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Tom Stienstra

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About Tom Stienstra
Professional Career
As a full-time outdoors writer for 25 years, Tom Stienstra has made it his life's work to explore the Bay Area and beyond -- hiking, biking, fishing, boating and wildlife watching -- searching for the best of the outdoors and writing about it. In 2005, he was selected as Alumnus of the Year, liberal arts division, San Jose State University and delivered the graduation convocation.

Tom Stienstra is the outdoors columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, where his column appears on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, on the internet at, and in newspapers around the country when distributed by the New York Times News Service.
Tom Stienstra has twice named National Outdoor Writer of the Year, "President's Award, Best of the Best," newspaper division, by the Outdoors Writers Association of America. He is the only outdoors writer in America to win first place in OWAA's excellence in craft competition for nine straight years. He has won California Outdoor Writer of the Year four times. He has been awarded roughly 100 writing prizes, including national awards from Associated Press, United Press International and Associated Press Sports Editors.
His column, "Coping with death of a loved one," was chosen as one of the 20 best stories about dogs in the 20th century and reprinted in the book, "Old Dogs Remembered." Other stories selected for the book include features by James Thurber, T.S. Eliot, John Updike, William Wadsworth and others. A series about fishing for great white sharks was selected was one of the best features in the 20th century about San Francisco, and selected for reprint in the book, "Travelers' Tales of San Francisco."

Tom is the host of ";Great Outdoors With Tom Stienstra," which was introduced to the Bay Area market on Sunday evenings in 2005 on UPN-KBHK/44 and Cable 12. Ratings were documented in consecutive weeks of 1.5 to 1.7 in the May sweeps, approaching that of the Sunday night CBS-Evening News (1.8). After that, the show also appears on Sunday a broadcast slot on CBS-5/KPIX-San Francisco, and offered for sale to markets in Sacramento and elsewhere. It now appears at 6:30 p.m. Sundays and 10:30 p.m. Saturdays on UPN-KBHK/San Francisco and 3 p.m. Sundays on CBS-5/San Francisco. He is a monthly guest on segments with CBS-5 Evening Magazine, and has more than 20 appearances on "Bay Area Backroads."

Tom writes, records and produces the radio feature, "Great Outdoors," which appears on KCBS-74/San Francisco, Northern California's No. 1-rated radio station. In 2005, he won first and second place in the nation for best radio show, boating and water sports, from OWAA, and second place for best fishing show, OWAA. The show is featured at 7:35 a.m., 9:35 a.m. and 12:35 p.m. on Saturdays.

Tom is the nation's top-selling author of outdoor guidebooks with more than 1 million units sold. His books are available at a discount from this website. His books include two No. 1 bestsellers: California Camping was awarded No. 1 Bestseller in the world, Category Parks & Campgrounds, by Amazon.Com, as well as No. 2 Bestseller in America, all outdoors books, Outdoor Retailer Magazine; Pacific Northwest Camping was named No. 1 Bestseller, Portland Oregonian, and No. 1 Bestseller, Pacific Pipeline.

Current titles in print include:
California Camping
California Hiking
(with Ann Marie Brown)
California Fishing
Tom Stienstra's Bay Area Recreation
California Recreational Lakes and Rivers
Pacific Northwest Camping
Northern California Cabins & Cottages
(with Stephani Stienstra)
Epic Trips of the West
Sunshine Jobs, Career Opportunities Working Outdoors
Contributor: Colorado Camping, Selling the Outdoor Story and five other books.

Tom Stienstra has made it his life work to explore the West -- hiking, camping, fishing and boating -- searching for the best of the great outdoors and writing about it. He has explored all 58 counties of California, in addition to most of Washington and Oregon from the Cascades on west. As a pilot and airplane owner, he can cover anywhere in a radius from Vancouver, Canada, to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to Van Nuys, California in four hours. In the process, he sees the landscape from a unique perspective, inspiring many future trips on the ground to seek out little-known spots.
His travels include hiking 25,000 miles, visiting hundreds of lakes, boating much of the California Coast, and hiking out most of the major rivers, streams and many of their tributaries and waterfalls. His scope of adventure spans from the Costa Rican jungle to the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories.

