Tom Blackwell had never been fly fishing before. But, here he was, standing knee-deep in the Tuckasegee River near the Great Smokey Mountains National Park in North Carolina, flicking an “Olive Wooly Bugger” gently across the crystal clear river trying to entice a trout.
RIDGECREST, N.C., — Tom Blackwell had never been fly fishing before. But, here he was, standing knee-deep in the Tuckasegee River near the Great Smokey Mountains National Park in North Carolina, flicking an “Olive Wooly Bugger” gently across the crystal clear river trying to entice a trout.
Blackwell’s efforts were rewarded as his fly pole bent with the weight of a feisty trout, which jumped and flailed in and out of the rippling river in the struggle that ensued between man and fish. This time, man won.
Blackwell wasn’t the only person on the river flicking the fly rod through the air and watching the green line whip around him toward the water on this perfect spring day.
Dale Connally, an accomplished fly fisherman and fellow participant at the Fly Fishing Adventures retreat sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources, stood nearby and encouraged Blackwell.
“Atta boy,” yelled Connally, who may have been just as happy as Blackwell as they unhooked the fish, held it up for display and then let it go back into the gently flowing river.
This scene was played out over a couple of days on four different waterways near LifeWay’s Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina, which held its first Fly Fishing Adventures retreat the week before Memorial Day.
The event drew fishermen from Missouri, Tennessee and North Carolina who wanted to catch “the big ones” as well as catch inspirational Bible studies led by Jason Cruise, founder of the Franklin, Tenn.-based Outdoor Ministry Network.
“This is a conference for the heart and the soul,” said Cruise, a former pastor in Tennessee before he started Outdoor Ministry Network (OMN) five years ago, the past two as a full-time ministry. “At OMN, our No. 1 gig is teaching pastors and regular Joes in church how to use hunting and fishing as regular ministry methods,” Cruise said.
Catch (fish)and release (guilt)
Cruise helped LifeWay organize the Fly Fishing Adventures, first held at Glorieta Conference Center in New Mexico.
“I thought it would be so neat if we could host conferences that are unique to men, that speak a men’s language and yet energizes his heart at the same time,” Cruise said.
“And the cool thing is that he gets the endorsement from his wife,” the outdoorsman added. “She knows it’s not just another fishing trip or another elk hunt. When we do these adventure trips of all kinds, women really seem to endorse them for their husbands because they to know they’re going for the heart as well.”
Cruise said the message he wanted the men to take home was that they should stop fighting their love of the outdoors and use it for Kingdom purposes.
“A lot of churches don’t understand men will serve the Lord if they can find a marriage between their passion and their faith. If you give them permission to do that, boy, you are on it,” he said. “So many men feel guilty because they like to hunt and fish. I used to until I realized the day I turned hunting and fishing into a way to use my faith, the guilt left me because I knew I could use it for ministry purposes.”
At Ridgecrest and the fishing events held at Glorieta, Cruise leans heavily on the 60 years combined experience Connally and his brother Boyd have sharing their love of the sport and of Christ.
“The cool thing about this for me is that it takes me out of my normal ministry area,” said Boyd Connally, who is the minister of music for First Baptist Church of Hewitt, Texas. “This gives me an opportunity in one of my other passions. I love the outdoors so this is a plus for me.”
His brother Dale Connally is associate professor and director of Baylor University’s (Waco, Texas) Recreation and Leisure Services program, and a veteran participant of LifeWay’s Rec Labs. It was a natural fit for the duo.
Be fishers of men
Cruise picks Bible study topics he says men – including himself – struggle with, such as time management and time out with God.
In “Your Story: The Greatest Story Ever Told,” Cruise told the group their personal testimony matters.
“It’s kind of like running that fly through that strike zone. You present,” Cruise paused dramatically. “You present…present…present. And, finally something a little different happens, and you don’t really know why. You present and – boom! It’s there.
“That’s how people are. They go through. They go through. They go through. And, then something happens. Their heart gets in a place … it doesn’t have to be a tragedy but something happens and then they begin to listen. At that point, your story matters.”
Both Cruise and the Connally brothers agree that the Ridgecrest location is ideal for a fly fishing retreat.
“I was freaked out by the size of the fish,” Dale Connally said.
“The Ridgecrest event started out like the Glorieta event in that it was smaller until people got word of it,” Cruise added. “The facilities in Ridgecrest are as incredible as they are in Glorieta. At Ridgecrest, you have five to 10 rivers. This particular event you have more waters to choose from in the immediate area. I think it will do well with what it has to offer.
“I was surprised at the size of the fish up here,” Cruise said. “I’ve fished mountain streams all my life but, man, there were some big fish up here.”
Blackwell said there are a couple of things he will take away from the retreat.
“I’ll remember the intense adrenaline rush of catching that first fish,” Blackwell said. “The training I received from experienced fly fishermen was excellent.
“The Bible studies really gave me a lot of things to think about as I go home,” Blackwell added. “I would do this again.”
For information on future LifeWay Fly Fishing Adventures, contact Ron Pratt firstname.lastname@example.org.