Bob Heirman Hikes On

It was with a heavy heart that I took my boys to a local wetland last Saturday to release coho fingerlings they’d been raising at school.

The weekend before, Robert “Bob” Heirman, a sportsman in the truest sense of the word, one who’d stocked untold numbers of fish into the rivers, lakes and ponds of the county just to our north (and in which I did a lot of growing up and where I’ve done plenty of fishing), had passed away. He was 84.

HEIRMAN WAS SOMEBODY I looked up to, a lifelong angler who took to the cutthroat-bearing “jump over” creeks around his hometown as a young boy in the 1930s and never looked back.

A train engineer by trade, he was the longtime secretary-treasurer of the Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club, and in 1993 published Snohomish: My Beloved County.

The late Bob Heirman’s book cover shows the author leaning on a giant cedar near the South Fork of Canyon Creek, outside Granite Falls, during a 1981 steelheading trip.

As much a paean to the wonderful fishing he enjoyed from tidewater to foothills canyons to lofty tarns way back in the Cascades, it’s also a eulogy for the demise of the habitat needed to support salmon, steelhead and trout.

Gleaning his short stories for ideas on where to fish, you can’t help but get angry about how growth has destroyed so much as the county has rapidly urbanized, and how the runs have fallen, though there are remnants to hold on to tightly.

I remember a call in 2010 from Heirman. He was reacting to a rule change closing streams and beaver ponds – “a horrible loss of angling opportunity,” he’d called it.

He had tough words about the folks at Fish and Wildlife’s regional office, who were zealously trying to protect listed salmonids – and who also eventually backtracked to reopen some of his waters above waterfalls and other barriers where it made sense to.

OUR FISH, WATERS and fisheries need more people like Bob Heirman. The evidence is all around us.

One day last winter, Amy threw the boys and I out for a walk in the rain, and as is my custom, I led us over to a nearby stream to see how it was flowing. Except this time, it stank – a “run away from” creek, a travesty to the small waters so “vital to our salmon and trout production and … so valuable to fish enhancement as to be priceless,” in Heirman’s words.

Bob’s legacy will live on with his club, the ethic that comes through in his book and the county park where he spent a lot of time plunking for steelhead back in the day (and later this summer will provide anglers with access to returning pink salmon) and that bears his name, Heirman Wildlife Preserve at Thomas’ Eddy, land at one time threatened with a subdivision.

It’s funny, but when River and Kiran were letting those little coho go, a bunch of their fish somehow ended up named Bob, Bob Jr. and Bob Jr. Jr. It now seems a fitting tribute. –Andy Walgamott

River and Kiran release coho into a wetland at Grace Cole Natural Area. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

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