Fisherman 5- Tom Derry

Tom Derry is the executive director of the Native Fish Society and has dedicated his life to the conservation of anadromous fish on the westcoast. When not fishing he can be found somewhere in the Skeena drainage his home away from home. He lives in Molalla, Oregon with his wife Connie.


Question 1: What’s you earliest fishing memory? Tell me the story!

That’s a tough one. As a kid I was fortunate to be able to fish with my grandpa almost every day in the summer and on the weekends my dad would join us.

My earliest fishing memory was in 1955. My dad, grandpa and I were fishing the Molalla River in May and my grandpa landed a huge winter steelhead. That fish left a lasting impression on me to this day and helped to root a deep love and respect for nature and all it’s beauty.

2. What did you do before your involvement in the Native Fish Society? I picture you 25 hanging from Sitka Spruce while the bulldozers inch closer. I’m prepared to be very wrong though…

We have always been involved in conservation. As our late friend Bruce Hill said “activism is the rent you pay for living on the planet” everyone needs to be an advocate.

I grew up in Portland, Oregon when it was still a small town, it seemed like paradise. We lived a Huck Finn existence and were allowed to run free without worry. Fishing, berry picking, baseball and all kinds of other things kept us outdoors all day.

I have off and on been involved in the restaurant business most of my life. During several intermissions from the restaurant business I was a caretaker on a Wyoming cattle ranch and a horse packer in the Wallowa Mountains in NE Oregon. When I was in the Wallowas I was involved in protecting Hells Canyon as a National Recreation Area. There were plans for 16 dams in the canyon.

Our last restaurant was on the Metolius River in Central Oregon. It was a privilege to have a restaurant in such a beautiful place. Many of our customers were fishermen and would come talk fishing while they were waiting for their table. As a business we were involved in ending the hatchery programs on the Metolius and the river is now a world class fishery.

3. I know you and your wife Connie live Molalla, Oregon and I feel like it’s shaped a lot of your environmental doctrine. Tell me how you ended up there and what’s special about it.

We ended up here because Connie wanted to grow tomatoes. There is nothing special about the town of Molalla, but the Molalla River is an absolute treasure. It’s less than an hour from Portland, is undammed and has amazing wild winter steelhead. The agencies have not been involved in “managing” the river since the hatchery programs went away. This has been a blessing! We have created wild steelhead sanctuary water, eliminated the use of bait, stopped gravel mines in the floodplain and have secured State and Federal Wild and Scenic status for the river among many other accomplishments.

Two important milestones in Tom’s life were the discovery of spey rods and cheezies. Combining the two brings new meaning to the concept of happiness.

4. What’s next for the NFS? What are you working on that’s important and where would you like to go in the future?

We now have 90 river stewards and 6 full time staff members who support the NFS river steward program. When I think of what our stewards have been able to accomplish on the Molalla it’s astonishing and if you multiply that by 90 it’s an impressive result –  a true grassroots movement. Most of our river stewards live and work in the watersheds they represent, connection to place makes them the best wild fish advocates on the planet!

What’s next? Dam removal on the Klamath and Eel Rivers, shutting down deadbeat hatcheries, addressing steep slope logging, eliminating by-catch of non target species on the Columbia and Skeena Rivers and the list goes on and on.

I’m very proud of our team at NFS and the work we are doing.

5. Okay personal question. When you picture yourself on a river where are you? Why is it so special?

The Babine! I have fished the river for many years and it has a mysterious element which I really like, you never know what’s going to happen next. The pools are perfect and the fish are exceptional, also some are the biggest in the world!

What’s better than that?

Bonus question: Who’s fisherman 5 would you like to see????

My Fisherman’s 5 candidate: Dr. Cliff Watts


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