Utahn's videos hooking the deaf on fly fishing

Published April 25, 2012 12:28 pm

Outdoors • "Sight Casts" series taps passion for the sport and American Sign Language.
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Fly fishers pride themselves on being keen environmental observers. After all, paying attention to their surroundings — and that of the prizes they pursue — can lead to more successful outings.

But there may be a group of people even more visually aware than anglers.

"Deaf people call themselves people of the eye. Vision is really important to them," said Bryan Eldredge, the American Sign Language and Deaf Studies Program director at Utah Valley University in Orem. "That makes them a perfect fit for fly fishing."

Eldredge, who doubles as a fly-fishing guide, recognized that natural link and created two series of videos to help the deaf community put those observation skills to use on the water.

The videos, which use American Sign Language, appear under the title "Fly Fishing Basics" and "Sight Casts — Fly Fishing with Bryan Eldredge" on DeafTV — a website Eldredge co-founded to serve deaf people.

The "Sight Casts" series is sponsored by another company Eldredge started — Utah Fly Guides — and Falcon's Ledge, Utah's only Orvis-endorsed fly-fishing lodge, where he also works as a guide.

The videos cover a range of topics — from a primer on the three essential gear items required to get started in fly fishing to specific methods such as streamer fishing to a memorable big fish day on the water with a group of women anglers.

Viewers outside the deaf community have taken notice. New videos will include captions and audio. Being able to see American Sign Language is a big difference for deaf people. Eldredge points out that for many of them, spoken English translated to captions is a second language.

"Bryan's ASL explanations about how to fly fish are much better for me than just reading captions," said Glen Parker, a viewer from Fort Worth, Texas. "I remember the information so much better."

Parker, an avid angler who hasn't tried fly fishing yet, found the videos on DeafTV and is considering a trip to Utah and Falcon's Ledge to spend some time on the water with the creator of "Sight Casts."

Eldredge, who is not deaf, was motivated to learn sign language during his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"I was in Oakland and on our day off we played basketball with a deaf man. I asked a friend to tell me how to sign 'how is that a foul, you big oaf' and it took off from there," he recalled. "I transferred into the deaf program and then ended up marrying a deaf woman."

Eldredge majored in linguistics at Brigham Young University and then earned a doctorate in linguistic anthropology at the University of Iowa. As UVU's deaf-studies program leader, he co-founded the "Deaf Studies Today" conference in 2003.

His passion for fly fishing started while growing up in eastern Utah's Uinta Basin, long before he learned ASL.

"My dad would drag me out on the mountain to load wood for our wood-burning stoves about three times a week during the summer," he said. "He finally figured out that by giving me a chance to fish afterward I wouldn't be such a tool."

His skills — as a fly fisher and a deaf communicator — are evident in the "Sight Casts" videos. Eldredge plans to improve the program, but keep it focused on promoting healthy lifestyles for deaf people.

"I will always make sure it is for deaf people first," he said. "I don't want to feel pressured by potential sponsors to give in to a larger hearing audience. I'm convinced this can work for both groups." —


O Watch "Sight Casts" videos › http://deaftv.com/