By Nina A. Koziol, Special to Tribune Newspapers
December 2, 2012
That adage that couples who play together stay together? P.J. and Donna Smith are that couple.
Married in 2000, they have worked together for more than 18 years and spend most of their leisure time fly-fishing. Or talking about fly-fishing. Or attending fly-fishing meetings. Their honeymoon, in fact, took place during the Federation of Fly Fishers' annual conference in Montana.
They met at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, where Donna is a horticulturist and P.J. is a construction supervisor. Their friendship blossomed in 1995.
"One of the guys on his crew said to P.J., 'Hey, what about (dating) her? She's kinda cute,'" Donna recalled. She began going to lunch with them once a week and made an impression.
"I was riding in a dump truck with my co-worker George," P.J. explained, "and he pulled over when he saw Donna and asked her if she'd like to go fishing with us on Saturday. She said yes, but when we pulled away, George said, 'I'm not going fishing.' I was set up!"
The pair not only caught fish that day but also discovered they had a good time together. Donna soon asked P.J. to go canoeing on the Vermillion River in Wisconsin. They hit it off, started dating seriously and by 1997 had moved in together, two blocks from his parents' home.
Their relationship with fishing accelerated too. P.J. has fished since he was 2 years old, but, he said, "When we started dating, I really got into fly-fishing. Donna wanted to do it too."
(For the uninitiated, fly-fishing is an angling technique that uses an artificial "fly" to catch the fish.)
"I watched a friend fly-fish, and it was so beautiful," Donna said. She took a lesson, and soon they were hooked. They spent one night a week at a suburban fly-fishing shop and later joined the DuPage Rivers Fly Tyers club. They also enrolled in trout fishing schools in Wisconsin.
"We … spent a lot of weekends up in Viroqua fly-fishing," P.J. said. "We fell in love there, and because of all our trout fishing and all that, it's where I proposed." They were fishing in Timber Coulee Creek in 1999 when he popped the question, having placed his mother's wedding ring beforehand in an expensive Wheatley fly-fishing box, which holds the lightweight handcrafted lures.
"Donna was downstream, and we had little walkie-talkies," he said. "I called her, and she wasn't having any luck. So I ran down there." (As fast as a nervous guy could run while wearing waders.)
He had her step onto the bank. "I didn't want the ring to fall into the stream; it wasn't insured," he said.
"He handed me the box," she recalled, "and I said, 'Wow, why did you get me this expensive fly box?' It rattled funny, and all the little flies in there don't make that (kind of) noise." Then she saw the ring. "I couldn't believe it."
"We were done fishing," P.J. said. "She was not paying attention after that, and her fishing didn't improve that afternoon."
Since marrying, they've expanded their outdoor interests. P.J. became a licensed fishing guide in Wisconsin and takes clients out on the weekends; Donna is a certified casting instructor. And they both enjoy their garden.
They have their workplace in common, of course, but a key to maintaining a blissful relationship is recognizing the need for some personal space, they agree.
"It's important that since we see each other at work every day, we need to have 'alone' time," P.J. said. "We each have our own separate hobbies and interests and do things without each other." He occasionally hunts and fishes with the guys, and she enjoys quilting, scrapbooking, baking, visiting her mother and taking weekend trips to visit friends in Wisconsin.
"One tip for creating a happy marriage is to be open and honest with each other, which helps to avoid arguments," Donna said.
That doesn't mean they aren't competitive. This fall Donna caught a 46-inch muskie that weighed 25 pounds, the largest fish either of them has caught to date.
"I'll have to catch up with her now," P.J. said with a wink.
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