ON THE PROVO RIVER, UTAH — Lukewarm is how I would describe my previous interest in fly-fishing. Nonetheless, with a one-day Utah fishing license in my pocket, and a three-hour lesson booked with Rocky Mountain Outfitters, I was ready to give it my best shot.
The day was gorgeous, the autumn air crisp and tinged with balsamy smells. The gleaming Provo River was doing its best imitation of the trout stream in the film "A River Runs Through It."
Britt Cornaby, my guide, was climbing confidently down slippery rocks into the Provo River, where he assured me that fish lurked. As I galumphed along in waders and slightly-too-big boots provided by the outfitter, I thought, "There's no way I'll ever catch anything in there."
The Provo River is clear and shallow enough, but the fish - mostly brown and rainbow trout - bear an uncanny resemblance to rocks. Both are a mottled brown, beige, or orange.
Right away, Britt spotted "a big one" hanging out in a shallow pool. Apparently, fish in this locale wait for food to come to them. I looked and looked, but could see only rocks, shadows, and ripples of moving water.
"That guy's well camouflaged," I said, with some understatement. Despite the fact that fishing in the Provo is mainly catch-and-release, I felt momentarily hopeful that our quarry would stay down and out of sight.
Britt had already maneuvered within 20 or so feet of the fish, and with a flick of his wrist, shot the line sideways to point out its location. I still didn't see it.
"Wow, he's a big one," I said, trying to keep up appearances.
Britt handed me the rod without preamble. "Here, try it," he said.
By this point, I had at last found footing on the shifting riverbed, which I considered a major accomplishment. I cast.
The line fizzled near the shore.
"Use your wrist more, and get the rod up higher," Britt said encouragingly. I cast again. "Better," he said. (Of course, with my meager technique, I had nowhere to go but up.)
After much concentration and about 20 or 25 casts, I thought I was getting the motion. I relaxed a little. The day was glorious, the mountains rose around us like great, jagged sentinels. Sunshine poured through a cloudless sky.
During a break in the action, Britt decided to try a different fly. He mentioned that his wife fly-fishes, and that she's pretty good at it.
"Women," he offered, "are better learners than men; they're more patient. In fact," he added, "many times the husband will want to come fishing and the wife will tag along, but in the end, she's the hardest one to get out of the water. The husband is ready to go, and she doesn't want to leave. Women are tentative at first, but they get into it."
Somehow I didn't think I would have trouble leaving when my three hours were up.
As a paying client, the hard part about a situation like this is to let go of two things: the desire to please your guide and the fear that you'll be his worst client of all time.
As I examined a sow bug he was tying on my line, I asked Britt why the fish doesn't see the hook, as it's clearly visible below the lure.
"Fish," said Britt, "look for the positives, not the negatives. If what they see has all the characteristics of food, then it is food. They're not like us; we always look at the negatives before making choices."
Ah, a philosopher. I was on the river with the Fish Whisperer.
By now, our original target had become bored with the amateurish casting to which he was being subjected, and darted away.
Britt and I waded downstream. He wasn't picking up any "readings" on his internal fish "radar," so we climbed the bank again and hiked farther downstream near a small waterfall.
After a dozen casts, numerous snags on rocks, and several tangled lines, I felt a distinct tug on the line. Gotcha!
Britt yelled excitedly, shouting a bunch of indistinct directions to me: "Pull up the rod! Now reel in a little. Give him some room, but not much. Tip up! Tip up!"
He grabbed my hand on the reel to help stabilize the rod. I felt a rush of adrenaline as the line moved upstream and down along with the brown trout. Its silvery fins and tail flashed in the sunlight.
"Tire him out," Britt said, his voice quieter but no less intense. "Never let the line go completely slack, but let him move a little. Let's work him over to the bank."
After two or three minutes of this delicate choreography, the fish abruptly broke free and was gone.
I was disappointed, but not for long. As I began to get the rhythm of casting, the time seemed to melt away and it all came down to me, the rod, and the river, in concert.
For a moment, the absorption was complete. I finally had a glimpse of why people fly-fish.
After a few more decent casts, the lesson was winding down.
Britt suggested we call it a day.
"Wait, wait, I'm just getting the hang of this," I told him.
He just smiled.
Rocky Mountain Outfitters operates a four-season guide service for Sundance Resort. In addition to fly-fishing, their services include conducting horseback-riding and snowmobiling tours. For information, call (801) 361-6772 or visit the website: www.rockymtnoutfitters.com.