Member Spotlight: Rich O’Connell

Hi-Laker Rich O’Connell at Upper Blethen Lake

Quick Bio: Rich is a native Washingtonian, born and raised in the Seattle area, and attended school at WWU and SPU. He and his wife, Amy, of 31 years have 2 kids, Erin and Will. Rich is a data solutions engineer at Safeco/Liberty Mutual Insurance. He enjoys all types of fishing, especially high mountain lakes, and woodworking. 

When did you become a member, and how did you discover the Hi-Lakers?

I became a member in 2005 when I was introduced to the club by Cliff Church. At the time, all my friends were from work and I thought to myself “This needs to change” so I reached out to Cliff through and attended my first meeting with him.

At the first meeting, George Bucher read the “cultural moment” which happened to be a very dark Robert Service poem about a trapper freezing to death in the Yukon. And then Bill Henkel and Sandy McKean got up and started spouting off about something or another.

Had I been transported back to the 1950’s? I was amused and fascinated. I later served as an officer and was President of the club in 2008.

What’s your favorite thing about the club?   

The friendships that I have made and continue to make is my favorite thing about the club. Some of my best friendships have been made through the club.    They transcend age, profession, and socioeconomics.

Do you remember what your first high lake experience was like?  

My first experiences in the mountains were with my older brother Nick. He was the one that took me out on my first trips and showed me what suffering was all about; mostly in a good way. We started bringing fishing rods after getting bored just sitting around camp. We did a trip to Cub Lake that was memorable for the fishing and the bee stings on the way in and out.

I also attended a summer camp called Nanamakee where instead of being based at a physical camp, they would take kids out on 10 day backpacking trips. I did a number of great trips in the Cascades and Olympics with this camp.

And before I could drive, I would go out on backpacking trips with friends where our parents would drop us off at the trailhead and pick us up a few days later. It was fun to have that kind of independence at an early age and taught me a lot about self reliance.

What’s your favorite setup for fishing high lakes?

I started out as a gear guy but with some help and encouragement from members of the club moved to being a fly fisherman. My favorite setup is a Curtis raft, a 5 wt , 6-piece custom rod built by Pete Smith, intermediate sink slime line, and my Lamson reel.

My favorite fly is the Gray Henkel which Bill Henkel (a deceased club member) pioneered. I tie my own flies and even though I’m a beginner, I enjoy it very much.

Do you have a favorite lake ?

My favorite lake is Ridley Lake in the NCNP. It has a unusual, marled bottom (calcium-rich) and the most amazing green color. It sits in the shadow of Mt. Hozomeen and my good friend Eric Fickeisen keeps it stocked with trout.

What’s something people don’t know about you that might surprise them?  

I was a shoe model for Vasque boots. The story goes… Pete Smith was approached by Vasque when he was at REI to do a promo video for their “Getting Outside” series. He declined because of conflict of interest but told them he might know somebody who would.

I volunteered and spent a day filming with a local production company out at Rattlesnake lake. My payment was two free pairs of Vasque boots. They made me sign a modeling contract. I told my wife “Hey, you’re married to a model”. She laughed and rolled her eyes.

If you look hard enough, the video is out there on YouTube somewhere. [Actually, I can help with that –TC]

Rich on the trail with Halcyon Lake in the background.



What does it mean to be a Hi-Laker?


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  1. Keith

    Wow a jack of all trades and a model to boot!! Who would have known? Rich is a great guy and a true ambassador to the Hi Lakers club.

    • Rich O’Connell

      Thanks Keith. Can’t wait until it’s your turn 🙂

    • Tony Curless

      Thanks for the comment, Keith… and the clever pun “model to boot”. Wish I’d thought of that lol. And well said about Rich! The clubs and our high lakes are better because of his efforts.

  2. Cliff Church

    This was great. Rich, I think your first HL meeting might have been when we were temporarily holding meetings at Karen’s office (state public health lab in Shoreline). You sure bring back some fond memories of George, Bill & Sandy. With George and Bill H. it really WAS like the 1950’s. You were a class act when I first met you and you still are. By the way, I’m looking for an extra pair of Vasque boots……….


  3. Bob Burnell

    Rich I didn’t realize you were a model. I guess you are indeed a bad ass. Well done.

    • Rich O’Connell

      Thanks Bob.

      re:model – I’m a retired model now. Too much work ?

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