The politics of fish and pine trees

George H.W. Bush prepares for a fishing trip on the Rogue River in 1988.Mail Tribune file photo

Twenty-five years ago, temperatures already were climbing into the mid-70s as the military transport plane carrying Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush touched down at the Medford-Jackson County Airport (the airport hadn't gone "International" yet).

Bush was casually dressed as he stepped off the plane to the applause of about 100 supporters, including local campaign chairpersons C.W. Smith and Margie Fixott. It was May 14, 1988, just three days before Oregon's presidential primary.

The election of 1988

George H.W. Bush captured 73 percent of the Oregon Republican primary election vote and went on to win the November election with 53.4 percent of the popular vote and 426 electoral votes. Although Bush carried Jackson County by nearly 4,500 votes, he lost Oregon by a little more than 56,000 votes.

After a short meeting with Bureau of Land Management officials who explained the local district and its recreational plans for the area, the vice president's motorcade drove to the J. Herbert Stone Nursery in Central Point.

With a Rogue River National Forest baseball cap on his head to shade his eyes, Bush climbed up onto a trailer and sat on a bale of hay, while a tractor pulled him around for a personal tour of the 311-acre, federally operated farm that has provided plants and seeds to public agencies since 1977.

He dropped a pound of lodgepole pine seeds into a seed-drill machine that automatically plants them, and in just a few minutes, the machine had drilled enough seed into the ground to produce 15,000 seedlings.

Behind the wheel of a Ford 4100 tractor, Bush got a quick driving lesson from the nursery's head mechanic, who gave the vice president good marks as a driving student.

There was a rally that afternoon in Medford's Alba Park, a night of rest, and then an early Sunday morning fishing trip on the Rogue River.

During his stay, Bush several times told reporters how much he loved fishing and how excited he was to fish the Rogue. With a smile, he assured the media that he was a much better fisherman than his Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis.

In a 14-foot driftboat, surrounded by a flotilla of more than 25 other craft and a contingent of Secret Service, Bush floated down river for three hours. With him were some of the same people who had guided Katherine Hepburn, John Wayne and other Hollywood stars. It was a peaceful trip with lots of talk about fishing and not a word of politics.

Mel Norrick, his chief guide, tried to convince Bush to run the rapids after he was finished fishing, but Bush declined.

"I don't want to get into a rubber raft and get wet," he told Norrick.

There was lots of waving to the crowds that lined the shore, especially at Galice, where Galice Cafe owner Mary Thomason had mounted an "Oregon loves George Bush" banner.

As he floated by Galice, someone shouted, "Did you catch anything Mr. Vice President?"

With his thumb and forefinger forming a zero, Bush shouted back. "Gosh, I was afraid you'd ask that. We had a good time though, being out on this beautiful river."

After a string of primary wins and endorsements, Bush already was sure of the Republican nomination, and a victory in the Oregon primary would be just icing on the cake rather than a political necessity.

Bush returned to the valley in September 1992, campaigning for re-election as president of the United States, but this time, it was all politics and not a tractor, a driftboat or a fishing rod in sight.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

Reader Reaction
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form. New comments are only accepted for two weeks from the date of publication.