A few of the fishermen of Manzanar’s decendents: MHS Fly Fishing Association’s Manny Ramirez (left), Gregory Oliver (center) and Ethan Ramsey at Hot Creek this week.
Friday, March 11. You’re a sophomore at Mammoth High School. The 12:35 p.m. bell rang 15 minutes ago, and you find yourself in World History Class. You review your notes about Dec. 7, 1941, our country’s “Day of Infamy.” Your group partners peruse their notes on September 11, 2001. The assignment: compare the two events. Mr. Leonard wants a comprehensive final project including identifying potential motivating factors which led up to the respective attacks, and an outline of consequences and reactions of the events which shattered and forever changed life in America. It’s a full-on immersion in World War II and how it compares to the present-day “War on Terror.” One thing’s for sure … before long, you know more about Emperor Hirohito than you ever imagined.
Friday, April 30. You are Mr. Leonard. It’s 8 p.m., and you’ve found yourself at Whiskey Creek in Bishop for a Fishmas Eve dinner hosted by the Bishop Chamber of Commerce. You are representing The Sheet at the industry event. There are many familiar faces. Tim Alpers is there, as is Sean Turner, assuring that everyone’s pint glass stays full, and the folks from Hot Creek Hatchery. Conversing with reps from Berkley Fishing and Western Outdoor News, there’s no mention of Stalin or Hitler. Little do you realize, you are about to learn a lesson about one major consequence of Pearl Harbor. The lesson has its roots right here in the Eastern Sierra, and involves the two middle-aged Japanese-American fellows at the table next to you: Cory Shiozaki and Richard Imamura. You don’t know these two gentlemen yet, but after listening to them, you wish that you did seven weeks back, so you could share their stories with your World History students.
Shiozaki is the producer of “The Manzanar Fishing Club,” a feature-length documentary that was written by Imamura. The two were invited that evening to present a short preview of the film, whiich is scheduled for release this coming September. Its story is simply riveting. There was no formal “fishing club” at Manzanar, but the tale is one rich with the history of angling in the Eastern Sierra.
Shiozaki asked everyone in attendance why it is that the Eastern Sierra draws such a large number of Japanese-Americans every summer. A fantastic question. For those of us who spend enough time on the water around here, it’s evident that the fishing community has a strong representation amongst Japanese-Americans.
As Shiozaki pointed out, fishing has always been present in the Japanese community, long before immigrants came from the island-nation to the shores of California. But the inspiration for the film came about six years ago when the producer asked himself, “Why the Eastern Sierra? Why do so many Japanese-Americans fish in the Eastern Sierra?”
It all started when 353 Japanese fighters approached Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941.
We all are, or at least should be, familiar with the history of Manzanar, one of America’s self-inflicted political black eyes. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, there came an immediate backlash reaction against 120,000 innocent Japanese-Americans who were immediately deemed as enemies of the state, rounded up and sent to “internment” camps to wait out the war.
It was arguably as much of a crime in this country to be of Japanese blood, as it was throughout Europe to be Semitic. Being sent to a camp in the U.S. wasn’t as life-threatening as in Europe, but there was fear of being shot and killed if an internee came too close to the barbed wire fence. Nonetheless, about 350–400 Japanese prisoners interned at Manzanar tested the boundaries of their rifle-enforced encampment, and managed to escape into the local mountains for a few hours, sometimes even days at a time, to feel the freedom found exclusively in the form of fishing.
The film tells the incredible, true tale of what several internees did at risk of life and limb. Imamura interviewed several internees, who recalled climbing under barbed wire fences and sneaking out of camp in the middle of the night, dodging the tower searchlights and risking being shot. The prisoners-turned-anglers disappeared into the mountains for a brief spell to catch rainbows and goldens with fish line, hooks and worms dug from the ground, all tied onto a willow.
Under the harshest conditions, hundreds of Japanese internees fell in love with fishing in the Eastern Sierra. They passed that passion along to their offspring, who in turn again passed it along to theirs. There is a very deep and rich fishing history here which has led to events such as the Shogun Fishing Derby, which uses much of the same worms that camp prisoners found in the soil next to Independence Creek during World War Two.
This story is a testament to the human soul’s ability to rise above the terrors and turmoil of war, and find sanity and serenity by a stream, simply by spotting a trout and catching it. These prisoners weren’t fishing for food. Oh, they ate what they caught, but they were after something else as they dipped line in Independence Creek: the taste of freedom.
A couple of my World History students learned a bit more than just history this last week. Both Tuesday and Thursday, the Mammoth High School Fly Fishing Association kicked off its first week with some fantastic angling. The group explored the waters of Hot Creek and did fairly well, beaching and releasing some pretty healthy trout. Waters at Hot Creek are still pretty clear, and the fishing is constantly good. You can run small, black PTs and Midges through the currents to get hits. The trout are also taking WD-40s. There is some surface action going on now. Callibaetis and BWOs are getting strikes.
Crowley is still a bit slow, but definitely not shut off. Water temps throughout the Eastern Sierra are about five degrees cooler now than they were this time last year; hence the metabolism of trout is still coming up. You can catch trout out of Sandy Point using Red Barons and Midge Patterns. The fish still seem to be scattered everywhere, so be patient. I fished the East Walker a week ago, and it is still pretty slow right now. Running streamers through the pools is your best bet.
Whether you catch fish or not, reflect upon the freedom you have to be on the water.
Check www.fearnotrout.com for more insight on The Manzanar Fishing Club. A more detailed report can be found at http://kittredgesports.com/fishing_report.php. Leonard guides for Kittredge Sports. Call 760.934.7566.