Longtime columnist Roskelley writes his last outdoors report
Father of John. Grandfather of Jess.
That’s how Fenton Roskelley has been identified in recent days when quoted by media about the younger men’s conquest of Mount Everest.
But by the time the two mountaineers returned to Spokane on Thursday night, the family patriarch had reached a summit of his own.
On Thursday at 6 a.m., the venerable journalist filed his last outdoors column for The Spokesman-Review. It appears in today’s sports section, ending a career that started in 1940.
“It was the day after I graduated from the University of Idaho that I went to work for The (Spokane Daily) Chronicle at 18 bucks a week,” said Roskelley, 86.
Initially a general assignment reporter, the Idaho native convinced Chronicle editors in 1958 that they needed someone to cover hunting and fishing. To some readers, that gave the evening newspaper an edge over the competing Spokesman-Review, which lacked a full-time outdoors writer until it hired Rich Landers in 1977.
“When I was growing up, I always made sure my family took the Chronicle because … I was more interested in hunting and fishing than I was in football,” said Gene Lorenson, past-president of Inland Empire Fly Fishing Club, for whom Roskelley was a childhood hero.
Long owned by the same family, the Chronicle and The Spokesman-Review merged their staffs in 1983. The Chronicle ceased publication nine years later.
Roskelley officially retired in 1982, but has since written more than 2,000 columns - two a week. That includes a hunting and fishing report that appeared each Friday and a midweek column about anything he wished.
If the fish weren’t biting, readers would learn about the eagles and deer Roskelley saw at Lake Roosevelt. If the hunting was lousy, he wrote about the joy of being in a duck blind, watching the sunrise and hearing the birds.
He wrote about helping Jess Roskelley with homework while driving to a pheasant hunt in 1997. He wrote about teaching his granddaughters to tie flies. He wrote about the death of Sirdir, his Labrador retriever.
“I can’t recall him ever letting me down,” Roskelley told readers.
Paid to give his opinion, Roskelley chastised game hogs and sportsmen who turn a blind eye to violators. He puzzled over the trend of using “harvest” as a euphemism for “kill,” showed little patience for animal-rights activists and was threatened for criticizing the politics of the National Rifle Association.
More often, though, Roskelley’s critics fumed that he told the world about their favorite spots for hunting and fishing.
“I don’t write about places that can’t stand the pressure,” Roskelley said. “I’ll say pheasant hunting is good along the Snake River breaks, but I’ll never pinpoint a specific canyon.”
Roskelley was introduced to fishing and hunting by his dentist father.
Dr. Richard Roskelley moved the family to Salt Lake City and then to Chicago, looking for prosperity during the Depression. But he missed Idaho’s trout streams, and returned to Challis in 1933.
“I was the only one of five kids who really took to fishing,” Roskelley said.
A designated wilderness today, the country surrounding the Salmon River was wild indeed when Roskelley explored it as a teen. Working as a packer at age 17, he learned to braid a fishing line from the tail hairs of a white horse.
He expected to become an artist, but soon realized that his UI classmates showed more talent. So Roskelley turned to journalism, recalling that a high-school teacher had complimented his writing.
His career was just starting when he was drafted to fight in Europe.
“I wonder if I ever told you that I was married on the 23rd of March to a girl from Yorkshire, England,” Master Sgt. Roskelley wrote in a 1945 letter to his Chronicle friends. “Her name was Violet May Shipman before I changed it.”
They have three grown children and six grandchildren.
Early in his career, Roskelley was a news reporter. He reported from Walla Walla in 1953 that state penitentiary officials were denying rumors of unrest among inmates, then went back the next day to cover a prison riot.
Although giving up his column, Roskelley said he’s not done fishing.
He’d like to cast for bonefish in South America and he’d like to return to Alaska, where he’s enjoyed 20-salmon days. But he’ll still pursue hatchery trout in Spokane-area lakes and steelhead in Washington’s Grande Ronde River.
For the record, his favorite Inland Northwest water is Idaho’s St. Joe River.
“It’s a beautiful river, the scenery is great,” he acknowledged, before getting to the heart of the matter. “I don’t know how you can beat it for cutthroat.”