Being Lonesome Larry: a look behind the fishy facade

Anne Morrison and Joe Pickett.

It's difficult not to be curious about a man in a sockeye salmon suit.

By Annie Morrison, IRU Intern

Mascot suits used to freak me out when I was younger. What I couldn’t have imagined then is that I’d spend a summer traveling the state of Idaho as a person-sized sockeye salmon.

This summer my boyfriend and fellow College of Idaho senior Joe Picket and I were hired by Idaho Rivers United to promote Idaho’s most famous fish: Lonesome Larry, the only sockeye salmon to return to Redfish Lake in 1992, the year after sockeye were listed as an endangered species.

People react to the Lonesome Larry suit in a variety of ways. Teenage girls tend to hug us. Toddlers gaze in starry-eyed awe. Raft guides give us high-fives. A lot of people laugh or smile, and a few roll their eyes and shake their heads. But over and over again, we are asked a simple, obvious question that completely misses the point of promoting awareness about the plight of Idaho’s wild salmon: “Is it hot in that costume?”

Sometimes it takes guts to don the Larry suit, amble up to a group of strangers and strike  a conversation about the steps the region needs to take to recover wild salmon. At first, I was worried people would get angry, but most Idahoans we’ve talked with have been kind, curious and willing to at least consider what we have to say. Even those who outright disagree with Lonesome Larry’s stance on political, biological or economic issues can usually laugh with us and part without hard feelings. A friendly smile goes a long way. To quote IRU board member Tom Stuart, the key is to “grin ‘em down.”

While on the road for a few days, the team stays at campsites. Joe Pickett relaxes by a campfire at Mackay Reservoir.

All things considered, Joe and I both love being the Lonesome Larry team. It is a fun job that allows us to work for a cause for which we have passion, and that is just about the best opportunity two college students can ask for. We’re paid to travel around Idaho together, and we see amazing sights and meet wonderful people. We take turns wearing a truly awesome outfit and taking silly pictures in it. I get to research and write about the places we travel, and I’m learning every day.

It also feels great to be part of an organization that is making a difference. As relative newcomers to the salmon issue, Joe and I know that if our generation sees the removal of the four lower Snake River dams and the recovery of wild salmon runs in Idaho, it will be because organizations like IRU were fighting for those fish when we were still wearing diapers. It will also be because IRU took us and others under the organization’s wing as interns and taught us how to fight for what’s important. IRU’s staff and board members are some of the most intelligent and determined people we have ever met, and Joe and I both feel grateful for the opportunity to learn from them.

Joe and I would love to see restored wild salmon runs in Idaho someday. And when we do, we’ll know we were a small part of what brought them back. We will always be proud to tell people that when we were seniors in college, we wore the Lonesome Larry suit and spread the word about the plight of Idaho’s endangered wild salmon all around Idaho–and had a lot of fun doing it. This may just be the best summer job in the world.

As for the question of whether the Lonesome Larry suit is hot–well, it can be a little warm, but it’s really nowhere near as bad as it looks.

Making friends at the Main Street Mile Mascot Race in downtown Boise.

Joe Pickett and Annie Morrison were hired at Idaho Rivers United for the summer 2012 season to work on a campaign promoting Idaho’s most famous fish, a sockeye salmon dubbed Lonesome Larry–the only sockeye to return to central Idaho in 1992. Their mission was both simple and hopelessly complex: wear a Lonesome Larry costume all over the state and drum up support for salmon by endearing Larry to everyone they met. On all counts, they succeeded beyond expectations.

Both students are going into their senior years at the College of Idaho. Pickett, a math-physics major, is from Midvale, Idaho. Morrison, an environmental studies major and journalism minor, is from Tacoma, Wash. Morrison’s internship was made possible by Caldwell’s Whittenberger Foundation. Picket worked as a part-time summer employee.

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