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Keith Hyde's Mission: Bring New Faces to Fishing

By Cathryn Cox, Northwest Steelheaders Intern

K eith Hyde joined the Northwest Steelheaders 15 years ago and he is one of our most active and dedicated members to this day. He and his son Donny founded the Columbia River Chapter in 2011, which is the first and only Northwest Steelheaders chapter in Washington state. After stepping down as the Columbia River Chapter President, now chaired by Donny, Keith became the Government Affairs Director. A father of two and retired police sergeant of 35 years, he now works on local policy issues in an effort to provide ample fishing opportunities and protect salmon and steelhead habitat.

Keith works hands-on not only with Steelheaders members and local anglers, but organizations like the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association (NSIA) and the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA). “One of the greatest things we can do, in my opinion, is network and partner up with our fellow groups to make sure that we are united in our beliefs,” Hyde said, “and pushing the political agenda every step of the way to force changes that are good for the fisheries themselves.” He spends much of his time as Government Affairs Director communicating with officials through phone calls, emails and letters, and he appears before legislators to voice the concerns of the angling community.

Currently, he is spearheading an initiative to raise WDFW’s daily kokanee catch limit in Yale Reservoir up to 16 from 10. Garnering 600 signatures from local anglers, this increased catch limit would not only encourage fishing in the area, but help to reduce overpopulation and create a healthier population of fish with larger individuals. He is also advocating for the protection of Washougal’s Three Mile Launch, a small but beloved boat launch that WDFW recently decided to close, and fighting against the recent Columbia River Reform rollbacks. “Myself, NSIA, Steelheaders, and CCA are going to drag WDFW kicking and screaming into our world. It's a long process but we're gonna drag them in. We're gonna drag them into the new world.”

Hyde has been passionate about fishing from a young age, taking after his late father who was an avid fisherman. “Camping and fishing was our family vacation, so that was instilled in me quite young. Then my father passed away. My father was killed by a drunk driver. So we became a single parent family and we were dirt poor,” Hyde recounted. “We didn't have a lot of opportunities after that. But the love of fishing and the love of hunting and the outdoors was already in me.” He continued pensively, “I got hired by the police department when I was 21, and I got to a point in my mid 20s, where I could afford financially to go fishing and hunting again.”

His children were a driving force behind his renewed devotion to fishing. “As you know, patience is part of fishing. And both of my kids were normal kids—patience was tough. If you were to call them the moment you and I hung up and said to either Lacey or Donny, ‘Hey, what's the definition of patience?’ the first thing you would see is a giant enormous eye roll, and they would both go ‘The ability to wait.’—because I drummed that into both of them,” he said with a rich chuckle. “Both of my kids were raised fishing and it just became a passion for me again.”

Hyde’s perspective on life and his passion for fishing changed after a long fight with stage four squamous cell cancer, which is a form of throat cancer. As a survivor, he began to more deeply consider his role in the world and the legacy he wants to leave behind. “I started thinking to myself, like, Why me? With this low survivability rate? I'm no one. I'm no one special. I'm no different than any other person. So why did God choose me to survive? I have no idea. But I felt like there has to be some reason.” He paused for a moment before continuing, “I truly believe now that the reason is to promote the outdoors, to take people fishing, to enhance fisheries to provide opportunities for people to fish down the road. So now that's what I tried to do. That's kind of my deal. And I try to drag as many people along with me as I can.”

Six years after his recovery, a fall fishing trip with The Fallen Outdoors at the rooster rock area on the Columbia River solidified this sentiment for him. Hyde shared the story of Frank’s big fish. Frank was an 85 year old veteran, who showed up for the trip with nothing in his hands—not one piece of gear. “Frank was in very poor medical shape. So one of the younger vets jumps out, runs up, helps bring all of this stuff down, and we get Frank in the boat, give a quick safety orientation and we're gonna head out,” Hyde said. Right before they set off, Frank says, “Hey, you know, my whole objective here is to catch a 25 pound Chinook.’” Hyde halted for a moment as he recalled it and laughed heartily. “You know, I think that was everyone's objective—I'm just hoping we can all catch a fish!”

