Even the weather loves Wayne Gustaveson.
The weather, which had been windy, cold and rainy last Thursday and Friday returned to blue skies and warm temperatures Saturday, creating perfeact conditions for fishermen who joined Gustaveson, who celebrated his 70th birthday fishing on his favorite lake.
In honor of their longest tenured employee, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) sponsored a Striper Showdown Fishing Event with prizes given for biggest fish, most fish, longest fish and 70th fish caught.
During his 42 years as the fisheries biologist/manager with the Division of Wildlife Resources, the media has called him “the Fish Whisperer,” and “the Michael Jordan of bass fishing.”
When Gustaveson and his wife arrived in Page in 1975 to begin his new job, Lake Powell was still in its infancy.
Construction of the Glen Canyon Dam had been completed just 12 years prior, and it would still be another five years before the lake would reach full pool. The first striped bass had been introduced to the lake just a year before.
“Lake Powell’s stripers and I grew up together,” he said.
Since 1975, Gustaveson has fished Lake Powell at least once a week. “And if the fishing’s good, I go more.”
It’s safe to say that no one on Earth knows the lake, its fish, their habitats and habits — and how best to catch them — better than he does.
“I think like a striper,” Gustaveson wrote in his book. “What a great ride it has been to “grow up” with stripers. I know them well. The biology has been incredibly interesting, but learning about their behavior and haunts has been even more satisfying because much of that has been rod, reel and graph.”
In 1989, Gustaveson began writing a weekly fishing report from March to November, spreading the word to Lake Powell’s fishermen where they could find the stripers and how best to catch them. In the beginning, his fishing reports were handed out to fishermen launching from the Wahweap ramp. About that same time, his weekly fishing also appeared on the pages of the Lake Powell Chronicle, where it still appears to this day. His weekly report moved online in 2000, and took the playful moniker Wayne’s Words.
Among those in attendance Saturday was Gustaveson’s supervisor at the DWR, Richard Hepworth.
“Wayne brings a wealth of experience and knowledge with him,” said Hepworth, “and what’s more he’s very good at communicating that knowledge with other fishermen.
“All that knowledge tied up in one person is huge. That will be hard to replace when he retires.”
Hepworth works out of the district office in Cedar City, Utah and visits Gustaveson once a month.
“We conduct most of our meetings on a boat with a pole in our hands,” said Hepworth. “That’s one meeting I make sure I don’t miss.”
Dozens of Gustaveson’s friends and family joined him for the Striper Showdown on Saturday, which created the perfect occasion for reminiscing and sharing favorite fishing stories.
And as you might imagine, his family has a lot of them.
Fishermen are famous for their patience, waiting all day for a fish to strike, but fishing with kids takes an extra layer of patience, said Wayne’s son, Brian.
“Our dad took us fishing a lot while we were growing up,” said Brian. “But our attention spans were short and we got bored pretty quickly. We also wanted to swim and ski.
“One day we had finished fishing and had put the poles away and me and my brothers were goofing around. In all the scuffling, I fell and I fell on all six poles and broke them all in half. I’m sure my dad’s insides sunk, but he bit his lip. I think he was secretly happy because now he had an excuse to upgrade and get a whole new set of poles.”
Wayne’s oldest son, Brent, said he has so many favorite fishing memories it’s impossible to narrow it down to a single favorite memory, but rather all the fishing memories have distilled into lessons he uses himself now that he’s a father.
“In our family, we don’t go fishing, we go catching, because we’d go with our dad,” said Brent. “I was the fishing jinx of the family. I caught more rocks, driftwood and brothers than I did fish. My dad sacrificed a lot of his own fishing hours untangling our lines and baiting hooks. He spent most of his time driving the boat and watching the fish finder while we fished.
“I learned a lot of important life lessons just watching my dad. Now that I’m the father of four kids I often ask myself, `What would my dad do?’”
Wayne’s wife, Charlene, has the best fishing story of them all.
“One day, Wayne and I were fishing from the bank and I cast out and caught two bass on one lure. One on the front hook and one on the back hook,” she said. “But I don’t like to touch fish, so I dragged them down the beach to Wayne and had him take them off the hook for me.”
“It’s been a good day,” Wayne said. “I get to go out fishing with my sons again.”