Frank Armendariz’s Q&A interview with legendary Oregon outdoors writer Bill Monroe.

Bill Monroe

Q: Thank you for your time today, Bill. May I ask you where you were born?

A: I was born in Portland, Oregon, while my dad was going to dental school. After graduation he started a practice in Tacoma, Washington, I was very young but WWII broke out and he joined the Navy. After that we were all over the map … Bremerton, two years in Astoria, then Hawaii, Bethesda, Maryland, then three duty stations in San Diego, where I graduated from high school.

Q: Can you tell me a little about your boyhood and what it was like growing up?

A: I don’t remember living in Bremerton back when dad joined the Navy. But I remember Astoria was fun for me and recall my mom catching a 45-pound chinook that was nearly as long as she was tall. I lived in Maryland was OK but San Diego was where I formed so many friendships … we lived in three different houses here. I had a strong background in the church (Congregational) and sang (baritone) in the choir, then later in my high school chamber singers. I sang in college too in a touring chamber group that visited venues around the southwest. I also lettered in golf … it used to fry my kids when I wore my golf letterman’s jacket to football games.

Q: What are your earliest memories of fishing?

A: Astoria is what I remember first … dad took me fishing one day and I caught a yellow perch. Brought it home to show mom’s bridge club. We did some trout fishing in Maryland, but San Diego was where dad really got us involved in fishing. We spent summers in the High Sierras, fishing for trout out of Bridgeport. Also brook trout in a hike-in lake (was my first near-death experience, sliding down a granite rock). Corvina in the Salton Sea, too …

Q: I know you were in the service was that before or after you were in college?

A: I flunked out of college in my first attempt in my sophomore year and was going to register at a community college to help bring my grades back up. That was in 1964, Vietnam was just warming up and instead I started to join the Marines. But a friend, also a marine lieutenant, said “don’t do that!” So I joined the Navy instead. My IQ military tests were high enough I became a sonar technician out of the sonar school in San Diego. I then attended a three-month special school in Key West, Fla., to become a computer technician for the Anti-Submarine Rocket system. Then the Navy assigned me to a destroyer out of Yokosuka, Japan. Where I spent the next three and a half years in and out of the Vietnam war zone. We weathered 12 typhoons while I was aboard…have movies to prove it! Shore fire, carrier cover, Gemini recovery team, etc. We were alongside the USS Forrestal in 1967 when she blew up (John McCain was one of the surviving pilots). In early 1969 I transferred to Navy Air and became a radar operator on a patrol plane (P3B) in patrol squadron one out of Whidbey Island. Loved it. My grandparents lived in Port Townsend, only a ferry ride away and weekends on the farm or in town were a reward. However temporary it was a great memory but lasted less than a year. I got sent back out to sea on a ship and was then deployed to Iwakuni, Japan, and Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. I finally separated from the service in 1971 (I figured they weren’t going to simply hand me a commission without a college degree) and went to Oregon State University in hopes of filling that requirement and later return to the Navy. I thought I wanted to be a fish biologist, but balked at taking organic chemistry and switched to journalism. I graduated in 1974, never went back to the Navy but went to work at the Corvallis Gazette Times.

Q: I accidentally became a fishing and outdoors writer. I just happened to be at a sports show when a guy walked up. How did you start your career?

A: I never thought about it at all, but English was always a strong suit and I took some writing classes in Port Townsend one summer that I spent with my grandmother. When I balked at organic chem, I figured what the heck … I wanted a degree, but had surrendered a dream to command a destroyer and figured what the heck, why not journalism? Got lucky and landed a part-time job at the Gazette Times (a much better paper back then) as a police reporter, a year before graduating from OSU. Then turned it into a full-time job for eight years. Covered all the beats except education but wrote about cops, courts, county and city governments, etc. I also learned how to take photos and process film and did an outdoor column on the side for the Gazette.

Q: How did you come to work for the Oregonian, Bill?

A: Don Holm retired in 1981, a friend who worked at the Oregonian was offered the job of outdoor writer, but he only fished and then Tom McAllister turned down the job to stay at the old Portland Journal, which is now out of business. They contacted me because they wanted someone who also hunted. I had a good portfolio of photos and outdoor stories and landed what turned out to be one of the nation’s dream jobs. I’ve been very blessed. I joined both Northwest Outdoor Writers Association and the Outdoor Writers Association of America and am a past president of both. It’s been a fortunate career and rewarding … even the typhoons, survival school (requirement for flying out of Vietnam), remote assignments far from my wife and three children, etc.

Q: Would you have any advice for a young person who aspires to becoming an outdoor journalist?

A: Journalism is changing so fast…ground yourself in high tech/cyber/social media and, especially, figure out how to keep up. The essentials of journalism are still in place – what, where, why, when, who and sometimes how. The essentials are now in trying to adhere to those and communicate them to the audience … AND never, ever, be afraid to confront authority. Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable still apply. Question authority and be ethical.

Q: Can you tell me about some of your disappointments, maybe how  you worked past it?

A: To start, find the right partner. My job is a road nightmare for a marriage, but my wife, Glenda, raised the kids, held her own job and tolerated my passions … Can’t say enough for that kind of love and devotion. Admittedly, I missed out on some things but rewards far outweigh disappointments. In fact it smothers them. A late friend once told me if I’m disappointed, I probably deserve it. I try not to dwell on disappointments. That said, I do get discouraged that readers often don’t get past the headline or first few graphs before moving on without learning details or investigating further … In that vein, is the discouraging turn of society toward sound bites AND the increasing dependence on social media … the dumbing down of us all …

Q: Let me ask about the “rewards” …

A: You won’t have room for my rewards … so many … I’ve led a charmed life; learned so much in the military, then was very fortunate to have extraordinary mentors in journalism and stumbled into a dream job … not to mention my family and wife … Travel was fun … covering geese and the Exxon Valdez in Alaska to striped marlin in Cabo and, of course, all over Oregon. I must also quietly admit to enjoying setting the bar high for The Oregonian’s outdoor coverage. I’ve tried to be both objective and, when necessary, critical of wrongdoing. Credit my upbringing with stable moral values. I loved writing a birding column for our Homes and Gardens for several years as much as I did writing about hunting and fishing. When that column first came out, my first telephone call the next morning was from a reader: “I thought you just killed things!” Bringing to readers the realization that the vast majority of us in the outdoors are in it for more than killing has been among the greatest rewards. Anthropomorphism (assigning human qualities to critters) is detrimental to the environment. Mother Nature has a way that humans must embrace rather than try to change. 

Q: What species of fish is your favorite (I think I know the answer), and why?

A: Which of my children do I love best? I only half-jokingly often say I’ve never met a fish I didn’t like … In your neck of the woods, I once drove from Corvallis to Horse Creek, crossed a bridge and drove up a very rough, moss-covered jeep trail alongside the creek until I couldn’t go farther, then hiked another few hundred yards to a great looking hole beneath some brush on the opposite bank … Caught a large (16-18 inches) redside and sat down to reflect on the day and the surroundings … That fish was just as memorable as a mahi mahi off Kauai, silvers and sockeye in Alaska (in front of two brown bears) tuna in Ilwaco or my grandson’s 30-pound first spring chinook. I love to fish the saltwater. I relish the chance to fish for springers. I love fly fishing the Deschutes. I’ll never forget Umpqua smallmouth bass with Denny Hannah. Sheesh … Which one? That’s the toughest question of all …

That was the answer I was expecting from Mr. Monroe! I thank him for the chat.

You can contact Frank Armendariz at [email protected].



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