“So off we go and we're making our very first pass and I’ll be darned if Frank’s rod doesn’t bury. Frank, he couldn't stand up. He had to fight the fish sitting down in my boat. Incredibly, he fights the fish entirely on his own and it's 25.3 pounds!” Back at the launch, Hyde offered to help Frank clean and fillet his fish. “And he's like, ‘No, no, no. I want my whole family to see a fish this big. I want my family to see it. I want my neighbors to see it.’”

A month and a half later, Keith’s phone rang. “I'm, you know, retired from law enforcement. I'm kind of a skeptical guy. I generally don’t answer my phone. But something told me to answer the phone.” On the phone was Frank’s daughter. “And I'm like, ‘Hey, so how is Frank? How was the fish?’ And she goes, ‘Well, the fish was delicious. But my dad passed away...I want you to know, the day he died, he was still talking about the trip with you. And catching the biggest fish of his life, and what an impact it made on him and our family and how blessed we are that, you know, that you took him out, because none of us could have done that.’”

Keith paused and took a breath. “That hit home for me. I mean, even just telling you the story now, it gives me goosebumps.” He said. “That's when I knew that I was doing what I needed to do. I think to myself ‘okay, I'm not a guide. I'm just a guy that likes to fish quite a bit.’ But obviously, there's some power greater than me that made all this, put Frank on my boat and put that fish on Frank's rod.” He added modestly, “I just was kind of the person that allowed it to happen, I guess.”

“By the same token, if there weren't people out there sharing their passion, people like Frank and those in similar situations would never have the opportunity to go fishing.” Hyde said matter of factly. “I think that's why people join. I think there's a lot of people who are looking for help and looking for opportunities and looking for some group or someone to help them enjoy the outdoors.”

Hyde emphasizes the importance of fostering a community, with Frank as a shining example. “If you were born into a family where the outdoors wasn’t an activity that was shared in your family, you could have all the desire in the world—but making it happen can be very intimidating and daunting for a lot of people,” he said. “I think getting people out is very therapeutic, and the more people that we can keep interested in angling and hunting and the outdoors, the more opportunities that gives the people who love it.”

As an Air Force veteran, Hyde seeks to provide these same opportunities to local veterans like Frank. For the past 10 years, Hyde has been a pro-staffer at The Fallen Outdoors, a nonprofit dedicated to facilitating hunting and fishing trips to veterans. The Fallen Outdoors has partnered with the Northwest Steelheaders on several veterans events. Keith has led 17 veteran fishing trips this year alone. “Being able to see the benefit of what this group of people does for veterans, it's mind-blowing.”

Hyde hopes to grow his chapter in 2020, and even potentially start new chapters in Southwest Washington. He advocates for the necessity of bringing new faces into our community to support future generations of angling and healthy fisheries. “We need diversity. We need to bring young people, diverse people, into Northwest Steelheaders that have a love of the outdoors, that want to see fishing continue, that want to see opportunities continue.”

Hyde speaks proudly of his chapter and the work they have done on this front. “I look back on our very first meeting at the Public Hall at the Clark PD building in Vancouver and—holy mackerel!,” he exclaimed. “I can remember looking across the room at a mishmash of people, and thinking, wow, are we going to be able to do this? Is this going to work? I look at our chapter now, and I think our chapter is probably one of the most diverse chapters.”

Hyde continues to channel his passion into giving back to the fishing community. “Don't get me wrong, I love to catch fish myself, but I’ve caught enough fish,” he said. “My enjoyment now comes from taking other people out.” He offers those who are inexperienced or unable to purchase their own equipment the opportunity to get out on the water and form bonds within the community. For Hyde, it’s not just about fish. “Seeing the enjoyment on people's faces when they catch a fish, the camaraderie on the boat… That's the driving thing for me. We're having a good time here, regardless of whether we're catching fish.”

“I think that Northwest Steelheaders has been a fantastic conduit for us to make the world better, our little bit of the world better, for other anglers and for fish. I don't think anything at all that I have done is going to be any monumental stone of any merit, really,” Hyde said emphatically. “But what I do think is that when a number of people in the Steelheaders community work hard to enhance fisheries and to enhance opportunities, it makes the world a better place. And so I want to thank Northwest Steelheaders for that because my life would be less rich and less rewarding without it.”