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Catching piranha and peacock bass is something Bruce Hall can brag about for the rest of his life.
But even more memorable for Hall upon reflection on his trip to the Amazon is the look in the eyes of the people he helped find a better life.
Hall and his 15-year-old son, Riley, booked a trip with Utah-based Big Amazon Fish to float the Amazon River for a week in February. Anglers on the trip caught 20 species of fish, and the Halls got to hold a caiman and see all kinds of exotic species, all while taking in the lush world of the Amazon.
On the last day of the trip, Ben Nolte, who owns the company, set up the Halls with a villager in Brazil who needed help, providing the perfect ending to the adventure of a lifetime.
"The Amazon was amazing in and of itself and the fishing was fun, but to be able to see that part of the world and interact with the people was the best part," said Hall, who helped provide a small loan that enabled a woman and her teenage son to start a food-vending business. "It wasn't any kind of financial setback for us, and it amazes me that a little bit of money can make such a dramatic impact on their lives."
For Nolte, the transaction between Hall and the single mother represented the next step in his Amazon business.
"Since we started the fishing and adventure tours [in 2005], we have always asked people to bring little gifts for kids so we can hand them out in the jungle villages," said Nolte, who served as part of the S o Paulo mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "People really liked the interaction, and I started to think about adding more to the trip."
Helping Brazilians go into business is nothing new for Nolte, who started Big Amazon Fish with Naldo Esteves, a native of a deep jungle Amazon village who also happened to serve in the S o Paulo mission.
The experience of helping a woman from a remote Amazon village to the hospital in June 2007 inspired Nolte to do more for the people and the country he came to love while serving his mission.
"Her husband told us she was bleeding internally when he asked for help. We loaded her, the husband and three kids into the car and sped to the hospital," Nolte recalls. "When I set her down and left her at the mercy of who knows who, I wondered what more I could do."
Nolte, of Lindon, has now officially released the Fishin' With a Mission package as part of his Big Amazon Fish trips. The theme is "It's Not Only the Size of Your Fish, But the Size of Your Heart."
Nolte, who graduated from Brigham Young University with a master's degree in civil and environmental engineering and recently earned a master's of business administration from the University of Utah, is taking his wife and three children to Brazil so he can start finding and planning humanitarian service projects in remote villages on the routes used for the fishing trips.
Nolte hopes to put his engineering degree to use by organizing small construction projects. He also is exploring ways to provide medical and dental care and education programs through Fishin' With a Mission. To that end, he has scheduled two fundraisers for the project. Nolte hopes he can come up with necessary funds so that anglers on his trips can provide mostly labor.
He also hopes to take the humanitarian program global with travel agencies and adventure guiding groups, using the model to benefit the people and the land in exotic locales.
Salt Lake resident and bass-fishing professional Wayne Crowder experienced Fishin' with a Mission during a trip with Big Amazon Fish in October.
Crowder caught plenty of peacock bass, a fish he had dreamed of hooking into for many years, but it was handing out coloring books, pencils, markers and Nerf balls to the kids and hand-charged flashlights to the community leaders of a remote village that made him want to return to the Amazon.
"We could do so much more and it would make such a huge difference," Crowder said. "The people were so friendly and interested in everything about us. I ended up giving away half my clothes while we were there and all my hats. I made the mistake of opening up my fishing bags and losing half of it. I don't mind, though. I was there fishing for fun; for them, it is their livelihood."
* BRETT PRETTYMAN can be contacted at brettp@sltrib. com or 801-257-8902. Send comments about this story to email@example.com.
A fundraising event for Fishin' With a Mission will be held June 26 at the Rodizio Grill Banquet Room, 459 S. Trolley Square, Salt Lake City. Attendance is limited to 120 guests, and registration is available through http://www.AdventureGiving.org. Information about the program is also available at FishinWithAmission.com. If you are interested in becoming a sponsor of the program, making a donation or taking a trip with Big Amazon Fish, contact Ben Nolte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-787-7678.