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The Fishing Four

By Mary Sunada

My last fishing trip to the High Sierras was on Sunday, July 7, 2019. This was our annual family vacation away from our hectic life in the city. We call ourselves “The Fishing Four.” My husband, John, started the fishing family tradition. He grew up fishing in Fresno. He never forgot the joy of fishing with his dad. Once his sons, James and David, were old enough to hold a fishing pole, he taught them how to fish the High Sierras. Now, it has become a Japanese tradition in our family. James and David were automatic members of the fishing four while I became an honorary one.

John, James, and David are masters in planning the five-hour drive from Los Angeles to June Lake and making it into a fun road trip. We packed our clothes, fishing tackle, ice chests, water, snacks, sunglasses, hats, insect spray, and sunscreen into our van. We were ready to go.

James drove first from Los Angeles to Mojave. There, we made our annual stop to McDonald’s for breakfast. John and I shared a Big Breakfast with two coffees. James and David had their breakfast meals with hash browns and drinks. When we left, the temperature outside was in the 90s by 11:00 a.m.

David drove us from Mojave through the towns of Lone Pine, Independence, and Big Pine, ending up in Bishop. Our favorite stops in Bishop are Erick Schat’s Bakery and Mahogany Smoked Meats. At Schat’s Bakery, we bought Russian raisin bread, coffee cake, and a variety of cookies including chocolate chip, Swiss pecan, and shortbread. At Mahogany Meats, we bought four takeout sandwiches with potato salads for our first dinner at the cabin in June Lake. I also bought three packs of smoked bacon to take home and two packages of garlic pistachios for snacks. We gassed up our van and were on the road again.

John drove last from Bishop to Mammoth Lakes. Our stop in Mammoth was for groceries at Vons. We bought and filled six shopping bags with food for breakfast, lunch, and also dinner, if we did not catch enough trout. We rewarded ourselves with Starbucks drinks. Then John drove straight to June Lake and we arrived at our final destination, cabin #6. This was our favorite cabin to spend three days of fishing at. We were very excited!

We unpacked our groceries, clothes, and snacks. We were tired and hungry from the long drive. We had a late dinner with our sandwiches and potato salads from Mahogany. John and I ate our Classic Turkey sandwich, David, his California Cuban made of ham and chicken, and James, his Rodeo sandwich which had roast beef, smoked bacon, and pepper jack cheese. After dinner, the men set up the fishing poles while I made both “onigiri” (rice balls) and sandwiches which I packed with potato chips, cookies, fruits, and water for the next day’s “bento” (lunch). We went to sleep early that night.

The bear

On Monday, July 8, we ate a light breakfast of cereal with milk or bagels with cream cheese and hot coffee. Our first fishing spot from June Lake was Grant Lake. We saw ducks swimming in the lake and seagulls flying overhead. The water level was high at the lake and the trout hid in the rocky reefs. We had to throw our fishing lines further out but our lines always got caught on the rocks. Our patience ran out when the mosquitoes were biting our skins and the hot sun was beaming down upon us. There were no trees around the lake. We were busy applying sunscreen lotion or spraying ourselves with insect repellent. However, James and John were able to catch one trout each. David and I caught none, not even a nibble.

Our second fishing spot was Rush Creek which was a deep, fast running stream with overgrown bushes and heavy terrain. We carried our fishing tackle down to the stream. We were fighting the rushing water, the heavy winds, and the tall weeds which hid the trout. No wonder, we did not hook any trout.

We returned to the cabin, ate our lunch, and cleaned the two trout. We placed the trout inside zip lock bags with a small amount of water and stored them in the freezer. In lieu of trout dinner, we ate our store-bought, roasted chicken, steamed rice, potato salad, macaroni salad and cold drinks. Our dessert was ice cream with fruits. Afterwards, I made bento again. We talked about our first dry spell in fishing and played our two favorite games, ”Hanafuda” (flower-card game) and Crazy Eights until bedtime. For the next two nights, we would repeat this family fishing ritual of cleaning trout, eating dinner, making bento, talking about fishing, and playing games together.

