Utah

In this photograph from 1969, the author shows a stringer of largemouth bass he caught at Mantua Reservoir in northern Utah.

More than once during the past 42 years, I have mentioned in this column that I obtained a degree in fishery biology/management from Utah State University. That was in 1970.

During the summer of 1969, I had a seasonal job with the Utah Fish and Game Department. Sandy and I rented a cottage from a farmer near Wanship, Utah, just five or six stone throws from the Weber River. If you don’t pronounce that “Weeber” people there will know you are a stranger.

My main duty was to conduct a creel census on Rockport Reservoir, an impoundment on the river. The reservoir was stocked with rainbow trout and also had some real nice browns that would drift down from the main river. I would walk the shoreline, stopping to chat with the anglers and would ask to see their trout so I could enter the number of harvested fish onto my charts. I worked for a fine man and fishery biologist, Dexter Pitman, who would crunch the numbers to gauge the success and popularity of the stocking program.

It was a dream job for a kid in a natural resources degree program. In addition to the creel census work, I was part of a crew that shocked mountain streams, surveying the trout populations and sampling the aquatic insect life as a way of determining the health of the streams.

Being a 20-something lad carrying either a net or an electrode while wading these streams and causing stunned trout to boil to the surface where they could be captured and monitored was storybook stuff.

We were shocking some small stream alongside a highway in that area. We were quite visible and several cars stopped to watch us work. One man said, “Boys, there ain’t no sense in doing that because there ain’t no trout in that creek.”

About that time a 17-inch brown trout flopped to the stream’s surface. Then another. Then another. You’ve never seen so many people running to open their trunks and assemble fishing rods. We had to ask them to wait to start fishing until we were done working.

To the west, it wasn’t all that far to Salt Lake City. Thus, many of the anglers I interviewed at the reservoir were from that state capital. To the east and northeast, Wanship was relatively close to some fantastic country, including the Uinta Mountains. Sandy and I took advantage of the location by hiking into remote lakes where we camped and had nightly dinners of fresh trout.

We were gentiles in Utah, meaning we were not members of the predominant Mormon religion. I knew that one of the other seasonal employees, a fellow named Jim from the Snake River Plains of Idaho — I think either Twin Falls or Burley — was a card-carrying congregant of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thus, I was expecting a pitch on his part to introduce me to his beliefs with the ultimate goal of having me join up. It happens frequently when you live in Utah. At least it did then.

My dream summer was coming to an end. Jim and I had worked hard all day as part of an electrofishing crew and he and I were headed back to Rockport Reservoir where he would hook up with others for a ride back to Ogden.

“Have you ever read the Book of Mormon?” Jim asked.

I thought, “Here we go.”

“No, I haven’t,” I answered.

“I’d love to have you read it. I’m not trying to convert you, just want to show you what we are all about,” he said.

“Sure,” I said. “I’ll read it.”

Jim was astonished. “You will?” he said, incredulously.

“Heck yeah,” I answered, “if you will do something for me.”

Silence. Then, “Like what?”

I said, “Well, we will be going through Coalville in a few minutes. There is a really neat little tavern there called Bunny’s. Let’s stop and we will each drink a couple beers. I’m not trying to convert you. I just want you to see what I’m all about.”

“You guys from Back East are really weird,” Jim said.

Mike Sawyers retired in 2018 as outdoor editor of the Cumberland Times-News. His column now appears every other Saturday. To order his book, “Native Queen, a celebration of the hunting and fishing life,” send him a check for $15 to 16415 Lakewood Drive, Rawlings, MD 21557.

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