His contracted expeditions include:
  • The Search for Bigfoot: Tracking the Myth in Northern California and Oregon.
  • On the John Muir Trail: Hiking in the Footsteps of Legends.
  • Of Big Fish and Grizzlies: Travels in the Alaskan Wildlands.
  • Around the Bay in Seven Days: A 126-Mile Hike from the Urban Jungle to the Coastal Headlands.
  • The Klamath Challenge: Shooting 200 Miles and 1,000 Rapids at Flood Stage.
  • Pacific Shark Hunt: Face to face with a White Shark.
  • Climbing Mount Shasta: California's Ultimate Peak Experience.
  • Miles From Nowhere: Excursion into California's most remote areas.
  • We Voyageurs: Canoeing 400 miles on the Sacramento River.
  • Hooking a 42-pounder, trout that is: And other Canadian Fishing Tales.
  • Pacific Crest Trail, from Yosemite to Tahoe.
  • The Owyhee River, America's most remote canyon, by canoe from Nevada to Idaho to Oregon.
  • Bay Area treks, Skyline to Sea, East Bay National Skyline Trail, 70 miles in Henry Coe State Park.
  • Mountain Summits, climbing Mount Shasta, Mount Whitney, Mount St. Helens, Half Dome and others.

Tom Stienstra's Top Catches
Seven-gill shark, (wire line) 178 pounds
Sailfish, (14-pound test line), 160 pounds
Sturgeon, (20-pound line) 148 pounds
Tarpon, (14-pound line) 125 pounds
Halibut, (30-pound line) 98 pounds
Dorado, (20-pound line) 60 pounds
Mackinaw trout, (8-pound line) 42 pounds
King salmon, (20-pound line) 32 pounds
Striped bass, (14-pound line) 26 pounds
Yellowtail, (20-pound line) 37 pounds
Steelhead, (6-pound line) 16 pounds
Atlantic bonito, (14-pound line) 15 pounds*
Silver salmon, (fly rod, 8-pound tippet) 12 pounds
Rainbow trout, (fly rod, 6-pound tippet) 11 pounds
Largemouth bass, (8-pound line) 8 pounds
Brown trout, (4-pound line) 6 pounds
Arctic grayling, (4-pound line) 3.5 pounds
Cutthroat trout, (6-pound line), 3.5 pounds

*Non-registered world record

Personal life
After first meeting in 1974 on the staff of the San Jose State Spartan Daily, Tom Stienstra and Stephani Cruickshank re-met through an outdoors story, and were married at Lake Tahoe in December of 1998. They have two boys, Jeremy 17, and Kristopher, 14. They live on a ranch in Northern California.

Interview with Tom Stienstra

QUESTION: Where are you from? How -- if at all -- has your sense of place colored your writing?

T.S.: I'm from Northern California, and after having traveled throughout most of North America, I'm convinced that Northern California is the closest thing to heaven. I really love this place. A lot of people would like to know what heaven looks like, I've always said, but they aren't real willing to make the trip. It has had a profound influence on my writing in several ways, most provocatively, it has made me feel that anything is possible, that greatness can be found in every day, and I try to find it in the moment -- and connect the moments together. I wish I could take everybody for a ride in my airplane, and I would show them a land that knows no limits, thousands of secret little spots that so few know exist that are so exciting to discover.
I live for that, the exhilaration of the moment. Because so many people spend so much time on the road, staring at the brake lights ahead of them, they get frustrated, angry, and after a while, many start to think that there is no place good left to go in California. Guess what? I used to think the same thing, and I was thinking of moving to Alaska or Montana, despite the 8-month winter. Then I went for my first airplane ride in California, and what I saw boggled my mind: 20 million acres of national forest, 35 significant wilderness areas, 383 lakes you can drive to, 483 major lakes you can hike to, 1,200 miles of coast -- it's all here, lakes, rivers, ocean, bays, estuaries, mountains, wetlands, islands, deserts, peaks over 14,000 feet and valleys below sea level.
As an outdoors writer, it is the ultimate land of adventure, with weather year round that provides an opportunity to experience the best of great outdoors somewhere, every single day. Yet at the same time, the population centers provide a large enough audience to make my job viable, as an author of books on camping, hiking, fishing, getaways, cabins, boating, lakes & rivers -- and the outdoors writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. I feel extremely lucky, not only to live the life of a full-time outdoors writer, but also to have a large, sophisticated audience from a metropolitan area that demands the best, and keeps me driving for the best every day.

QUESTION: When and why did you begin writing? When did you first consider yourself a writer?

