Simon's father taught him to fish at the age of 6. Now 48, he's been teaching fly casting professionally since he was 16. He has both cast and fished for England in British, European and World Championships and was elected Captain of the England team for the 2003 World Fly Fishing Championships. Simon is A.P.G.A.I. and S.T.A.N.I.C. certified in the U.K. and C.I. Master and T.H.C.I. certified in the U.S. Simon's articles appear regularly in the fly fishing magazines. Simon is acknowledged as one of the world's leading authorities on spey casting and has taught and demonstrated spey casting around the world. His video "International Spey Casting", produced with Rio Products, is recognized as one of the finest instructional videos on casting.
We would like to thank Simon for his time and dedication.
FD: When did you start fly fishing? Could you tell us about your memories from those times?
SG: I started fly fishing when I was 8 in Kent in South East England. My dad had a small lake in the grounds of the house we lived in and decided to stock it with trout. I went from a coarse fisherman fishing bread and sweetcorn for tench, carp, roach and rudd, to a fly fisher chasing trout immediately!
FD: Could you tell us about your memoirs from casting and fishing championships?
SG: I don’t recall entering any fishing competitions when we lived in Kent, but we moved to Devon when I was 13, and that first year I entered a casting competition at a local country fair and won it. The organizer of the casting event, a man named Howard Tonkin, told my dad I had a lot of potential and should take up tournament casting for real. My dad got very enthusiastic about this idea (as did I) and so started to train and teach me in the finer skills of casting, rather than fishing. At that time, my dad had a fly fishing school (which he started in Kent in 1972) and so knew how to teach and how to cast. It really helped having a dad who knew how to cast and teach! I competed in the tournament casting scene in the UK from 1978 to about 1984 or 85 when lack of interest in the sport of tournament casting resulted in the collapse of the British Casting Association and, therefore, all such casting events. That’s when I started to fish competitions.
FD: When did you start teaching fly casting? How?
SG: It was easy, really. My dad taught fly fishing and as all kids do, I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps. At school I had decided to be an air force pilot and had begun the long process of getting the right education to do this. When I was about to leave school at the age of 16 in June 1980 my dad said I could continue with another 7 years of education and end up as a newly qualified pilot, or I could start teaching full time with him and for him at his school. It was an easy decision!! I had already been teaching for him on weekends and during school holidays, so had gotten a taste of what teaching was about.
FD: How much weight do you bear to the cast in the general equation of a complete angler?
SG: I have to say that I am more passionate about casting than I am about fishing, so it is a slightly biased answer that I would give to you! My favourite person to teach is the person who revels and enjoys in the cast. Many people learn to cast just as a means to an end – to get the fly to the fish and hopefully catch it. That’s fine and dandy, and I will gladly teach them to that level, but I will also try and invoke an interest and passion for the cast itself too. The caster who enjoys casting and wants to learn why and how to get better at casting, however, is much more dear to me! Many years ago, when I lived in England and fished for England I watched a fellow England team member fishing a pool in a river. He was an excellent angler, but there was one part of the pool he just could not catch a fish in. There were plenty of rising fish but it required a cast of about 70 feet to get the fly to the fish, and there was only a couple of feet of room behind. This chap could only overhead cast, and did not know how to make long distance roll and spey casts, so he could not reach these fish. I viewed him then (as I would now) as an incomplete angler.
FD: Two handed rods have become very popular worldwide. What’s your opinion about small two handed rods (5 and 6 weight)? How about switch rods?
SG: I fish more #4, #5 and #6 “switch” rods than I do 5 and 6 weight two handed rods. To me the term “switch rod” is a bit strange, and I like to think of them as short two handed rods. In the scheme of things, the typical #5 and #6 weight “two handed” rods are too slow for me and I much prefer the action of the #5 and #6 “switch” rods. As a result I fish more “switch rods” than I do “two handed”.
FD: How did you start working for RIO?
SG: In the early 1990’s I got a letter from a chap called Jim Vincent, who was an American outdoor writer that was very interested in Spey casting. He had been fishing the Dean river in BC and met a gentleman there that I had taught. Jim found out I had taught him and so contacted me. We conversed for a few years and finally met on a fishing trip to BC in 1995. Jim and I hit it off and after the trip he said that if I ever wanted a “proper” job to let him know. At that time I had my fly fishing school in England and would spend the summers teaching and the winters guiding for sea trout in Argentina. When my fiancée and I decided to get married, she said she wasn’t happy with the idea of me leaving her for 4 months a year to work in Argentina (understandably so) and so I contacted Jim and asked if he was still interested in me working for him. He said he was, and the rest is history.
FD: After such tremendous evolution in fly line taper designs, coating and core technology over the last decade. What’s next?
SG: That’s a good question. Inevitably technology is going to play a major role in future line development. We are working on numerous ideas and chemistries that, if successful, will have profound results in the development of fly lines. I really don’t see tapers having as much of a future influence as some kind of technology advance.
FD: When you visit new waters: Do you prefer to be guided or fish on your own?
