Dentist gets tryout for national fly-fishing team

Posted: Friday, May 20, 2005

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — A Grand Junction dentist who fills his time with fly fishing has a shot at representing the U.S. against the world.

Anthony Naranja, who grew up a self-labeled military brat and initially learned his fly fishing from books and videos, recently was selected to compete at the Fly Fishing Team USA trials this weekend in Sunriver, Ore.

Should Naranja make the U.S. Team, he'll have the opportunity to fish against the best fly anglers in the world in a series of competitions concluding with the World Championships August 16-23 in Lycksele, Swedish Lapland.

Naranja said he never thought about fly fishing while growing up.

''I was a military brat, traveling around the country,'' Naranja said. ''I fished for warm-water species — bass, crappie, that sort of thing — but I didn't fly fish.''

His first taste of fly fishing came in the late 1980s while in dentistry school at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

''I was intrigued by this method of fishing, and I wanted to learn more,'' said Naranja, 34. ''Everything I learned was self-taught through books and watching videos.''

He graduated from dental school in 2000 and that same year established his practice, Fine & Naranja Family Dentistry, in Grand Junction.

Almost immediately he got to know Jerry Schaeffer and Jesse Eckley at Western Anglers in Grand Junction.

''That's usually the first thing he does in any town we visit,'' said Naranja's wife, Julie. ''He checks out the fly shop.''

Naranja continued to hone his skills, particularly his casting skills.

''Casting really intrigued me,'' he said. ''I worked pretty hard at it, and soon another part of me was looking for a different opportunity to develop those skills in casting.''

That opportunity came in 2003, when the Outdoor Life Network unexpectedly invited him to compete in the Fly Fishing Masters. He competed again in 2004, and that same year he won the ''unrestricted'' division in the casting competition at the Federation of Fly Fishers Conclave in West Yellowstone, Mont.

All that competition not only honed Naranja's skills, it built an impressive resume, something that came in useful last winter while visiting the International Sportsman's Exposition in Salt Lake City. There he met Jack Dennis, captain of Fly Fishing Team USA.

Dennis, a well-known Jackson, Wyo.-based, outfitter and fly-fishing educator, has been with the U.S. team since 1990. Naranja was curious about international competitive fly fishing and struck up a conversation with the personable Dennis, who hand-picks the U.S. team.

After talking a while, Dennis asked Naranja for a resume.

A few months later, Naranja received in the mail an invitation to this week's Team USA tryout at Sunriver, located in central Oregon, 15 miles south of Bend.

''I just talked to (Dennis) a little, and then I got the invitation,'' said Naranja, still somewhat amazed at the good fortune. ''I'm familiar with some of the other invitees, so I know what kind of competition I'm facing to make the team.''

He'll join 15 or so other competitors at Sunriver. According to Team USA Web site, the three-day tryout (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) will simulate the championship contests, which team members will face later this year. Naranja expects to learn more about international competitive fishing this weekend.

''It's something new for me, and I know there's a lot to learn,'' he said. ''But Jerry (Schaeffer) and Jesse (Eckley) have been working with me and teaching me European-style nymphing techniques.''

Naranja said the team members should be announced Sunday afternoon.

The team will consist of 15 members, although only six make the traveling team. Because of the scheduling, which includes trips to Portugal, New Zealand and British Columbia and finishing with the World Fly Fishing Championship next August in Switzerland, not all members can make every trip.

''I don't know if I'll make the traveling team, but I hope I can fill in if someone can't make a trip,'' said Naranja, whose work schedule gives him the freedom to hit the road on short notice. ''What a wonderful way to see the world and to fish in some fantastic places.''

The American team hasn't had much success in the world of competitive catch-and-release fly fishing. After finishing last in 1997, the U.S. had a breakthrough in 2003 when Jeff Currier of Jackson won the bronze medal, the first American to medal, and led the American team to an eighth-place finish, its highest ever.

No matter how the weekend goes, Naranja isn't going to face the competition alone. He'll have a personal cheering section with him in Oregon, accompanied by his wife Julie and two children, 4-year-old Brendan and 4-month-old Emily.

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