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Fly-fishing Santa Claus brings Christmas cheer to Utah

Dozens of motorists driving up Provo Canyon honked or waved at the sight of Kris Kringle in gaiters.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rudy Schenk, a fly fisherman dressed as Santa Claus, stands in the Provo River at Vivian Park in Provo Canyon on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023.

For the second year now, Rudy Schenk stood ankle deep in the Provo River with his fly-fishing rod just before Christmas. While other fishers dotted the banks of the river near Vivian Park on Saturday, Schenk was the only one dressed as Santa Claus.

“It’s really difficult to bite off a line with this,” Schenk said, referring to the white beard he was wearing. “I basically stay with the same fly the whole time because changing it out — kind of a pain.”

Dozens of motorists driving up Provo Canyon honked or waved at the sight of Kris Kringle in gaiters.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Motorists stop and wave at Rudy Schenk, a fly fisherman dressed as Santa Claus, at Vivian Park in Provo Canyon on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023.

Brett Prettyman, a friend of Schenk, stood on the bank with a bag of candy canes for those who stopped to take photos. Last year, Prettyman and Schenk came up with the idea of a fly-fishing Santa as a way to spread Christmas cheer.

On Saturday, however, Schenk caught the eyes of more than just passing motorists. Eventually, a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources truck pulled into the parking lot at Vivian Park.

Conservation Officer Devin Shirley walked over to the two men, asking about their day.

“Is your, uh ... or is someone here...,” Shirley stammered.

He finally broke out into a laugh.

“Could I check your fishing license?” Shirley asked.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Devin Shirley, right, a conservation officer with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, checks the fishing license for Rudy Schenk, a fly fisherman dressed as Santa Claus, in the Provo River at Vivian Park in Provo Canyon on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023.

Schenk lifted up his Santa jacket to fish out his phone to show his electronic license. After verifying that Santa was fishing legally, Shirley posed for a quick photo.

After three hours, Schenk never caught a fish.

Apparently when it comes to fishing, even Santa can walk away empty-handed.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rudy Schenk, a fly fisherman dressed as Santa Claus, stands in the Provo River at Vivian Park in Provo Canyon on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023.