And people listen. Not only is Simon Gawesworth an ace with a spey rod, but he can also cast a single hander a country mile. He was a UK casting champion and has instructed thousands of fly fishing students. Simon is the marketing manager for RIO Products, and when he is not behind his desk, he is traveling the globe fishing new and exotic destinations. He is the North American pied piper of spey casting and is one of the world’s most well respected instructors. Four years ago, Simon gave me my first spey casting lesson. I still hear myself mumbling the words “bloody L” every time I make a sub par cast. He is genuine and charming, the real deal. Here’s what he has to say.
A half dozen questions with Simon Gawesworth:
1). What is your most memorable catch?
It’s probably a seatrout, actually, one I caught in Devon. I have a little piece of a river I own called the Bray, and the Bray is a brown trout river which towards the back end of the season gets a run of salmon and seatrout. I was teaching on that river one day and saw a shoal of seatrout lying in this particularly good pool. None of the fish were interested in any of the flies my clients cast at them, and nobody could catch them during the day. They were pretty dogged down there on the bottom. It’s a clear river, so you could see the fish, and you could tell that they weren’t really active or interested. So, I went home with the students and came back in the evening on my own, thinking, “I’m going to try to catch one of these things”. I put on a little size 16 nymph and cast out to this shoal. I cast to the head fish, which is usually the largest in seatrout circles, and for some reason he seemed to like my fly. That is, after about a half an hour of persevering, he liked my fly.
What was most interesting to me was the reason he took the fly. I was watching the fish and he was constantly ignoring the fly – they were all lying on the bottom, ignoring the fly for ages and ages. Then something happened and that big fish darted upstream, turned around and came back to his lie again. I made a cast and immediately, he took the nymph. So, something got his adrenaline pumping again. What was cool about it was it was a little tiny stream about 25 feet wide and the fish was over five pounds. I caught it on this tiny nymph with a 6 pound leader, and the fish eventually ran straight upstream to a small, natural weir. I knew if he went downstream with that light leader, he’d snap me off. So, when he started to charge downstream, I ran out to the middle of the river splashing and jumping around and made like a seal to scare it upstream again. I eventually landed it and it was the biggest seatrout I’d landed in the UK. Actually, it still is the biggest seatrout I’ve landed in the UK.
That was a very memorable fish for me for two reasons: A.) it was a wonderful fish and B.) it was very interesting to see how its reaction changed after what ever it was spooked it. I believe that when anadromous fish get excited by something, they can turn on after they’ve been off for so long. I’ve seen that a few times when salmon fishing and it’s been dead and a kayak or a shoal of kayaks goes past. You fish behind them and suddenly you catch a fish in a pool you didn’t catch a fish before.
There’s an old poaching lore in the UK that involves swimming your dog through the pool to spook fish, or throwing rocks at salmon to get them to move. The fish get excited and then get on the grab. I’ve done neither, of course! These are traditional lores which have evolved and are designed to upset the fish. Their heart starts beating, adrenaline starts pumping and the fish gets active.
2). Favorite species to pursue?
Ah, pursue that is an interesting word. Not catch? I get asked that a lot and I struggle for an answer. I think if I really was put on the spot and I had to come up with an answer it would probably be Atlantic salmon. I struggle with that because I love Dean river steelhead. I adore fishing for brown trout with little dries. I’m mad keen on permit and bones. You know I think my only caveat is that I have to fish a fly. I don’t really care what species I’m fishing for. I’m happy with carp, yellowfish, pike. I don’t care. I’ll fish for tiny little jacks under a dock. I just have to fish the fly some how. If I had to choose, though, it would be Atlantic salmon. Fresh, on a floating line with a size 12 little salmon fly. That would nail it. May I have things with me like my favorite single malt?
3). How has the fly fishing market changed since you began working for RIO?
Hmm, I’ve been here 11 years, and in the US there is now a much greater interest in the spey side of things. That’s one huge directional change when compared to when I arrived in early 2001. There was very little talk about spey fishing then.
The other part that has changed is the consumers’ attitude toward fly lines. When I moved over here, people knew that there were double tapers and weight forward fly lines, and that fly lines had different weights, like 5 weight, 6 weight, “da-dee-da”, but certainly in the last 6, 7 or 8 years, fly lines have developed into more sophisticated tapers. From my perspective, consumers understand that more. Fly lines play a more important role than they use to. It looks like consumers understand that fly line tapers do make a difference in catching fish, in casting, loading up a rod. I am not just saying that because I work for a fly line company, but I actually think that people realize that a fly line is important these days.
4). How is the fishing lifestyle in the US different than that in the UK?
I was privileged in the UK, because my dad had a fly fishing school and then when he retired in 1990, I bought it from him. So, throughout my fly fishing life I always had access to water. That is always the number one issue. In the UK fishing is extremely private. You can’t just go and fish anywhere. If you’re lucky you can go to “public” water, go to a ticket office, buy a ticket and go and fish. If you’re lucky, but not as lucky, you have to book your fishing in advance and then take what you get – good weather conditions or bad weather conditions. Generally speaking, all the best fishing is exclusive and private unless you are Lord Smyth’s cousin! Access is absolutely the biggest problem when fishing in the UK, particularly on rivers. Lakes are different. There are plenty of lakes, and at most of these you can buy a day ticket and turn up and fish when you want to. I certainly believe that UK anglers are among the best lake anglers worldwide, because it is easy to access and thousands of anglers fish lakes regularly.. You have to get a day ticket, but anybody can do it.
In the US, of course, you have all of this wonderful freedom of access and you can just pretty well go and fish where you like. It’s frustrating at times. For instance, I have given up fishing the Henry’s Fork on opening day at the Ranch, because I don’t want to fish around two hundred anglers. In the UK, you would have that piece of water to yourself, but you would have paid for it. So, there are pros and cons to both.
There is no perfect answer. One is not better than the other. But the great thing about fishing in the US is access, plus where I am now, Idaho Falls, I’ve got the Henrys fork, the Snake and plenty of other rivers where the average sized trout is 14, 16, 18 inches. You can catch a 20 incher any day. In the UK, the native fish are much smaller, a 14” trout in my home waters would be a monster. Now, I’ve got quality fishing here!
5). How about a spey casting tip?
Of course, take a lesson. Buy RIO’s Modern Spey Casting DVD. That’s a plug, sorry.
Probably the best tip of all, whether its golf, tennis or fly casting, is learn the basics and practice it. Practice is vital for success Nobody can become a master without practice. It’s a lame, boring tip, but the most important of all. Learn the basics and practice and progress. Don’t be afraid to experiment. If you’re out fishing, then try stuff. That was the highlight of my youth, my misspent youth, as a teenager. I would go down to the river with a fly rod and be a rebel. Wow, let me see what happens when I put my power stroke in here or let’s see what happens when I throw a D-loop sideways. Just play around and see what happens. I guess that’s only if you get the casting bug, If you just want to catch fish… To me, it’s not just about catching fish, it’s also about casting.
6). Single-malt or ale?
If I’m on the river spey casting, probably single malt. And if I choose the ale, may I have my cask conditioned Speckled Hen? A proper British beer or do I have to have a Budweiser? That’s a heck of a tough question. I don’t know if I can answer that. A pint of Black Sheep. Ahhh, fantastic. If I had a pint of that right now I would pound it. So, probably the ale, but if I were spey casting or in the evening, probably whiskey. Depends on the location and time. Maybe I should drink them all!
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