Everyone on the river calls it “Lee’s pool,” and that alone might be proof one person can make a difference.
Decades ago, it was Dynamite Hole. Poachers would set off explosives and kill steelhead by the dozens, fish that had made it upriver from the ocean — past sea lions, fishermen and a dam — but hadn’t yet reached their spawning grounds.
That was before Lee Spencer settled in almost 20 years ago to watch over the trout. First with Sis, a cattle dog he still mourns, and later with Maggie.
Back when Spencer was one of the revolving cast of North Umpqua Foundation volunteers who took turns guarding the pool, he would arrive for his three-day shift at lavender-charcoal dusk and fall asleep looking at the Milky Way.
In 1998, the foundation decided it would take one person staying from May to December to protect the fish. They offered Spencer the job. The per diem was small, but he had money left from a summer’s anthropology consulting work for a Native American tribe.
He moved into a 25-foot Airstream trailer parked beneath a “pistol grip” fir that grew sideways from the bank before righting itself vertically. He built a viewing area for visitors around its huge, crooked roots. He rigged an outdoor shower, and says that a bucket of hot water when it is 20 degrees out is true luxury.
The Conservation Angler is grateful for Lee Spencer’s tireless efforts on behalf of wild steelhead, and thanks the North Umpqua Foundation and The Steamboaters for their unflagging support of the Fish Watch program and Lee’s important work.