For the last several summers I have hiked the backside of Teine (手稲), Sapporo’s main ski mountain, starting from the Heiwa waterfall (平和の滝) and following the the Hassamu-Kotoni River (発寒琴似川) along the trail. It’s quite the hike.
The small stream above the falls runs about a kilometer before a man-made dam blocks any fish moving further upstream. I’ve explored this stretch fly fishing before, convinced it was dead water. But I’ve heard rumors of iwana (white-spotted char) being caught somewhere above the falls, and this past week I set out on a mission to finally land me a fish in this wild area within Sapporo’s city limits.
So I geared up my fishing supplies, opting for my 3 meter Daiwa keiryu rod, using ikura (salmon eggs) for bait. I’ve messed around with fly fishing/tenkara in this area before, but the tightness of the stream makes casting nearly impossible. Keiryu style bait fishing seemed like my only chance at landing a fish.
I loaded up my bike at 5:30 AM and set off on the hour+ journey to the falls in the Nishi (West) Ward. One quick look at falls and you can easily see that fish aren’t traversing past this point. Yamame (Cherry Salmon) and rogue Rainbow Trout from downstream aren’t venturing up here. So any fish that do exist are more than likely self-sustaining, endemic iwana (white-spotted char).
I set out on the trail for the 20 minute hike to the upper dam, where a trail offered the only true access to the stream.
Once down at the base I of the dam I prepared my rig and set out downstream, careful to remain along the mossy rocks on the banks and trying not to spook any fish.
After descending down about three or four step-down pools, out of view of the hiking trail, I began lob casting into the foam. I was just happy to be fishing and more than curious if any fish could be hidden here. Most of the stream is only a few meters wide in this area but each pool is surprisingly deep, at least a meter.
I was completely shocked when on just my second cast, I had a monster hit on my salmon egg. One cast later I hooked one, the largest iwana I have ever caught here in Hokkaido, approximately 30 centimeters!
I would catch a total of 4 large iwana, all approximately 30 centimeters, in these plunge pools. I barely had made my way downstream and I had already surpassed my expectations. All within about 45 minutes, maybe less. It was an unbelievable experience. Some of the best fish I have yet to catch in Hokkaido, all within the city limits.
I don’t have any pictures of the fish. I rarely do. My nervous hands have a hard time handling fish and reaching for a smartphone at the same time. So you don’t have to believe me. But get out there and explore your urban streams. Ride your bikes just a little bit further. You might be surprised what you find.
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