The first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court was also a passionate angler.
We were saddened to learn this week of the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Justice O’Connor was a trailblazing American figure who ended up as the arbiter in many of the crucial political and cultural debates of the last half century.
But many may not know that she was also an avid fly fisher who supported wild fish conservation. In 2008, Wild Salmon Center CEO Guido Rahr hosted Justice O’Connor on the lower Deschutes River for steelhead fishing. It was a classic overcast Oregon fall day on the river, and as O’Connor waded into the swift water, Rahr was right with her, holding her wading belt.
At that point, the Justice had never hooked a steelhead. If she had a grab, Rahr advised O’Connor to keep her rod down and let the fish turn with the fly. Eventually she felt the gentle pull from a steelhead. But reflexively, she instead pulled her rod up and set the hook with force.
Stronghold author Tucker Malarkey picks up the story here:
For the steelhead, this was like hitting a wall. It couldn’t swim another millimeter downstream against the kind of resistance Justice O’Connor was offering. Nor could it swim down to take shelter at the river’s bottom. The only choice the fish had was to burst into the air and cartwheel across the river in explosions of spray. Justice O’Connor screamed with delight…It took them twenty minutes, and a thrilling fight, to land the steelhead.
After leaving the court, Justice O’Connor served on Wild Salmon Center’s advisory board. In 2010, she helped sponsor a reception with WSC and Alaskan partners in Washington, D.C., as the campaign to stop Pebble Mine was just starting to gain momentum.
“Justice O’Connor loved the stronghold strategy.” Rahr recalls. “She said ‘it makes sense.’ “We were honored that she lent a hand to us in support of conservation. And to her family at this somber time, we extend our condolences.”
The Justice may have grown up on a ranch in Arizona, he notes, but her connection to the natural world spanned many geographies and causes.
“Justice O’Connor loved fishing the trout streams of the West, and she loved swapping fishing stories,” Rahr says. “I am honored to have been her friend.”
“Justice O’Connor loved fishing the trout streams of the West, and she loved swapping fishing stories. I am honored to have been her friend.”WSC President & CEO Guido Rahr