August 7, 2008

The Salt Lake Tribune Brett Prettyman Column

By Brett Prettyman, The Salt Lake Tribune

Aug. 7--MIDDLE PROVO RIVER -- I expected a lot of laughs, some friendly banter, maybe even some tears when it was suggested I join the Trib's Novices in Nature on a fly-fishing trip. Those things happened, but what I didn't expect was that I would end up playing lifeguard.

Less than 45 minutes into our eight-hour excursion, I looked downstream just in time to see Roxana do the "I can't get my feet planted" look of dread. I watched as she officially became baptized as a fly fisher.

Roxana had previously explained -- with a hint of terror in her eyes -- that she didn't exactly know how to swim. I hustled down the bank of the Provo, hoping to quickly get ahead of her to a place where I could pull my co-worker out of the drink.

Roxana, meanwhile, did exactly what she should have by keeping her feet pointed downstream. She also did exactly what every other fly fisher does in the same situation: She worried about the rod first.

I entered the water and planted my feet, hoping the current wasn't strong enough to pull me in as well, because I had a video camera hanging on my neck.

I was encouraged to see Roxana smile as she came floating up and grabbed my hand. Back on shore, we laughed as Roxana collected herself. A short distance upstream, Maggie was so focused on catching a fish that she didn't even watch the USS Roxana incident.

The excitement continued.

Long before Roxana dried out, I watched as Maggie committed the cardinal sin of trying to make a cast with the fly line lying across her body. The fly ripped off the water and embedded itself in her arm. Luckily, Steve Schmidt of Western Rivers Flyfisher had debarbed the hook, which made removal much less painful and bloody than it could have been.

Still, I was glad Steve was there to perform the removal. Maggie wasn't finished yet. After taking a 30-minute snooze while Roxana, Steve and I talked about the spiritual qualities of fishing, Maggie was even more determined to land a fish.

She did a better job of hooking herself. She missed several strikes, but did manage to skewer her lip and various articles of clothing before the day was done.

It was fun for me to watch my colleagues take different approaches to fly-fishing. While Maggie was fiercely determined to master the casting and set on landing a fish, Roxana took a more casual attitude and enjoyed soaking up the experience as a whole.

I've practiced both approaches in the 20-plus years I've been throwing a fly, but it is refreshing and fun to relive those feelings with new fly fishers.

I was reluctant to head back to the parking lot without Roxana having caught a fish, but I shouldn't have been.

We talked about the day -- the missed fish, the red-tail hawk carrying a snake, the rude anglers all-too-common on the Provo, the way people react when they catch a fish and how lucky we were to be on the river when Salt Lake City was smoldering at 100 degrees. I could tell by the way they were walking that Maggie and Steve had also called it a day without catching a fish.

It was gratifying to hear the Novices in Nature say they had a great day despite being blanked. Both said they wanted to return to the river. They didn't say why.

I have a hunch it was because Maggie wants a sense of completion from landing a fish. Roxana may want to spend more time feeling the current push against her legs and staring at the mountains or playing with the bugs under the rocks.

I applaud them both.

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