On a sunny Saturday afternoon along the banks of the Methow River, a small group gathered to honor a fellow fly fisher and conservationist. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Methow Valley Fly Fishers dedicated the Irv Conner Methow River Access Site, located 3 1/2 miles north of Pateros at the first bridge crossing the Methow River.
Irv Conner was an avid fly fisherman and advocate of the Upper Columbia River and Methow Valley. He was instrumental in creating the Columbia River Salmon/Steelhead Endorsement Board to support enhancement programs for fisheries.
Jim Brown, regional director for North Central WDFW, began the dedication ceremony with an introduction to Irv. He was a steelhead fisherman, pioneer of the Spey rod, and possessed a philanthropic nature.
Jim explained the challenges of fishing in rivers habited by both wild fish and hatchery fish. Research shows that wild fish utilize different areas of the river and run at different times of the year than hatchery fish — giving recreational fishermen options to avoid those areas when the wild fish are present. Proven gear exists for wild fish to survive if one takes the bait and needs to be released. Protecting the fish through sustainable practices takes research, enforcement and reporting. In 2007 when the economy crashed, budget cuts impacted these programs, resulting in a closure of some rivers to fishing.
An ad hoc group of recreational fisher groups met to discuss how the closure impacted rural economies and brainstorm options to restore fishing access. Irv was an active participant in the group. He suggested a fee on fishing licenses that would fund necessary enhancement programs to support sustainable fishing practices. The necessary legislation was passed in April 2009, creating the Columbia River Salmon/Steelhead Endorsement.
An oversight board was created to distribute funds to regulation enforcement, research and the creation of public fishing access points. The first public fishing access point created with the endorsement funds was the 6.5 acres beside the first bridge on the Methow River, 3 ½ miles north of Pateros. On Saturday, this site was renamed in Irv’s honor.
As the group shared memories of Irv and his contributions, orchard cannons punctuated the warm autumn air with muffled booms. An attendee called the blasts a “21-gun salute.”
Rollie Schmitten grew up with Irv, “in the same town, on the same block.” In 1954, the two boys competed in the Cashmere Sportsman Club fishing tournament. The prize was a red Schwinn bicycle. Determined to win, Rollie cast his line, with Irv fishing to his right. Irv pulled out a 17-inch fish, and young Rollie let loose his first swear word, “S.O.B.!” Irv won the competition and the red Schwinn bicycle.
Sixty years later the two men cast side-by-side in the river once again, for the first time in decades. After two hours, Rollie was empty-handed, but Irv held up a big one. Rollie let loose another “S.O.B.!” Rollie closed his tribute to his friend by stating, “Irv was a gentleman, a sportsman, a conservationist, and my friend.”