Thomas, an avid fly fisher with 17 years of experience, signed up for the Snake River Cutthroats' rod-building class so he could present his grandchildren with a more personalized trout-slaying weapon.
"I've got nine grandkids, and what I want to do is build a rod for each of them," he said. "What I'll do is use a calligraphy pen and write 'Custom built by Grandpa' on each one of them. What better way to get them excited about it?"
Thomas and nine others signed up for the five-week course, which began last month at Idaho Falls High School.
The class allows intrepid fly fishers to build their own custom rods from kits that go for $90 and up.
If all goes well for the rookie rod builders, they'll open the dry fly season with a functional and sentimental rig that cost about one-third of what a factory setup fetches.
Instructor Harley Reno, who builds rods seven at a time and can finish a single pole in 70 minutes, demonstrated aligning the different rod sections, setting the reel seat, affixing the tip top and lining up the guides.
One lazy measurement or case of butterfingers is all that stands between a sound rod and a wayward tip top or unaligned guides.
"You should be going through a discussion with yourself where either you've got it and you've won or you're giving up (and moving on) in disgust," he said. "But either way, it's an experience you all should have."
Still, the chance for error didn't send the class scurrying.
Fly fishers are famous for taking pride in difficult, nuanced procedures that set them apart from their lawn-chair-sitting, bait-chucking counterparts.
"This is something you should take personal pride in," Reno said. "It's like fly tying: If you've done everything right, the fish grabs it and it's a huge success."
As the first class unfolded last week, the participants shared a laundry list of goals for the new toys they're crafting.
"I'm here to catch bigger fish," said Phillip Lau, a reformed bait fisherman who has been chasing trout for seven seasons. "All I'm catching is the little ones now."
Mike Childs, who recently moved from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., tinkered with a pair of rods so he and his daughter can spend time together on the river.
Sue Rush, who began angling Colorado waters in the late 1970s, was looking for a project to share with her husband.
And Paul Hammond finally found a use for the Sage rod blank he received as a Christmas gift 15 years ago.
Whatever the reason, their presence seemed to square with a phrase Reno repeated in variation throughout the night, a sort of philosophical mission statement that could broadly encompass much of the world that is fly fishing.
"If you do it right, it's a beautiful thing," Reno said. "But if you don't, well, the fish won't care."