their lively yellow stripes. Thanks to the Nakaoku River having been taken care of up to now, I had the opportunity to know both the joy of ayu fishing and the delicious taste of wild ayu. That night, I sprinkled some salt on the ayu I caught, broiled them, and enjoyed them with my friends.