The Story of Lonesome Larry
The Sockeye salmon is more than your average fish. After hatching in Idaho’s Red Fish Lake, the Sockeyes make a treacherous 900-mile journey downriver from their freshwater home to the salty Pacific Ocean in the west. Not only do they have to find food and avoid predators, they also need to go through a transformation called smoltification so they can survive in a saltwater environment. And this is only half of the story.
After a few years at sea, Sockeyes return to Red Fish Lake, going through the same physiological changes again in reverse as they ascend the Columbia and Snake Rivers. This last great journey sees the salmon fighting their way through eight dams and climbing 6,500 vertical feet back to Red Fish Lake. Residents of Idaho used to see an abundance of these incredible fish leaping through the water on their way upstream every fall, but that abundance is gone.
It’s so far gone, in fact, that in 1992 only one Sockeye salmon returned from the pacific ocean: Lonesome Larry. In 2019, almost 30 years later, you would think that we’ve had enough time to fix the problem, but the population of salmon in the Pacific Northwest is still in jeopardy.
There is still hope for the future, however. Lonesome Larry’s solo trip upriver was not made in vain. Thanks to him, the community finally took notice of the plight of the Sockeye salmon, and his story is still inspiring people to get involved in the conservation initiative today, proving that the efforts of one small fish can make a big difference.
One such organization is the Lonesome Larry Project. There may be several different organizations and foundations contributing to the conservation effort, but the Lonesome Larry Project is definitely unique.
Selling Socks for Sockeye Salmon
This is Topher. He’s 11 years old, loves fishing and the great outdoors, and the coins in his hands feature an image of the one and only Lonesome Larry. He and his family live in Boise, Idaho, one of several Western states that have experienced a huge decline in the salmon population over the past century. After hearing the story of the real-life Lonesome Larry, Topher decided he wanted to get involved.
“Last summer, when my family was camping in the town of Stanley, we went to the fish hatchery and saw in the records that in 1992, only one Sockeye salmon made it back from the ocean, and people named him Lonesome Larry,” said Topher. This first encounter is what inspired him to start a charity of his own.
Just like that, the Lonesome Larry Project was born. At just 11 years old, Topher is working hard so he can make a difference. So far, his favorite part of the experience has been simply getting started. “I was really excited to start saving the fish,” he said. When asked about his hopes for the future, Topher said, "My long term goal in the Lonesome Larry Project is that fish population is healthy and fish no longer need our support.”
To get there, Topher is raising money by selling Lonesome Larry Project merchandise like these Lonesome Larry socks. The Sockeye socks are available in red and blue, and they feature an image of Lonesome Larry along the side. You can grab your own pair on their new website, and all proceeds will be put towards helping the salmon.
Here at Signature Coins, we were honored to help create the custom coins and bottle openers featuring the Lonesome Larry Project’s logo. Our artists used translucent colors to give the logo a special shimmer that creates a unique, watery effect.
Topher’s father, Gordon Jones, explained that the two of them have been discussing how best to use the challenge coins for fundraising, getting the word out on the organization, and also showing gratitude for the people helping them along the way. “We think that many elected officials in Idaho and across the West care about the environment, and what better way to show it than wearing these socks or using the bottle opener? I can see the challenge coins as a thank you memento for our elected officials and supporters to display or pass along in order to increase support for salmon research and conservation,” said Jones.
All proceeds from selling the socks, coins and bottle openers are donated to the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation which has set up a special "Lonesome Larry Fund" that will go specifically to funding salmon research and conservation projects. Topher is hoping that by continuing to share the story of Lonesome Larry and by selling his Sockeye socks and challenge coins, he will be able to inspire more people to get involved and ultimately help save the Sockeye salmon.
What Comes Next For Topher and The Lonesome Larry Project?
Topher’s father has been helping him get the project up and running since the very beginning. When asked about how he reacted to Topher’s idea of starting the Lonesome Larry Project, he explained how he felt very positive about the idea. “Kids are 100% of our future, so if they want to take one chance to contribute to the future, I think that’s a great thing,” said Jones.
For Topher, the Lonesome Larry Project will be an ongoing endeavor, not just for him, but for his friends and family as well.
“I want to inspire more people to help save more endangered species, and I feel like other kids might also get inspired with their own ideas and start a business that supports a cause. Although it does take a lot of time to do it, and a lot of work."
However, after all of his efforts, Topher knows that it’s all worth it. It’s not every day that you see an 11-year-old tackling something as big as saving a species, but just as the real-life Lonesome Larry proved, one small fish can make a big difference.
If you want to learn more about Topher and his family, the history of the Sockeye salmon, or if you want to get involved, check out their new Lonesome Larry Project website. You can show your support by picking up a custom challenge coin, a bottle opener, or even a pair of Sockeye socks!