SG: Without doubt I prefer to be on my own. Don’t get me wrong, I really value being with guides and appreciate all they do to ensure I have a good day out. I also love learning new ways to fish, or different ways to read the water, which guides provide. The learning side of me really gets something out of a guided day. But my core inner fly fishing self loves the challenges that I meet on the water, and in solving them (or not) on my own.
FD: You have been travelling all over the world fishing for several years. A) Which are your favorite fresh and saltwater spots? B) Could you tell us some of your funniest memoirs from your trips? C) Any very risky situation you’ve been into?
SG: A) I have been really lucky in my life, and fished some fantastic places, but I would find it really hard to be able to name a place I hadn’t enjoyed. The nature of fly fishing means you have to (generally) be in open and clean countryside, and that is the part that I love. I don’t know if I could say what some of my favourite spots are, because they all hold special memories. As I sit here and try to think through the countries and places I have fished in, none of them make me think they were not great. If I really had to name some “favourites” I would have to say the Dean river in British Columbia, and the lower Spey in Scotland would be high on the anadromous freshwater list (so would the Ponoi in Russia, the Rio Grande in Argentina, the rivers of the Gaspe in Quebec, little Osen river in Norway and coastal fly fishing for sea trout in Denmark and Sweden). For trout, again, I am really stuck. Brittany in France holds some fantastic memories for me, so does the upper Test, my home rivers in Devon, and of course the famed (and now home) rivers in Idaho – all are so special in my heart. Saltwater is no easier really. I love the challenge of the Florida Keys, and the remoteness of the Bahamas. I love the variety of Mexico, and the exoticness of Christmas Island…
B) Funny, hmmm, an interesting question! Probably the funniest things that have happened to me have been when guiding. You are more aware of other people when you are a guide, whereas as an angler I prefer to be oblivious to all but the environment and place I am in. One of the funniest moments for me was when I was guiding a French gentleman in Tierra del fuego. It was his last day of the trip and we had taken a break for lunch. I went into the hut to prepare lunch and he asked if he could fish the pool in front of the hut while I prepared it. I told him it was fine, but he would have to wade across to the other side to fish it effectively. I pointed out the shallow head of the pool and told him where to cross and where to fish. I told him that on no account should he try and cross the river anywhere but at the head as the river was too powerful. When I called him for lunch he had worked his way down the pool and said he couldn’t be bothered to walk back up to the top of the pool and he would cross in front of the hut. I warned him that this was not a smart move, but he said he was a strong wader and he had his inflatable life preserver on if things went wrong. Half way across the pool his feet got washed away from him and he floated downstream about 50 yards, cheerfully held afloat by his inflated preserver. The funny part of the story was that when he humbly crawled ashore and took his waders off to dry, he also took out of his pockets about $5000 in $100 bills and tied each note to the fence to dry. The memory of so much money flapping in the winds of tierra del fuago, held by a thin piece of fishing line to a rusty barbed wire fence still makes me laugh!
C) No, luckily enough nothing too scary or worrying. I have had a couple of extremely bumpy plane rides that would worry a lot of people, but I fly so much that I am not too bothered by that. I did stumble upon a fresh, steaming pile of bear poop in a very remote river in BC once, and that sent serious goose bumps up my neck, but that’s about it, really.
FD: Which are your favorite fresh and saltwater species? What makes them so special?
SG: Kind of like my favourite places, there really isn’t a favourite species. I love trout, steelhead and atlantic salmon, as well as sea trout, sea run cutties, coho, grayling, carp and pretty well any other freshwater species that can be caught on the fly. The same for saltwater species. It is more the manner of how they are caught and where they are caught. For example, I’d rather catch a 10” wild brown trout on my 75th cast, having changed fly 10 times to deceive it, then catch a 15 lb steelhead on a nymph and indicator rig.
FD: Which spots and species are in your bucket list?
SG: Certainly the rooster fish... that is very high on my bucket list of fish to catch. So are tarpon, peacock bass and golden dorado. In freshwater I’d have to list the large brook trout in Labrador, Tiger fish in Botswana, Mahseer in India, Barramundi in Australia, and I’d love a really good pike fishing trip somewhere too!
FD: Do you consider important to know about fly fishing history? Why?
SG: I think that the angler that is serious about their sport develops the desire to learn more history about it. Again, many anglers just fish for the sake of catching a fish (maybe for dinner, maybe just for fun) and these anglers tend not to develop the passion for learning all things, including history. I would assume it is the same for golf, tennis or any other sport. I don’t play golf, and have no interest in its history as a result. But the professionals and hardcore golfers out there can surely baffle me with names, dates and other such history.
FD: What does fly fishing mean for you?
SG: The most important things fly fishing does for me is make me relax. I love being in the natural environments that fly fishing takes me too, but I also love the challenge required to make a tricky fish take the fly. As much as any of this, I just love the technical skill required to make a good cast, and can get as much satisfaction out of casting as I can from fishing.
FD: How do you feel when you are out fishing?
SG: Relaxed, challenged, happy, at peace, free….
FD: Thank you very much Simon!