Getting a fishing tale out of Mark Simmons is like trying to get an old, wise trout to take the bait. Mark is more modest than the typical fisherman when talking about one of his favorite pastimes.
“I’m not a great fisherman, but I love to go with guys who are,” says Mark, chairman of Simmons Foods, a Siloam Springs-based company his father founded in 1949. “I’m good at picking partners so that I can learn from them.”
Mark’s fishing portfolio looks more like a seasoned travel writer’s than an angler’s. He’s fished for piranha in Argentina, bonefish in Mexico and the Bahamas, Northern pike in Canada, sea bass at Martha’s Vineyard and trout in Colorado and Montana.
During the summer of 2006, he traveled to western Alaska’s Blue Mountain for a five-day fishing trip. “From our camp we’d take a small plane and fly into a different spot every day, fishing for salmon, graylings and other species.”
During that trip, Mark says he spotted bears at Brooks Falls, where grizzlies are often photographed catching salmon as they swim upstream to spawn. And he tells of an encounter with two young grizzlies at another location.
“When we first saw them, they were about 200 yards away, so we moved,” he says. “But they followed us until they were just across the small stream from us. We got the heck out of Dodge. We got back in the plane and took off.”
His most memorable trip, however, was one to the Pacific coast of Costa Rica to fly fish for sailfish. “Catching a 100-pound sailfish on a fly rod is a hoot,” he says.
Not all of Mark’s fishing excursions take place outside of Arkansas. He fishes for trout in the White River and at Spavinaw Creek, which flows near Siloam Springs.
Fishing in Arkansas and around the world, Mark says, has given him a local-to-global perspective on the need for conservation. Not long after Simmons Foods became a member of The Nature Conservancy’s Corporate Council for Conservation in 1994, Mark took a trip to St. Croix, where, while exploring the island, he came across a Conservancy preserve.
“That was my first glimpse of the Conservancy’s work outside the U.S. It gave me a great feeling to know that I was supporting an organization that works around the globe.”
Mark also enjoys scuba diving and snorkeling, and he says he’s seen firsthand the decline of coral reefs in the Caribbean. “It’s so easy to destroy coral reefs and so very difficult to restore them,” he says. “I’m interested in the conservation of coral reefs because of the diversity of marine life that depends on them, sport fish included. I enjoy reading in The Nature Conservancy’s magazine about the organization’s work to protect coral reefs, restore oyster beds and conserve seagrass, marsh and other coastal habitats.”
Mark says he’s also interested in the conservation of freshwater resources, particularly those in Northwest Arkansas. He’s worked closely with Tim Snell, the Conservancy’s associate state director for water resources, on issues affecting the Illinois River, which provides water for Siloam Springs, and the White River watershed, which provides water for most other cities in Northwest Arkansas.
“I am continually impressed by the way in which Tim and the Conservancy work with people to achieve results that are good for the environment, good for business, farmers and good for communities,” Mark says. “The Nature Conservancy’s cooperative spirit and the partnerships they’ve formed with businesses, individuals, state and federal agencies, and other non-profits is what inspires me to support their work.”
And, Mark says with a smile, what’s good for the fish is good for the fisherman.
Mark is also a member of the Conservancy’s board of trustees.December 08, 2010