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The Rogue River's lord of the ring

SHADY COVE — Not the type of guy to be daunted by a bad fishing day or even a strong river current, Shady Cove resident Tom Bettencourt didn’t immediately feel like he might be in marital trouble when his new wedding ring slipped off his finger and sank to the bottom of the Rogue River on Sept. 7.

After all, he’d just helped net a steelhead and the current was slow where his newly purchased gold and platinum wedding band had probably landed.

Having spent the day with a friend on his boat, enjoying the sun and catching some fish, Bettencourt was optimistic at first.

“So the story revolves around a fishing trip,” he said as he began his confession near the Shady Cove boat ramp on Friday.

“I was just taking a buddy of mine out to catch a steelhead — a nice steelhead, too — and I just rinsed my hands off and it slid right into the water. In my defense, it’s kind of a heavier ring. I thought it’d be OK.”

He added, “I put my hand right in to try and grab it and it was all just muck — and below that was even more muck.”

Just married on Aug. 25, Bettencourt ventured home to his wife of a few weeks and told his tale.

“I said, ‘Hey, we caught a steelhead! Honey, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news.”

He added with a grin, “So by the time she changed all the locks no, I’m just kidding. She was a pretty good sport about it.”

Bettencourt and his friend at first returned to spot where he lost his ring and tried to find it with a basic metal detector. After that futile attempt, his fishing pal, local resident Ryan Sexton, reached out to the Facebook group, Southern Oregon Metal Detecting.

The plan, a trade of cash or fishing trip in exchange for help.

“I caught this nice steelhead and he netted the fish, unhooked it, and handed it to me for a picture. He went to rinse his hands in the river and his two-week-old wedding ring slipped right off and into the river,” Sexton told the group.

“It’s in shallow, slack non-moving water less than two feet deep.”

Group member and Eagle Point resident Mike Case, the resident expert with specialty underwater detectors, was immediately nominated. Case said nice weather and a chance to be on the Rogue was excuse enough to try to help.

“If I hadn’t found the ring when I did I might have just gone swimming,” he noted.

An avid hobbyist, Case grew up in Ashland before moving to Alaska for more than four decades, then retired back in the Rogue Valley four years ago. He managed to put himself through two years of college detecting and finding gold nuggets.

That experience proved invaluable as he took on the search and came up with Bettencourt’s ring after “the most delicate extraction I have ever done.”

“One wrong move would have caused that ring to sink out of detection range,” he said, “as it was only being held above the mud by the river grass. If I had stepped on it, it would have gone too deep to be found. The mud was easily 2 feet deep.”

After showing off the gold and platinum band on Friday, Bettencourt placed it in a box before taking Case on the promised fishing trip.

“I promised my wife I wouldn’t wear it on the river,” he said.

“I’m sure it’s fine in my pocket. And she was never mad. She’s a really good sport.”

Just as happy to head onto the water as he was the previous Friday, Bettencourt, who remained married on Friday, smiled at the happy ending.

“It’s nice to see total strangers eager to help other people. (Case) was just so nice. I feel like it’s the karma in your life. Somebody said, ‘Oh, you’re just lucky!’” he said, tucking his ring box firmly into his pocket.

“I said, ‘No, I really believe that if you just be good to people, it comes back to you.’ And what a fun way for people to come together. And here we are going out to catch another steelhead? It’s a happy ending.”

Distressed husbands who misplace their wedding bands can connect with Case via Facebook, Southern Oregon Metal Detecting.

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

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