T.S.: One day in the second grade, all us little munchkins were asked to write a story about something that had happened at home. I ended up scrawling the story about my dog, Sport, and how much I loved him, but how he ran away from home, and how much I missed him -- and then how he suddenly came back to me. Without me knowing it, the teacher took the story to the local newspaper, and they printed it with a by-line. For an 8-year-old, it was an astonishing rush.
I remember in 1983, writing a column about another dog with the same story line, "Searching for a lost friend," and it became my first 1st place award with Associated Press, and that's when I realized, "Yeah, I was meant to do this all along, and I'm figuring out how to go about it." I had another class assignment in high school about two friends of mine, brothers who were great athletes, and the same thing happened, the teacher taking it to the newspaper. I got paid $5 for that, my first sale, and it was a thrill beyond comprehension, the first thing that could contend with the way the girl down the street smiled, or how it felt to hit a baseball out of the park, and that's when I started thinking about a career, something to keep me from having to get a real job, heh, heh, heh.

QUESTION: Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way? What books have most influenced your life?

T.S.: I've always felt there are defining moments in every person's life, and for myself, I have always tried to explain them to myself, to make reason out of them, and often write about them. When I was 21, making $5 to $10 per story as a stringer for several newspapers and United Press International, I had to work at a gas station to make some money to pay my way through college, and a robber hit me in the head with the blunt end of a hatchet, split my head open, then robbed the station. I've tried making sense of the experience for 20 years, and how it changed me.
What I've learned is the underlying theme of a major project I am now working on in my spare time, a non-outdoors work. What I immediately sensed after that incident was that life is no dress rehearsal, and if there is anything you have a passion to do, you'd best do it now -- you might not be around later. As the years evolved, people noted that I often lived like there was no tomorrow, and demonstrated that with some of the crazy adventures I have taken part in and written about -- hiking 20,000 miles, getting hired to look for Bigfoot, fishing and catching world records, climbing the highest mountains in the West, rafting 200 miles at flood stage, flying bush planes in Alaska . . . I loved the great outdoors, and I did not want to wait for some magical day in the future when I would have more time to take part in the best of it.
That is how I became an outdoors writer -- it's the only way I could figure to enjoy a variety of adventures, and pay for them. Because of the injury I'd had, I just refused to compromise what I wanted in trade of the hope of a future promise. I was also very lucky, in that Ed Neal, my legendary predecessor at the San Francisco Examiner, retired just as I was in a transition mode and ready to go to Alaska or Canada, and therefore could compete for the job.
Right after I got out of the hospital, I went to college and on the student newspaper, this girl, Stephani Cruickshank, smiled at me, and it felt like all the wounds were being healed by the look in her eyes. You know, she wouldn't go out with me the whole year, but it's 23 years later now, and we just got married. The whole thing was destined. These things are never accidents, and to be aware of that, and to see with your heart, is the best influence a writer can have. The guy who has inspired my day-to-day writing the most is Waylon Jennings, who is a brilliant writer and poet, powerful yet sensitive, with the ability to carry it off in sound. After my head injury, I woke up and felt as if I was from another time, reincarnated in my body as a new person, like I was Jesse James or something. As a sportswriter then, I met Waylon at an Oakland Raiders football game and it was as if I had known him my whole life, like a lost brother. I never did drugs, so for years I didn't talk to him, but he's been clean for something like 15 years now, and his mind has cleared.
Waylon told me one day, "There's a place for everybody. There's always one more way to do things, and that's your way. You have a right to try that." I haven't connected with Waylon for a year, since his stroke -- he's pulled back to his inner circle -- but I do have the guitar that he was given on TNN when he was inducted at Opryland as a "Living Legend." It has his name inscribed in pearl on the neck. I keep the guitar right next to my computer, and every day I look at it, play it all the time, and I think of what Waylon went through to make it in the music industry on his own terms, an incredible, difficult journey, and I make my mind up right then every day that I'm at least going to give it the absolute best of my ability, effort and time to try to make my own writing work, and produce the best newspaper columns and books possible.
So I get tremendous influence and inspiration from music, not from other books or writing. In fact, I try not to read other books whenever I'm in a serious writing mode, and almost never read magazine stories on anything remotely connected to what I might write -- I don't want any outside influence, or actually, interference, no shadow over my own style and presence. There are a couple of books which I have read over and over, though. One is "Mutiny on the Bounty," a beautifully crafted yarn. Another is Aristotle's "Ethics," a powerful analysis of friendship and what inspires people to act. I'm also a fan of "A Fine Romance," because I'm always trying to figure out how and why people think, what compels them to make good and bad choices in relationships. Krakauer's "Into Thin Air" is the best outdoor writing this century, and his command of the language can be intimidating.

