|Lonesome Larry, an Idaho Rivers United volunteer in a salmon costume, cruises on a paddle board at Redfish Lake south of Stanley. Lonesome Larry has been traveling the state to raise awareness of efforts to aid in sockeye salmon recovery.
Photo courtesy of Idaho Rivers United
The most interesting fish in the world just may be the most celebrated fish in the world this weekend when conservation group Idaho Rivers United throws its annual salmon festival with famous sockeye Lonesome Larry at its center.
Lonesome Larry was the only sockeye salmon to return to the Sawtooth Basin 20 years ago. Though sockeye return numbers are higher now, advocates say that the species is still in danger—and Idaho Rivers United is using its annual Sawtooth Salmon Festival to bring attention to Larry and his species’ plight.
“It’s an opportunity to talk about sockeye recovery and salmon recovery in general,” said organization Policy Director Greg Stahl of the festival.
This year, the festival will be held Saturday, Aug. 25, at the Stanley Historical Museum grounds on state Highway 75 near the confluence of Valley Creek and the Salmon River. The festival will feature salmon tours on Redfish Lake Creek at 11 a.m. with an Idaho Department of Fish and Game fisheries technician, and music and educational booths will continue through the day until a wild Alaska salmon feast begins at 6 p.m.
Dinner costs $15 for adults and $10 for children. Reservations can be made by calling 800-574-7481, or just show up, though the event may sell out.
There will be an additional salmon tour at Sunbeam Dam at 10 a.m. Participants are asked to meet at the museum or meet the group at the dam at 10:30 a.m.
An Idaho Rivers United news release states that despite large fires in the region, the forecast is sunny for Stanley on Saturday and the festival should not be impacted by smoke.
“Sometimes people don’t want to
talk to someone in a fish suit.”
Idaho Rivers United
Lonesome Larry, who was stuffed and on display at the MK Nature Center in Boise, will be there, as well as Idaho Rivers United summer intern Annie Morrison, who will be dressed in a Lonesome Larry costume to educate people regarding sockeye recovery.
Morrison has been travelling the state while dressed as Lonesome Larry throughout the summer, going to events from the Schweitzer Huckleberry Festival near Sandpoint to the Weiser Fiddle Festival and farmers markets in Boise and McCall.
“I really feel like it was the best summer job ever,” Morrison said. “Most people laugh and smile, and they ask what I’m doing. You feel kind of like a celebrity.”
Morrison said the costume helps her engage with people who might not know a lot about salmon recovery, or who might be on the other side of the fence when it comes to river conservation and how to bring the wild salmon back to Redfish Lake.
“Most of them, even if they don’t agree with what I have to say, can part with a laugh,” she said, adding that sometimes people just do not want to engage with her.
“It doesn’t turn into anything hostile,” she said. “It’s just … sometimes people don’t want to talk to someone in a fish suit.”
Stahl said Lonesome Larry will continue to travel the state when Morrison returns to College of Idaho for her senior year, but the trips will be downscaled slightly.
In conjunction with the personal visits from Larry, Idaho Rivers United has been promoting the festival with a series of radio ads centered around “The Most Interesting Fish in the World,” inspired by a similar Dos Equis beer advertising campaign.
Stahl said the campaign was launched by board member and copywriter Jessica Holmes to promote the annual festival—and despite the humorous commercials, the issue is very serious.
“This whole thing is about celebrating wild salmon and the heritage of wild salmon, and making sure to honor the fact that the fish are still in trouble and more needs to be done to preserve [them],” he said.