WaterWatch River Defenders: Nick Rowell

Many anglers and WaterWatch auction goers know Nick Rowell as the owner and operator of Anadromous Anglers, a popular fly-fishing guide service specializing in steelhead fishing along Oregon’s North Coast. Nick has generously donated his services to our annual “Celebration of Rivers” for several years now. Nick’s laid-back, expert guiding trips are highly sought after during the auction’s always aggressive bidding.

Nick’s support of WaterWatch goes beyond offering generous insider tips on fishing. He’s always willing to spread the word about our efforts in the Deschutes and elsewhere. For that we are thankful! Recently, we chatted with Nick about his support of WaterWatch but also got his thoughts on his approach to helping water conservation and how he got into guiding.

The interview was edited for clarity and conciseness.


Q:       How did you first get involved with us as a supporter?

A:        It started with my buddy Chris O’Donnell. We’ve worked together on the Deschutes for the past 10 years up until last summer. We’re good friends and we both guide along the North Coast. (WaterWatch Board Member) Lynn Palensky reached out to us one day and asked if we could help with the WaterWatch auction. I knew about WaterWatch from Paul Franklin. Of course, Chris and I wanted to help. Our support first started out with us offering our services for one day on the Coast then it branched into two. And so on. It grew from there. We’re both passionate about conservation, helping native fish and keeping water in the rivers. WaterWatch does all of that. Our helping was a no-brainer.

Q:       Are there particular policy issues that we champion that really grab you?

A:        I would say the fact that you fight, overall, for keeping water in rivers. Obviously, I love anadromous fish and steelhead—a huge component of their livelihood is water and access to habitat. And your core mission is about protecting that.

Q:       As someone whose livelihood depends on water, how would you characterize your involvement with the conservation movement.

A:        It’s a big part of my life. The fact that I spend time with people who may not know how important these things are is crucial, too. To them, what’s important is to catch a fish, to go steelhead fishing. To me, what’s important is the fact that the fish are there. If I ever have kids, I want to be able to walk them up to a small coastal river and show them spawning salmon and steelhead. That’s what I grew up with. I can’t imagine living here in Oregon and not having that. They’re worth way more than being on the end of your line.

Q:       WaterWatch is 35 years old. But there’s still a lifetime of work for us left to do. As a supporter, what would you like to see us do next?

A:        You know, that’s a tough one. There are so many complex hoops in the world of conservation and in the work you do. On stuff going on in the Deschutes, I support the Native Fish Society, Deschutes River Alliance and WaterWatch. But I know that all organizations can’t always be on the same page on things. I know there are a lot of different perspectives. Everyone is passionate about things. I’m not privy to things behind the scenes. But, you know, ideally, it would be great to see more collaboration between everyone to achieve a common goal. I know that’s a hard thing to do. When you are going up against the state or a big powerful company one group is good, but three or four working together would be more powerful. Again, I don’t know if that’s doable and I may have missed or overlooked past collaborations. But as a principle, if we can get more people to work together, that’d be great.

Q:       You went to Oregon State University, and then after that you started your own business. Tell us about that.

A:        I started my business in 2012. I graduated from college in 2008 and worked for my buddy Chris for a few years and went up to Alaska for a few summers. All those things got me into the guiding business. Chris asked me to help him out in the Deschutes—that was the summer of 2008. I bought a drift boat and started working on the Deschutes. Slowly, I built up a clientele from knowing people. It took five years of being poor in the winter, but it was worth it.

Q:        You’ve spent your entire life close to nature—water particularly. As a conservationist, what have you noticed in terms of water and conservation as the years have passed? Have things gotten better or worse?

A:        It’s gotten better in some ways, worse in others. I grew up fishing the Siletz. Caught a lot of trout there. Logging practices have gotten a little better as far as buffer zones. That’s a huge one. There’s a lot less of that fine sediment in the river now, which is huge for spawning. I remember when I was younger, always seeing the buffer zones getting blown down since the Siletz is super windy. So, they would leave these super thin buffer zones and they would get knocked down. The sun would beat the river down all summer. But I went back there last spring. The river was in a better shape and there was a bigger buffer zone. I think ocean conditions and the fact that there are more people interested in fishing, particularly steelhead, that’s a good thing. Overall abundance of fish has probably gone down because of habitat loss and climate change and a lot more people fishing.

Q:       Thinking about those changes, big and small, must make you and others appreciate what we do.

A:        Well, just going to the auction every year, I know there are more people going there, more people who understand that what you do is important. A big thing for me when I was going to school was, I noticed the amount of politics in fisheries management. Things that weren’t good for the fish or their habitat—maybe certain things that are important weren’t taken into full consideration because they didn’t check a financial box. That disappointed me and pushed me towards guiding. I talked to my advisor about it and thought I can do better and influence people who have more power and sway in the “real” world. If I can help educate those people, make them care, and make them want to give back, that could be my contribution.

As a guide, we tend to take out people who are more wealthy, influential, than us, than a lot of people. I’ve taken U.S. Senators out on trips. So, if I can get to people like them and make an impact on them and have them move forward in a way I couldn’t by collecting data for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, I’m helping out. I’m also helping by contributing to organizations like WaterWatch, trying to get people involved. That’s how I try to give back to conservation organizations even though I can’t give a lot of money.