20 Questions

20 Questions: Heidi Lewis

Heidi Lewis. Jenny O’Brien photo.

Editor’s note: Every so often, we’ll put movers and shakers in the fly-fishing world on the spot with our version of the Proust profile questionnaire. We’ve asked our subjects to be brutally honest and as forthright as they choose as they answer questions that might make them think, reminisce and look forward in their lives. And, honestly, some of these questions might make them a little uncomfortable, and that’s intentional, as it might make the answers more honest and revealing. The answers are not edited for content (but we’ll clean up the grammar and the spelling as needed).  

Fly fishing is to Heidi Lewis what cold, clean water is to trout — a basic necessity of life. Casting a fly is her form of meditation, her art and her passion. Thankfully, she likes to share her experience and her experiences. Heidi founded Utah Women Flyfishers and serves as the Women’s Initiative Chair for the Utah Council of Trout Unlimited.

Presenting TROUT magazine cover girl Lyla Blue Guymon a lifetime membership to Trout Unlimited for inspiring anglers everywhere with her reaction to hooking into a trout was a special moment for Heidi. She has traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak with Utah’s congressional delegation about important issues around angling and other recreation opportunities and she has also served on a committee to help the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources review and create a management plan on a popular fishery. She prides herself on thinking out side of the box when it comes to fishing. As proof she set down her fly rod and picked up a stick, tied some tippet on it and dangled a fly where she could not cast to complete her Utah Cutthroat Slam

Now … for the questions (and the answers):

Heidi Lewis is all smiles after using a stick to land the Yellowstone cutthroat that helped her complete the Utah Cutthroat Slam. Andy Engel photo.

What’s the last good book you read?

I’m not a huge reader. When I make time to read, I love reading fishing stories. The last book I enjoyed reading — and finished — was “Back Cast: Fly-fishing and Other Such Matters,” by Jeff Metcalf. I first met Jeff in 2018 when I was fortunate enough to be on a local National Public Radio show with Jeff. I was way out of my league with well-spoken writers.

They shared some fishing stories from their time together. I wanted to read more about Jeff’s adventures because he was battling a serious cancer diagnosis and is no longer with us today. I didn’t get a chance to spend time with him on the water, but I can totally relate to his stories over the years about different fly fishing adventures. Had I met him sooner in life, I know we would have had some stories of our own. His passion for fly fishing is something I feel I have just like in his stories. It is always comforting for me to know of others who are just as fanatical about fishing as I am. I feel less strange.

What music is on your phone right now?

Music is so important to me. It can completely change my mood almost instantly. It’s like a loyal friend. The music I really love most often makes me cry. Either because it’s just so beautiful or pulls at the heart strings. Good music should do that to you. It should make you feel things.

Stevie Wonder, Sade, John Denver, Bob Marley (who I almost always listen to before a fishing trip or en route to), The White Buffalo, Trampled by Turtles, Gregory Alan Isokov, John Mayer, Lake Street Dive, A Tribe Called Quest, Bad Religion and Mandolin Orange are on my playlist, to name a few.

What do you fear the most?

The idea of going into a bar or restaurant, or traveling alone terrifies me. I’m such an introvert. I could never see myself traveling the world alone, which is funny because I love alone time and fishing solo, but it’s challenging and frightening to think about meeting random strangers while traveling alone.

Oh, and the sound of a rattlesnake.

The idea of going into a bar or restaurant, or traveling alone terrifies me. I’m such an introvert. I could never see myself traveling the world alone, which is funny because I love alone time and fishing solo, but it’s challenging and frightening to think about meeting random strangers while traveling alone.

Heidi Lewis

On what occasion do you lie?

I often lie when I’m asked when I’ll be home from fishing. I’ve learned to not answer the question until I’m in my car driving home. It’s so hard to leave the river. There’s always another bend, another puzzle, more wildlife. I almost rather not go at all than have to leave.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I don’t often sit still. Stillness can be hard for me. I am a busybody a lot of the time. Even though I feel I’m in a meditative state while fishing I’m still moving. Meditation is often associated with stillness, although I can tell you that sitting still with your knees crossed isn’t the only way to meditate. Being in the moment is easy while fishing, but often difficult off the water for me.

What is it you most dislike?

I don’t like being vulnerable. It’s scary to put your true self out there sometimes. I’m trying to do better and have learned I have to pick and choose who I am vulnerable around. It’s a hard thing for me and I dislike feeling vulnerable. 

With what historical figure do you most identify?

Is it strange to identify with animal behavior or an animal?
After reading about 06, the wolf shot outside of Yellowstone National Park and loved by many visitors, I felt like I could identify with her story. Hard to put it into words. She was viewed and observed by many. She paved her own way. She was a leader. A lone wolf. She hunted for her pack and provided for her family. By no fault of her own she explored outside of her protected area and was lawfully shot. What a tragic ending to a bad-ass life.

What words or phrases do you tend to overuse?

Curse words. Especially while fishing.

If you could pick one place to live, where would it be?

Heidi Lewis works to land a Yellowstone cutthroat on the Lamar River in Yellowstone National Park. Courtesy Heidi Lewis.

