State dinners have taken on an everyman theme at the Governor’s Mansion. In an effort to include everybody and anybody, Gov. Spencer Cox is reaching out to groups who otherwise might never see the silver service in the main dining room.

Such was the case on a recent Wednesday when six fishermen were ushered into the mansion. Sitting next to the governor and first lady Abby Cox were the oldest continuous fishing license holders in Utah history.

On the same day in 1984, these six anglers — Cecil Smith, Clyde Jackson, Ted Heywood, Alick Rhodes, Bert “B.J.” Florek and Paul Twitchell — lined up to plunk down $500 for a lifetime fishing and hunting license.

Remembering when the deer hunt wasn’t just a hunt, it was a holiday

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources needed a cash infusion, and selling lifetime passes was deemed the way to get it.

Thirty-eight years later, these six, all of whom purchased their licenses on opening day, are still around to boast about it.

The governor and first lady warmly thanked everyone for coming and showed them to their place settings. The entree wasn’t trout, for some reason. It was chicken.

“Please start eating,” the governor said, “while we talk.”  

Then they went around the table so everyone could introduce themselves, tell their fish stories and see who could tell the biggest whoppers. The winner would get to run the governor’s reelection campaign. (Sorry. Poor taste. Out of line. Who invited the journalist?)

Actually the fish stories were all borderline believable. Several involved tales about poles, rods, reels — and sometimes people — going into lakes or rivers.

Clyde Jackson began his story with a question: “Governor, has the statute of limitations run out?” (Something about an eight-month pregnant wife sitting in camp with an elk tag).

Abby Cox told a wistful story about fishing with her dad at their favorite fishing hole above Fairview.

The dinner guests all marveled at what a good deal they made in ’84, although in ’84 they weren’t so sure. To a man, they agreed that coming up with $500 at the time was a stretch.

Twitchell bought his license because his wife, Caroline, told him to. “She’s a great budgeter and she said, ‘You’re always going to hunt and fish anyway. You should do this,’” he said, as Caroline, sitting next to him, nodded in agreement.

Ted Heywood’s dad cashed in a paid-up $500 life insurance policy so Ted could buy his license, ensuring that whatever else life might throw at him, Ted could hunt and fish with impunity.

B.J. Florek reminisced about having the distinction of buying the first one that went up for sale. He worked for the DWR and had an inside tip when the licenses would be available. He could have had license No. 1, but asked for No. 12 because, as he explained, “12 is my all-time favorite number.”

This arcane bit of information solved a nearly four decade mystery for Cecil Smith and Alick Rhodes. They were together the morning they bought their licenses. Cecil got No. 11 and Alick, right behind him, got No. 13. Now they know why.

The six who came to dinner were the first of some 5,000 sportsmen who purchased the lifetime licenses between 1984 and 1994, when the program was discontinued because A) the price had never changed from $500, and B) someone figured out the state was losing money.

A fishing legend in his own lake

B.J. remembers calculating in the beginning how many years he would need to fish and hunt to make it worth it.

“I figured it would take 14 years to recoup my money … ” he said, letting that statement linger before proudly adding, “ … that was 38 years ago.”

The licenses remained a rarity, especially as time went on. Alick Rhodes remembered fishing in the Uintas when a ranger showed up and asked to see his license.

“What’s that?” the ranger asked.

“Lifetime license,” said Alick.

“Where’d you get it?”

“From you guys.”

And so the dinner conversation went, for a good hour and a half, before the governor said, “Let’s take a tour,” so he could show off the newly renovated mansion to his guests.

But before he stood up, he added his two cents about the subject du jour.

“We talk about hunting and fishing, and I grew up doing both,” said the country kid from Sanpete County. “But they are very different experiences. Fishing, you go, you cast out, and then you sit. I remember thinking early on, ‘I love to hunt, because hunting is active, you’re moving, it’s exciting. But fishing is really boring.’ Then my dad helped me realize, there’s something to just being. Maybe something’s going to happen, maybe nothing’s going to happen, but you never know, you’re just there. I think that’s a lesson that’s lost. It’s so noisy today, we always have to be stimulated in some way. Fishing is the polar opposite; sitting on the bank, waiting for … something. I think we need more of that, more of nothing.”

Around the room, silent amens of affirmation from the lifetimers. They couldn’t have said it better themselves.

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