Home Rivers Initiative

Connor Parrish lands his dream job on the Gallatin

Simms funds position for conservation work on the company’s home river

Most people would not consider counting rotting chinook salmon carcasses as the basis for starting a romantic relationship, but Connor Parrish was even more interested when he realized the woman working on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife survey crew with him already understood the sometimes stinky reality of a career involving fish.

Now, a decade later, Parrish and Ashton Bunce have worked together, overlapped graduate school studies and, yes, tied the fishing knot in 2017 when they got married. Wedding pictures include bride and groom fishing together in their nuptial finery. 

Connor Parrish and Ashton Bunce worked together on a chinook salmon carcass survey on the Columbia River. They ended up getting married. Courtesy Connor Parrish.

The challenge in marriage was finding a place they could both pursue their careers and still be in the same area code.

Bunce eventually secured a job with Montana Freshwater Partners — a non-profit conservation organization based out of Livingston, Mont. — working to enhance and preserve Montana’s rivers, streams and wetlands, and started in early May. 

Parrish started looking for a new job after his wife accepted her new role to keep the couple living in the same home and was thrilled to see Trout Unlimited, with funding provided by Simms Fishing Products, created a new position — the Gallatin Home Rivers Initiative project manager.

Connor Parrish fishing with his grandpa on Eagle Creek in Oregon. Memories of those fishing trips set him on a course to become a fisheries biologist. Courtesy of Connor Parrish

Parrish applied for the job. His first day at Trout Unlimited was May 17. 

“I have been a Trout Unlimited member since I was a kid and working for TU is a dream come true,” Parrish said. “I have a lifelong passion for trout, which I believe is shown through my previous work and outreach effort. It is pretty amazing how Simms has stepped up and is providing the funding for this position. A lot of corporations dependent on outdoor ecosystems and fisheries haven’t given back to those resources and it’s powerful to see one that is, especially to this level. Trout Unlimited, and I personally, are thankful for the support Simms is providing for us to do important work on the Gallatin River.”

Last week Simms, in addition to providing a quarter of a million dollars to fund the program, held a welcome party for Parrish at their headquarters in Bozeman to introduce him to the groups already working on the Gallatin, local fly fishing groups and local media. People in attendance also had the opportunity to get a taste of the Reel Good beer produced by 10 Barrel Brewing to serve as a fund-raiser for the Gallatin Home Rivers Initiative. 

Casey Sheehan, CEO of Simms Fishing Products, talks about the Gallatin Home River Initiative before introducing Connor Parrish to attendees at a welcome party at the Simms headquarters in Bozeman, Montana. Courtesy Simms.

“From the candidate interview process to the last few weeks of getting to know Connor, I am confident that his background, experience, and passion provide the right combination to lead the charge for the TU/SIMMS Gallatin Home River Initiative,” said Diane Bristol, Senior Director, Employee and Community Engagement. “We are also looking forward to the collaboration that Connor will facilitate across the many fantastic organizations that have been working to protect and enhance the Gallatin River.”

Trout Unlimited is excited to add Parrish to the long list of people working on the Gallatin watershed, but he is not the first representative from TU to engage on the iconic Montana river.

“TU and our partners in the Gallatin have been active restoring streams and habitat in the Gallatin for over a decade. With Connor in place leading the Gallatin HRI, we’ll leverage our successes and accelerate our pace as we build resiliency into our fisheries and watershed,” said Patrick Byorth, Montana director for Trout Unlimited’s national Western Water and Habitat Program. “With the fast pace of development and changes in water supply, the Gallatin HRI comes at a critical time. We have a great team of partners, with the Gallatin Watershed Council focusing on water quality in the Gallatin Valley, the Gallatin Task Force up at Big Sky and Gallatin Canyon, the Four Corners Foundation assembling water data, and the grassroots support of TU’s Madison-Gallatin Chapter and a variety of diverse conservation partners, TU has a great team to work with.”

Connor Parrish leading an electroshocking team during a previous job with Terraqua Inc. Courtesy Connor Parrish.

Parrish is excited to get to work on the Gallatin and expects he will get a lot of support from the local Trout Unlimited chapter based out of Bozeman. He will initially focus on projects Trout Unlimited and our partners previously identified and then work to discover new restoration work to benefit the river. He feels the communities close to the Gallatin live where they do for a reason and he hopes more residents will engage in efforts to protect, reconnect and restore the river they cherish.

“There a lot of people moving here and it seems like the majority of them are doing so for the outdoor experience,” Parrish said. “That presents a unique opportunity to help them understand we can make the Gallatin as great as it can be if we all recognize the impact our recreation can have on the system.”

Parrish plans to utilize many of the tools learned from his education and professional conservation experience in the coming years. Everything from snorkeling in the winter at night counting steelhead and salmon, to collecting eDNA on bull trout and working to find collaborative efforts to balance water use for fish and agricultural needs.

He hasn’t figured out a way to incorporate snorkeling surveys on the Gallatin River just yet, but he is working on it.

“For us, conservation is a daily topic of conversation. It’s of utmost importance for our brand, and with the rapid influx of anglers we all saw and experienced in 2020, actionable conservation efforts are more important than ever. It was about this time last year that we agreed that we need to do more, in a more collaborative way,” Bristol said.

Ashton Bunch and Connor Parrish enjoy the outdoors both professionally and on their own time. Courtesy Connor Parrish

“We wanted to identify an initiative that could yield significant positive impacts. As we brainstormed ideas, we liked carrying the theme of staying close to home forward, which is why the TU Home Rivers Initiative was such a perfect organization and initiative to concentrate our efforts.”

Brett Prettyman is the communications director for Trout Unlimited’s Western Water and Habitat Program.