The salmon that come to spawn in local waters have probably considered him one for years, but local conservationist Elmer Rudolph has now been given the title of "Salmon Hero" by his peers.
Rudolph, who is also the Sapperton Fish and Game Club president, was bestowed the title by the Pacific Salmon Foundation and Fraser Basin Council last month after decades of work in restoring the Brunette River to a habitable waterway for salmon.
"It feels good," said the ever-deferential Rudolph, "but as I mentioned when I got it . as far as I'm concerned, all I've been doing is just carrying on the work that the earlier members of the club started way back in 1970."
At the time, the Brunette River was essentially an open sewer full of garbage, Rudolph said.
"Everybody thought they were nuts, including experts from the provincial and federal government. They said, 'forget it, the river's too far gone.' (The members) didn't know it couldn't be done, and they just went ahead and did it."
Rudolph decided to get active in salmonid enhancement after reflecting on his time as an avid fisher in the late '70s and early '80s.
"One day I decided: You know what? Instead of taking all the time, maybe it's time I started putting back here," he said.
Rudolph joined the club in 1984 and made an impact almost immediately. After years of work cleaning the river and releasing salmon fry in hopes they would return, Rudolph was the first club member to spot returning salmon.
"It was a matter of days. Talk about serendipity, talk about good fortune for me," he said. "Members had been working for years - since 1969 - and it just so happened by a fluke that I was walking along the river, probably the very day that they came in, I went to the meeting the next day to say what I'd seen. Everybody jumped up and said, "What? Where?"
Now hooked by the fish he used to hook, Rudolph was committed to the club and its various projects. Among them, starting and operating the Craig Street Hatchery, which enhances struggling Pacific salmon stocks, opposing the use of chloramine in drinking water, building a salmon ladder at the Cariboo Dam and rallying public support for salmonid enhancement.
Rudolph estimates he puts in about 300 hours per year into the river and at the hatchery, working on salmon projects, but he doesn't count the time he spends organizing, coordinating volunteers, dealing with club business or advocating for salmon to various levels of government.
The annual Salmon Hero award comes with a $2,500-grant underwritten by the Rocky Mountaineer passenger rail company, which Rudolph is donating back to the club for future projects.
Rudolph said membership in the club is down and "has a lot of grey hairs" - something he hopes will turn around. He said there is a natural alliance between environmentally conscious young people and clubs like his, and new members are always welcome.