QUESTION: What music, if any, most inspires you to write? What do you like to listen to while writing?

T.S.: When it comes to music, there's two sides to me, and they aren't even friends.
My favorite are these complex collage tapes I've created, where I mix together songs and lines from movies to tell an audiobiography of whatever stage of life I'm at. And if I need to get fired up, I crank up "You Don't Mess Around With Me!" by Waylon Jennings, or another one of his classics, like "Just To Satisfy You" "Ain't Living Long Like This" and one almost nobody's heard, but it's the best of all, "Nowhere Road." Yet get this: I love the classics, especially Bach, the old waltzes, and a harpsichord on top of a string section. Because the music is complex, yet it makes sense in the end, it is much like a book, kind of like putting socks on an octopus, yet it all comes together. I never listen to music when I write. When I write, I am completely in the moment, and I want absolutely zero distractions to take me away from the world I am creating.

QUESTION: What are you reading now? What CD is currently in your stereo?

T.S.: Last night, I just started "Dead Man's Walk" by Larry McMurtry, given to me by my buddy and author Dave Zimmer, and today the book already affected my writing during a couple of 1,000-word columns, so much so that I may have to put "Dead Man's Walk" aside until I finish the current book, because I don't want my own voice muted or shadowed by anything.
I've got a 300-CD player, so my CD list is quite a list. Been listening to "Never Say Die" by Mr. Jennings lately, a little bit of Mark Chesnutt's "What A Way To Go," that ancient Melanie album, "Gather Me" and a couple of Susie Bogguss CDs, but usually just put the CD player on random, and with thousands of songs, whatever turns up is always fresh. 

QUESTION: What are you working on?

T.S.: I've been in an exceptional creative mode for the past few months, which caps a two-year process where I have explored all 58 counties of California, plus a large part of Oregon and Washington, roughly from the Cascades on west. I try to write 2,000 to 2,500 words a day, usually starting at 8 a.m., and by 1:30 p.m. or so, I'm done. Then I head out for an adventure, often flying, hiking, fishing or boating, and when my wife Stephani and my kids, Jeremy and Kris come, it's like a day of perfection for me.
I've got some great adventures and news columns lined up for the San Francisco Chronicle, and also complete renovations for my line of outdoor books. With my assistant we are parlaying those years of adventures into all-new updates on my most popular books:
California Camping
California Hiking
Pacific Northwest Camping
California Fishing
Tom Stienstra's Outdoor Getaway Guide to Northern California
Easy Camping in Northern California
California Recreational Lakes & Rivers
Sunshine Jobs, Career Opportunities Working Outdoors

Except for "Sunshine Jobs," each one is being published fresh. I believe they will be the most accurate, complete and necessary guidebooks ever published -- we have spared nothing, even the smallest details, and incorporated suggestions from readers. The entire process has been completed with an intent to detail, to produce a book that no other can stand next to, shoulder to shoulder. The early sales have confirmed to me that it is always worth it to cut no corners, take no shortcuts, and do whatever possible to achieve excellence. In fact, I've got a plaque sitting here that Amazon sent me for having a No. 1 bestseller in its category, "California Camping." It's the second time I've had a No. 1, the other was with "Pacific Northwest Camping" on the Portland Oregonian's list. My research editor not only checks all the phone numbers, but faxes each galley page I've finished out to hundreds of rangers and fieldscouts for a third check. This is expensive, but it pays off because the public can have confidence in the book, and word gets around that, hey, these are books that you can count on. Other authors and publishers cannot afford this amount of revision work, because their sales don't merit the investment. There's no way around how much it costs to do the work right. Because our sales are high, I don't mind paying the price to make each book the best possible, bar none.
I also have some very special Chronicle specials planned, and great support from my executive sports editor, Glenn Schwarz, assistant sports editor Larry Yant, managing editor Steve Cook, and executive editor Phil Bronstein. We always go the extra mile. We pay our own way, compromise nothing, and try always to provide something special that will not only capture the imagination of a large audience, but something that is not available anywhere else. A recent highlight was a 3-part series on Cuba. That is my No. 1 job.

QUESTION: What is your motto?

T.S.: Life ain't no dress rehearsal! 

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