On Tuesday, July 9, we drove 30 minutes to Mammoth Lakes. Our two favorite fishing holes in the Mammoth area are Lake Mary and Lake George. Lake Mary is a smaller lake with boulders and small hills. We carried our snacks, water, and fishing gear up the hill. We saw people fishing on the banks or in their boats. It was cooler that day because of the trees along the lake. This time, however, the ants were biting. When we threw our lines into the lake, John hooked a big trout. The trout swam fast between the rocks and fallen trees. John’s fishing line got tangled on one of the branches and his line broke. The big one got away. David and I caught one trout each, placed them onto a stringer and dropped them into the lake.

We had started snacking on some cookies and chips when we heard voices yelling, “A bear is coming!”

John picked up the stringer with the two trout and ran up the hill. James, David, and I followed safely behind him. Suddenly, we saw the small black bear roaming around looking for food. He smelled our snacks, sat down, and ate them. The bear ran away when he heard a dog barking.

We decided to drive up to Lake George. We did not take any more chances and ate our lunch in the van. Lake George is a bigger lake enclosed by mountains and surrounded by big boulders and tall trees. The lake was so picturesque with a big waterfall running down the mountain into the deep blue water below. The weather was cold and windy because it was late in the day. We saw small chipmunks and tiny birds searching for food. James and David were able to hook two trout. I caught one but John had no luck. He caught none. We did release some smaller ones. Fishing was slow again. We called it a day, packed up, and drove to downtown Mammoth.

We shopped at the Mammoth Antique Thrift store and bought our dinners at a café named Delicious Kitchen. We celebrated surviving our day with the bear by ordering Starbucks drinks. We continued our family fishing ritual, talked about John’s big trout that got away, and played our games. Soon it was time to go to sleep. The next day would be our last day of fishing.

On Wednesday, July 10, we returned to Grant Lake and fished half a day. David and I caught one trout each. We all agreed to eat our lunch in the cabin since it was so hot and the mosquitoes were biting again. We cleaned the fish and tallied our catch. John caught one trout, James three, David four, and I caught three. The total catch was 11 trout. Rather than worrying about our small catch, we talked about how much fun we had together. We still considered ourselves “The Fishing Four.” We ate what was left for dinner, played games, washed our dirty clothes, and started packing for the next day. This was our last night.

On Thursday, July 11, we ate breakfast early, cleaned the cabin, and threw out the trash. We packed the rest of our clothes, our fishing gear, and our ice chest filled with our 11 frozen trout into the van. We were set to go. We would take turns driving home, stopping at our favorite places, and talking about the best parts of the fishing trip. James and David found enjoyment in Mother Nature. They would remember the beauty of the waterfall at Lake George, the fast-moving stream of Rush Creek, the black bear at Lake Mary, and the ducks swimming at Grant Lake. John found a deep appreciation for the quietness and the patience of fishing. I found calmness and peacefulness in the High Sierras.

We learned to build a stronger family bond together and to create everlasting memories. The Fishing Four will forever be our Japanese tradition. Our sons will make their own fishing families after we are gone but they will never forget the 2019 trip. Our drive home was the best of all.

Mary Sunada is retired from the Los Angeles Unified School District after 36 years of teaching. She is a member of the Orange County Buddhist Church, the Japanese American National Museum, and the “Go for Broke” National Education Center. Her interests are fishing, dancing and traveling with family and friends.

Discover Nikkei is published online by the Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles (discovernikkei.org).

Editor’s notes. Although distant from Seattle, NAP readers may know the landscape Ms. Sunada describes from Manzanar pilgrimages. Her 1540-word essay and biography are included here both as a charming summer story and as an example entry to last year’s “Nikkei Chronicles #9” story contest, on the theme of sports. This year’s competition, on intergenerational family stories, was announced in the July 9 NAP. The deadline is September 30th.