The Wild Steelhead Coalition “Conservation Award” is presented to an individual or group that, through their actions and/or accomplishments, have made significant and noteworthy contributions to the protection and propagation of wild steelhead.
It was the unanimous decision of the WSC Board of Directors to honor Frank Amato with our third Conservation Award. Our first two honorees were Bill Redman, chair of the FFF Steelhead Committee and Bill Bakke, head of the Native Fish Society.
Frank Amato saw his first steelhead when he was 9 years old when his father brought one home, and caught his first steelhead at the age of 12 in 1954. After that, he became excited about fishing and seeking out steelhead, which has continued throughout his life.
Frank earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Portland and a master’s degree in history from the same institution. He taught two years at Central Catholic High School in Portland. Frank has been married to his wife Gayle for 44 years and they have three adult children – Nick, Tony, and Ann.
Frank was an avid reader while in high school and in 1956 as a high school freshman, read Roderick Haig Brown’s Return to the River. He remembered that the book “left a strong imprint on me” and by the time he was an undergraduate in college, he decided he wanted to start a fishing magazine since he had become “an addicted Deschutes River, Dry Creek area fly fisherman.” By his sophomore year, Frank said: “I was looking for information about steelhead fly fishing which had begun to possess my soul.” Soon thereafter, he read two more Haig-Brown books, The Western Angler and A River Never Sleeps.
Frank knew then that Haig-Brown was a man “who could teach and inspire me… He knew when to kill or release a steelhead. He conveyed a caring spirit toward the fish and the full river environment. He often fished in wilderness settings for summer and winter steelhead.” Accordingly, Frank remembered that at that point in time, “it became my goal to do the same and also to preserve that type of wilderness and that type of fish.” In 1967, Frank Amato began to publish and edit Salmon Trout Steelheader magazine in Portland, Oregon.
It did not take Frank long to get involved in conservation efforts to protect habitat and fish. In the early 1970’s, he was a member of the National Board of Directors of Trout Unlimited, was an active participant in the Association of Northwest Steelheaders, and was very instrumental in the first wild trout release restrictions on the Deschutes River. In an STS editorial in 1979 titled “Love That Deschutes!” Frank said: “Wild trout and steelhead in the Deschutes River can jump for joy…. No longer will hatchery trout be planted. Anglers will only be allowed to use artificial lures and flies for both resident wild trout and summer steelhead…. Wild steelhead must be released, only healed, fin clipped hatchery steelhead can be kept.” In the early 1980’s, Frank initiated a $2 ½ million dollar public purchase of the lower 12 miles of the Deschutes by personally informing the governor of the dangers to pubic fishing if this prime land fell into private hands. Shortly thereafter, Frank was responsible for instituting the Deschutes River Boaters Pass program which has raised nearly $10 million dollars to purchase more public land and to help manage the river.
Next on Frank’s agenda was to begin publishing fishing books and to start a magazine devoted solely to fly fishing. Frank Amato Publishing’s first book appeared in 1970 and Flyfishing the West (now Fly Fishing & Tying Journal) began in 1978. Then, the 1990’s, the Steelhead River Journal series began as did Steelhead Fly Fishing Journal. Since those early years, Frank Amato Publications has published over 500 fishing books and videos, more than any other publisher in the history of the sport. And, probably not to anyone’s surprise, his 2007 catalogue of book titles [hold up copy], includes 25 books and videos dealing with steelhead.
Since the early 1980’s, Frank Amato and his publications have urged anglers to release all wild steelhead. For example, in an STS editorial that Frank wrote in 1981, he told his readers of catching the largest steelhead of his life in Oregon’s Clackamas River, but “the thought of keeping it only to hit it with my fish club and have 20 plus pounds of wild, dead meat on my hands repulsed me.” Frank quickly released the fish and further informed readers that it was his “opinion that we are over-harvesting wild, winter steelhead, and that we have been doing so for too many years.” He concluded his editorial by noting: “It is the health of the wild fish which demonstrates our willingness to sacrifice for our sport. It is the wild fish we have forgotten.”
Similarly, in a 1989 editorial, Frank informed his readership that: “We can have much better steelheading by limiting our kill.” He went on to explain that “to really improve things will require that all fish departments mark hatchery fish with an adipose clip and reduce daily and season bag limits and require all wild steelhead be released.” And, in an article in the same issue of STS that he authored himself on wild vs. hatchery steelhead, Frank explained that “each wild steelhead is a work of art worth preserving, and in these days of intense fishing pressure we are only killing our sport by killing wild steelhead.” More recently and more bluntly, Frank told the readers of STS that “in this day and age, any angler who kills a wild steelhead is a fool.”
In conclusion, it is the belief of the Wild Steelhead Coalition that Frank Amato himself, as well as his numerous publications, have been on the forefront in taking strong conservation stands regarding the importance and significance of wild steelhead and have been a leading popular voice calling for their protection. Therefore, the WSC is extremely proud to present our Conservation Award for 2007 to Frank Amato with great appreciation for all he has done for the survival of wild steelhead.