This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Wilford Woodruff is widely recognized by historians as one of if not the first fisherman to cast a fly west of the Continental Divide.
It happened, according to the journals of the fourth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormons trekked to Utah in 1847.
There is, however, no indication of whether Woodruff wet a fly on the sabbath. If he did, chances are that Woodruff was hoping to feed his family and not looking for bragging rights to the big fish he managed to catch on social media.
LDS leaders are clear that recreational pursuits such as fishing should steer clear of Sundays. With time constraints tight due to job, church and family obligations, many anglers hoping to escape for some time on the water often find themselves in a quandary.
"If I do have a Sunday off of work, I usually go to church. If I have any extra time [on Sunday], I try to sneak in a couple of hours of fishing," said one Utah County angler. "It is not really a secret, but I know some people might take exception."
Joseph Fielding Smith, who served as the 10th LDS Church president in the early 1970s, is one of those who would have frowned at fishing even after attending church.
"The Lord has given us six days of each week in which we can work and earn our living and in these days most of us, and especially children, can and do find time for some amusement and relaxation," Smith once said. "Most businessmen and professional men can find time for golf or fishing and hunting; and they do not need the Sunday to 'stretch their bones,' in sports and other entertainment. Some working men today work only five days a week, yet they have formed the habit of taking the Sabbath for additional time for leisure and amusement. There are very few exceptions where no free time can be found."
Most would agree that times have changed since Smith's presidency and some anglers would argue that spending time with family in a recreational activity on the Sabbath is also important.
Non-Mormons may be more aware of the "no fishing on Sunday" code than Latter-day Saints. Many target Sunday as a good day to throw flies because a large portion of the population is sitting in church dreaming of fishing.
"When people come to visit Utah we actually encourage them to go fishing on Sunday," said Steve Schmidt, owner of the Salt Lake City-based Western Rivers Flyfisher store. "Some people have a perception it will be crowded on the weekend so they don't go fishing, biking, hiking or whatever. Everybody knows Saturday is the day to avoid because the Mormons who won't go on Sunday go then."
At least one Mormon fly fisher believes it might be the younger crowd that has yet to learn how to avoid the temptation of breaking the church-day rule.
"I, for one, will not fish on Sundays, but if I'm in the middle of Alaska, it's difficult. I try not to put myself in such predicaments; as a younger adult, I was more lax," a Salt Lake County angler said. "Adherence of the Sabbath day is one of the 'Big 10' commandments of many denominations. But, hey, we're all tempted; particularly when sitting next to water and fish are rising. My prerequisite for heaven is I get to fly fish."
Whether he cast his line on Sunday might be in question, but there is no doubt Woodruff enjoyed fly fishing.
During a stop in Fort Bridger, Wyo., in 1847, Woodruff found time to make use of a fly rod and an assortment of artificial flies he had obtained during a Mormon mission to England in 1841.
"As soon as I got my breakfast, I rigged up my trout rod that I had brought with me from Liverpool, fixed my reel, line & artificial fly & went to one of the brooks close by camp to try my luck catching trout. The men at the fort said there were but very few trout in the streams. And a good many of the brethren were already at the creeks with their rods & lines trying their skill baiting with fresh meat and grasshoppers, but no one seemed to ketch [sic] anything. I went & flung my fly onto the [water]," he wrote in his journal. "And it being the first time I ever tried the artificial fly in America, or ever saw it tried, I watched as it floated upon the water with as much intense interest as Franklin did his kite when he tried to draw lightning from the skies. And as Franklin received great joy when he saw electricity or lightning descend on his kite string in like manner was I highly gratified when I saw the nimble trout dart [at] my fly, hook himself & run away with the line, but I soon worried him out & drew him to shore."
Woodruff recorded that he fished for "two or three" hours and caught 12. No telling if the eventual church president was a typical angler with great exaggeration skills, but he wrote that about "one half of them would weigh about 3/4 of a pound each while all the rest of the camp did not ketch during the day 3 lbs of trout in all, which was proof positive to me that the artificial fly is [by] far the best thing now known to fish [for] trout with."
So, yes, Woodruff, then a Mormon apostle, surely saw himself as a "fisher of men," but he also was a faithful fisher of, well, fish.
'Fishers of men'
"And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
"And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.
"And they straightway left their nets, and followed him."
Matthew 4: 18-20