This is a hard question. In general, it would be a home on the side of a trout stream in the Rockies. Since that is hardly a reality for me yet, it would be somewhere surrounded by rivers and mountains. I mean, if I could live in Yellowstone National Park I would. Next best thing would be near it. The west entrance to Yellowstone is 327 miles from me. So not very close.

If there is a heaven, and you are lucky enough to make it to heaven, what would God say to you upon your arrival?

“Would you be OK fishing every day and always have a hatch to match in any weather you choose?”

Which living person do you most admire?

I really admire Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia. Beyond being an environmentalist, his company is also engaged in things that matter a lot to me. He has found a way to continue to make environmentally conscious products and promote buying less “stuff” over the years. He’s a very humble man and you would never know, after meeting him, that he’s a millionaire. 

He also has taken a single fly pattern (pheasant tail soft hackle) around the world that caught many different species of fish in both salt and freshwater. That’s crazy to think about.

What is your greatest regret?

I don’t have many regrets. We sleep in the bed we make. Deal with it. 

What profession would you pursue if you couldn’t do what you do now?

Pottery work by Heidi Lewis. Courtesy of Heidi Lewis

I have three options for this one.

Of course, with my love and passion for fly fishing, I would love to work in the industry somehow and make a living doing so. Not sure what I would do but it wouldn’t be guiding. I always think that if I found fly fishing sooner in life, this would have happened.

I also love making pottery. If I could have my own studio and sell it full-time and also make a living, I’d do that as well.

I have always wanted to study frogs. I would have loved to have done fieldwork or research, but I didn’t feel I was smart enough to get a master’s degree in herpetology. I did graduate with a degree in environmental science, but didn’t work in that field too long before I took a job at the family business after staying home with my children until they went to elementary school. It was the best fit for me and my family.

Ultimately, the passion should drive the profession. That didn’t totally work out for me.

What’s your closest brush with death?

Not sure it was a brush with death, but it could have gone that way. I was 19, working alone in a local plant store, when an armed robber came in at 5 p.m. one evening and demanded money from the till. He didn’t point the gun at me but showed me he had one stuffed in the front of his belt. Things could have gone very badly except he took the money and left quietly. 

Heidi Lewis fishing in Utah. Jay Beyer photo

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, who or what would it be?

I’ve actually thought about this many times and have come up with two answers.

A race car driver. I love going fast, although I don’t because I don’t want a ticket, but I drive a fast enough car that has been modified to go faster. I think it would be so fun to burn laps on a track and race other drivers.

I would have loved to live in the 70s in my youth. I would be on roller skates and dancing to disco. 

Maybe these two could be combined in that era if I ever get reincarnated.

What word do you have to look up every time to make sure you spelled it correctly?

Quarantine. Had to just spell check it again. How many times in the last year — with Covid-19 — have you texted or written that word? I still can’t get it right. I hope to never have to spell that word again after 2021 is over. 

I’ll also add maintenance. I’m not a good speller by any means. I was a science major in college.

What is the favorite car of all the cars you’ve driven?

When I was 17 and living in Wisconsin, my brother restored a 1963 Volkswagen Bug he found in a lady’s back yard sunk in the mud in Salt Lake City. It was all original, air-cooled 40-horse with seat belts as an option in ’63. The seat belts were added for my safety and seats were covered in new material before it was delivered to Wisconsin from Utah. Although, if I ever got in an accident in that Bug, it would have folded like an accordion and no seat belt would have saved me. 

I eventually moved to Utah and brought it with me at age 18. It had no working radio but it did have heat. Since I had nothing to listen to (prior to cell phones), I was very in tune with the way that car sounded. When it needed a valve adjustment I knew. When the engine didn’t sound quite right, I knew I needed to take a look and change the jet in the carburetor. I learned a ton while owning that car and still dream about it. Because it had no weight to it, I couldn’t make it up a snowy inclined road in the winter to get to the University of Utah and eventually had to sell it. If I could have stored it covered for a later time in my life as a car to drive on a sunny Sunday, I would have. It was Panama beige.

What will you always buy, regardless of how much it costs?

Organic produce.

What’s your “trademark?” What sets you apart from others?

Heidi Lewis proving the superstition about bananas and fishing is hogwash. Courtesy Heidi Lewis

I have a banana tattoo. 

If you are an angler or spent any time on a boat, you probably have heard that bananas and fishing don’t go hand in hand. In fact, most are very superstitious about bananas anywhere near a rod or a boat.

I had mistakenly brought a banana on a boat once while fishing with Captain Chuck Ragan for striped bass in California. Our bed and breakfast packed us up a nice breakfast to take fishing. Little did we know at the bottom of the bag would be a delicious banana. Once discovered, we were in big trouble. After eating the banana, I caught my biggest striper to date. From then on, I have found bananas to be good luck and would bring them on various fishing trips and boats to the dismay of my angling and boating companions.

Over the years I have found some people willing to have a banana on the boat and, in turn, we have had some great days of fishing. So now, with a banana tattoo, I always have my good luck charms with me no matter what.

When and where were you happiest? Saddest?

I’m so happy when I see my children happy. That’s all I want for them is to be happy in life. The rest will be a piece of cake.

I’m the saddest when someone views my generosity or good intentions as something else.

BONUS QUESTION: What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

When someone can violently hurt an innocent animal for no reason.