Larry Snyder of Vancouver has spent thousands of hours in the past 50 years fishing for salmon in the lower Columbia River and steelhead in its tributaries. The retired schoolteacher has spent thousands more hours as a sport-fishing activist, doing everything from hosting candidate forums to placing coho carcasses as nutrients in local streams.
While his name is linked with Columbia River fishing, here’s a truth about Snyder:
“Duck hunting is my No. 1 love,” he said. “I enjoy it the most. It’s the most fun, most excitement, although I’d much prefer to eat a spring chinook.”
Now 75, Snyder is no longer president of the Vancouver Wildlife League, having given up the post a year ago. He doesn’t drift the East Fork of the Lewis River in the middle of winter any longer trying to catch a steelhead.
“In the winter, happiness is a warm fire,” Snyder said.
But from March into September, he still chases spring chinook, summer steelhead, coho and fall chinook. In the fall, he’ll go to Eastern Washington, hire a guide and hunt for waterfowl.
Snyder is about as local as they come.
His family had a 20-acre farm about where Truman Elementary School is today. He graduated from Hudson’s Bay High School in 1958, attended Clark College for two years and graduated from Portland State University.
After one year of teaching ninth grade in The Dalles, Ore., Snyder taught for 30 years at Shumway and Jason Lee junior high schools in Vancouver. He was a fill-in school administrator intermittently after retirement.
While this may sound hard to imagine, Snyder preferred teaching junior high/middle school-age youth.
“They are enthusiastic when you can get them on your side, get them interested in a subject,” he said. “But in order to do that, you’ve got to get them away from the textbook and get them hands-on where they are actually doing something. … I found high school kids to be rather boring.”
His passion for hunting and fishing began on his family’s small farm, which was adjacent to another 10 acres owned by his grandparents.
“There were lots of pheasants when I was kid and ponds nearby where we could hunt ducks,” he said. “I could hunt right from the house.”
His first fishing trip was when his father took Snyder and his brother to Kalama Bar on the Columbia River.
“My dad cut a forked stick and stuck it in the ground and cast my brother’s pole out. My brother and I were playing around in the sand. My dad says ‘Where’s your pole, Jerry?’ It was gone. A fish had jerked it in. My pole was downriver and I noticed it was pulling. So I picked it up, started reeling and I felt something. It was my brother’s pole and the fish. It was about a 10-pound steelhead. Ever since, I’ve been an avid fisherman.”
It was in the late 1970s and 1980s when Snyder became a sport-fishing activist in addition to an angler.
“I felt the department (of Fish and Wildlife) was totally one-sided in favor of the commercial interests,” he said.
In Snyder’s opinion, the agency distanced itself from the sport-fishing and conservation groups who had been its biggest allies.
“You could see what was happening. The number of people who were fishing was increasing, and the resource at the time was hurting. Yet if anybody were to take the hit, it appeared to be the sports fishermen.”
In those early days, before the current crop of sport-fishing groups began to flourish and gain strength, Snyder was one of a very small group politicking for larger salmon allocations and better seasons.
“I felt like I was beating my head against a stone wall because we were too few,” he said. “We held off the hordes until the reinforcements arrived.”
Steve Watrous of Vancouver also was one of that small cadre.
“Larry is from the old school where it is more important to accomplish things than to receive public praise,” Watrous said. “As a result, he has flown under most people’s radar screen and never received the credit he is due.”
The credit Snyder is due is considerable, said Guy Norman, regional manager of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“Larry has spent decades and given countless hours organizing people and working to improve the environment for fish and wildlife with a focus on outdoor opportunities for the youth in our community,”Norman said. “He has never strayed from his mission in the 30 plus years I have known him.”
Norman said Snyder leads by example and inspires others to donate time to the community.
“Larry has built an impressive legacy and has set a very high bar for those that follow,” he added.
Snyder said the state fish agencies have a near-impossible job.
“I do believe they are doing the best job they can under the current conditions,” he said. “There are just so many variables.”
He applauded the current efforts to switch commercial fishing in the lower Columbia to live-capture methods that allow for release of wild fish.
“I’m not sure the commercials are fading. The gillnet fishery is. That commercial fishery was an anachronism that was good when there were very few people and lots of resource. Now that there are lots of people, and the resource is few, it has no place in the scheme of harvest,” he said.
Snyder fishes in the Longview-to-Vancouver reach of the lower Columbia with a 15-foot Smokercraft powered by a 15-horsepower Yamaha. In the spring, he also might be in the Multnomah Channel of the Willamette River. In fall, he likes the Columbia near the mouth of the Cowlitz River.
He’s often in the boat of his longtime friend Winston Falls, also of Vancouver.
Snyder is known for: a) trolling, never anchoring; and b) very basic gear.
“I don’t anchor. I’m too hyper to sit there like a big turnip. … And sometimes I get frustrated with anchor fishermen anchoring right in the middle of a trolling lane. It’s frustrating, but I’ve learned to live with it.”
His idea of salmon fishing gear is a plug-cut herring and a sinker. If the water is high or off-color, he might compromise and add a small flasher.
“Keep your approach simple,” Snyder said. “Don’t fall victim to every little fad. Find what works for you and stay with it.”