I grew up in southern California, but spent summer vacations in the Pacific Northwest. These trips convinced me that there were more desirable places to live than the urban–suburban sprawl of Los Angeles and Orange counties. I always loved fishing and science and was intrigued by what influenced the behaviour and productivity of trout—melding my interests into a career in fish biology seemed natural. I also seriously considered becoming a professional musician (still play the sax and clarinet), but realized music was probably better as an avocation than a career.
While still just a sophomore in high school, I was fortunate to discover that one could earn a degree in fish biology, thanks to my cousin Dave Pflug (BS, 1978, MS 1981). Dave showed me around campus on one of those glorious summer days when Drumheller Fountain was gushing. I was hooked, but couldn’t afford out-of-state tuition. Fortunately, a Navy ROTC scholarship allowed me to major in fisheries at UW, with the dream of flying jets off aircraft carriers (alas—my eyesight faltered as a freshman). I aimed to get a BS and become a bush pilot/fishing guide in Alaska. But fisheries classes and work as a research tech changed all that. I really wanted to discover what made aquatic communities tick, working from the perspective of individual behavior, interactions, and performance up to populations and food webs. My first fisheries jobs, helping grad students studying estuarine ecology of juvenile Chinook and Chum salmon on the Skagit River Delta (Steve Foley and Steve Davis with Jim Congelton as the PI) and responses by bass, bluegill, and crappie to lake restoration techniques in Long Lake (Mike Gross) laid a nice foundation for exploring other topics.
My graduate adviser, Richard Whitney, had just stepped down from serving as the technical adviser to Judge Boldt on treaty tribal fisheries issues and agreed to mentor me through an MS on life history and ecology of Arctic grayling in a high lake in the Cascades, and then a PhD on the ecological role of hatchery rainbow trout in Lake Washington. At the time, salmon were managed by the Department of Fisheries while trout were managed by the Department of Game. Each department had threatened legal action against the director of the other agency over their dispute about whether hatchery rainbow trout posed a significant predation threat to sockeye salmon in Lake Washington. Dick Whitney’s calm, practiced approach for dealing with controversial issues brought the feuding departments to the table and they agreed to address the issue with a designed study and facts (my dissertation) rather than fake news…how refreshing!
I stuck around UW after my degrees, working halftime as a staff scientist in support of other projects conducted by the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. My office during and after grad school was in what’s now the Aqua Verde Café on Boat Street, and although it was rundown with ceiling plaster spontaneously crashing onto desks occasionally, it was the greatest office arrangement ever! There was storage for field gear in the basement garage/shop, a fenced compound for parking boats and vehicles, a dock for a couple boats, and a boat ramp alongside the building. I’ll always treasure the vibe in that building with the grad students and techs working all hours, punctuated by coffee breaks to talk “science and life” at the Last Exit (on Brooklyn) while we waited for our first-generation PCs to crunch through some analyses. We all took turns babysitting Jon Frodge’s (PhD, 1990) baby daughter while he was in class and his wife was teaching, and Scott Bonar (PhD, 1990; now the Coop Unit Leader at U. Arizona) introduced me to my wife Geetha.
I realized I liked the idea of a faculty job, so after a few years, I took a post-doc position at Utah State University, studying native fish ecology in Lake Tahoe. The post-doc transitioned into a research faculty position and then to assistant unit leader-fish at the Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. We spent the 1990s in Utah, building our careers and starting a family with two daughters. Utah is the second driest state in the union, and this prompted research on many of the large lakes and reservoirs around the west (Tahoe, Yellowstone, Flathead, Bear, Strawberry, etc.). We yearned to return to the northwest, and so we were thrilled when I was selected for the Washington Coop Unit position after a decade in Utah. I tell people that I had to go into exile in the desert for 10 years before I was allowed to come back home to SAFS.
I thoroughly enjoyed the following 17 years on the faculty at SAFS. My position was so appealing because of the emphasis on graduate teaching, mentoring, and research, and the job provided the opportunity to conduct a nice balance of basic and applied research while working with resource managers, researchers, and stakeholders. The opportunity to work with my amazing student, faculty, and staff colleagues has been an incredible experience and one I continue to nurture in my more recent position at the USGS Western Fisheries Research Center.
I’ve been so fortunate to spend most of my adult life in the SAFS community. Being surrounded by passionate, caring, incredibly smart and interesting colleagues at every level has been a tremendous privilege. I have many fond memories of my SAFS experiences and treasure the lasting bonds we’ve formed!