As a senior at Lincoln High School, class of 1955, I was sent through a short career counseling program run by the City of Seattle.
After a series of tests for various skills, a counselor looked over my scores and said, “Young man, you seem to have a singular talent for use of the English language, but don’t ever, ever take a job that requires a wrench in your hands.”
It took me 20 years to finally prove the guy correct — mechanics of any kind are beyond my ken — but when I found my niche, it resulted in a 43-year dream job. After several years freelancing to history and outdoors magazines (I even hit the “big three,” a few times — Sports Afield, Field and Stream, and Outdoor Life), and a couple of years teaching English and history at a middle school in the Edmonds School District, I applied for and was hired in 1976 as outdoor writer for The Everett Herald.
People continually asked me, “Is this the best job in the world?” And I was forced to answer, “Yes, it is.”
And not just because it’s really cool to go fishing and write about it, but equally as satisfying to help people enjoy the clean, healthy, outdoor activities that are such a large part of this great corner of the country. I’m humbled and grateful for those calls over the years thanking me for telling them where the chantrelles were; how to start their children trout fishing; the name of a good steelhead guide in Forks; were they feeding the elk yet above Yakima; how to jig smelt at La Conner.
I hope you were able to join me on Great Slave Lake as we boated a big, toothy, 30-pound Mackinaw; or in the sweltering humidity of Belize, working the bonefish flats; or wrestling a 50-pound king in Alaska’s Kenai River; or finally catching an Atlantic salmon on a fly, in the George River of northern Labrador. All notable landmarks but no more rewarding than watching my two young sons catch bullheads off the dock at Lake Cavanaugh.
People are what make or break any work day, and I have been fortunate to work with people doing things they like to do. I mean, who would you rather interview — Fred about coho, or Alex about the state legislature?
The outdoor community is closer and more connected than you might imagine, and don’t make the mistake of picturing Mister Outdoors as a grubby hick, cleaning his teeth with his fingernail. The outdoor clan is every bit as sophisticated and as passionate about its interests as is, say, the bar association, and is becoming more involved with resource management all the time. Ask any salmon manager with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Which reminds me of a story: A meeting was scheduled in Olympia concerning some issue of importance to both recreational fishermen and the conservation community. Attending as representatives of a local fishing club were a couple of old-timers — the only ones in the club who didn’t have to work that day, but clueless about governmental process. I called one of the guys the next day and asked him how the meeting had gone.
“I knew we was in trouble,” he said, “when we walked in and seen all them damn birken shoes.”
I think one of the most encouraging things I’ve watched in my 43 years on the beat is the change in the level of expertise being wielded by recreation interests in Olympia — clubs, associations, other organizations. These days they’re smart, prepared, organized and ready to fight. They know who to see and what to say, and they deserve your support, particularly in a state with issues as complex as those we have here.
Traditional outdoor sportsmen and women are the most active supporters of resource conservation we have, so if you do nothing else for the cause, join a club or organization. Conservation doesn’t come free, and if you don’t at least put a few bucks in the pot, you have no basis for complaint.
Another suggestion: Take a kid fishing, any kid, your kid, the neighbor’s kid. Young people will be the caretakers of our fish and wildlife, but to paraphrase the old-timer above, “I knowed we was in trouble when I seen all those gray heads at the last club meeting.”
At 80 years of age I think I can still sling a mean verb, but without one of Judyrae’s special fisherman’s sandwiches, it isn’t the same. So with this column, I’ll just hang up my hoochie, turn off the PC and say bless you all — it’s been a blast.