Retirement means more time to fish

By Al Thomas, Columbian Outdoors Reporter

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During the past 39 years, I’ve gotten to fish intermittently with many of the best anglers on the Columbia River.

Some were guides. Others were from that small cadre of recreationals who fish the river several days a week and have compiled elite knowledge and skills.

Now, it’s time to join them on the water.

I’m retiring after 43 years at The Columbian and 39 of those covering hunting, fishing, hiking, skiing and related natural resource issues.

During all those trips with far-better anglers, I took extensive notes. Some notes were for the upcoming story, but many were the details and nuances these experts did that I think contributed to them being top anglers.

I’ve got multiple three-ring binders full of the stuff, plus many documents just on the computer. What I lacked during my working career was time to apply all that knowledge more than about one day a week.

That’s changing now. No work, more fishing.

I’m also returning to backpacking. I have not camped overnight in the wilderness for 20 years. But in the past six months, my wife and I have been acquiring ultralight equipment. Our loads, including a liter bottle of water, weigh less than 20 pounds.

So this is the end of a great run for me at The Columbian.

And there are some people I owe big-time:

Publisher Scott Campbell, his father before him, and his uncle Jack, all treated me much like a family member.

Twenty years ago, my wife Denise, 41, died of heart disease, leaving me the only parent of a 7-year-old son.

Scott came to me about a week before Denise died and told me: “Take off all the time you need. When you come back, your job will be just the way you left it.’’

At the worst moment of my life, Scott Campbell had my back.

Larry Cassidy Jr. of Vancouver was a member of the Washington Game Commission when I switched from the city hall beat to outdoor writer in 1978. He was so helpful in those early years explaining to me the blend of science, politics and personalities that make up fish and wildlife management in the Northwest.

Cassidy later served on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council and still has influence in regional fish and wildlife management.

I intermittently crossed paths with Cassidy during my 40 years. His counsel was always valuable. While so many of us get caught in the day-to-day, Cassidy never loses sight of the big picture.

Joe Hymer is a supervisory fish biologist for the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission who works for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

As a sidelight, he’s been the de facto information officer for WDFW in Southwest Washington for a couple of decades. The guy should get a 20 percent value-added pay stipend.

Hymer is the source of so much fishery information for the Columbia River. He compiles the sport creel census for the lower river and many tributaries and distributes the information to a list of news media and others.

Hymer knows what’s valuable information and what’s agency spin. Besides the weekly creel report. Hymer will send out other “factoids’’ like exceptionally high or low dam counts, fish catches or confirmation of unusual species in the Columbia.

I couldn’t have done this job without so much of his help.

Ray Croswell of Washougal is a serious deer hunter. He’s been a Realtor, Fish and Wildlife Department lands agent and consultant for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Most importantly, he’s been my mentor for all things deer and elk related.

I was an upland bird hunter for 30 years, both in Washington and South Dakota. But I know relatively little about big game, and what I know, Croswell taught me. Coverage of deer and elk issues never has been my strength here, but it would have been so much worse without Croswell.

The late Karl Anderson and Winston Falls, both of Vancouver. Anderson decided in the 1980s that I was a sub-par salmon fisherman and spent many trips sharing his knowledge.

In recent years, Falls has given me graduate-level trips for spring chinook at Multnomah Channel and summer steelhead and coho at the mouth of the Cowlitz River.

I’ve also been fortunate to have sources like Guy Norman, Cindy LeFleur, Ron Roler, Pat Frazier and John Weinheimer of the Department of Fish and Wildlife; John North, Steve Williams and Chris Kern of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, plus Stuart Ellis of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

All of them have given me their home or cell phone numbers so I could reach them when news happened outside of office hours.

The Columbian plans to replace me with another outdoor writer, so please stick with the newspaper. Columbia River fisheries are complicated and contentious, so give my replacement some time to learn it.

So, this is it. I’ve been on vacation the past seven weeks using up accrued time.

I’m done working and now will fish and hike and cross-country ski a lot more.

My wife, Sherrie, has a Switzerland vacation planned for us in 2018 (right in the middle of spring chinook season). I’m lucky to have found an athletic spouse late in life who likes to hike, camp and ski.

Eventually, I expect I’ll find some volunteer endeavor to join. Or maybe I’ll do a dab of freelance writing.

For now though, it’s all about converting four decades of learning about fishing into more salmon in the boat.

Allen Thomas can be reached at al.thomas@columbian.com through the end of August.