Sandy River Spey Clave: A Tribute to My Spey Heroes
I've been going to the Sandy River Spey Clave for well over a decade now. The Sandy Clave has been a huge part of my Spey evolution. For years I have watched my "Spey Heros" do presentations and had a chance to rub shoulders with them. Over time, many have become friends and mentors. To me, though, the Clave has been a culmination of many things. Initially, it was a place where I could see the best Spey casters in the world share their expertise with others. It has acted as a networking opportunity for me. It has been a barometer, so to speak, and inpired me to become a better caster. Lately though, while all those still factor in, it has also given me a chance to "give back" and help promote the sport that has given me so much.
My first "Spey Hero" was Simon Gawesworth. My introduction to the sport was through the early RIO Spey videos, where he and Jim Vincent dazzled us with their expertise. Being mostly self taught, the videos were invaluable to me. I started Spey casting as a result of a conversation with Ken Morrish. I was guiding in Colorado at the time, but had recently discovered Southern Oregon. I had a girlfriend from Ashland, and winters were spent there between guide seasons. Ken suggested I learn how to Spey cast if I wanted to become a Steelhead guide. He predicted it was going to become popular. I had no idea how to get started, so Ken gave me a list of rods, reels, and lines to purchase. He also suggested the buying the RIO Basic and International Spey Videos. That next winter I moved to Gold Beach, where I made my first Spey casts on the Lower Rogue. Evenings were spent wearing out the DVDs, and days were spent thrashing around on the Rogue. I felt like I got to know Simon quite well, even though we had never met. His relaxed and calming voice, enhanced my his sophisticated British accent echoed in my mind as I struggled violently, at times, trying to figure out this new casting style. He was the Spey voice inside my head.
Again, through Ken's advice, my best buddy Chris Lyda and I hired Mike McCune to guide us on a winter steelhead trip. I made the journey to Oregon's North Coast on a cold, snowy January weekend. It was a classic Winter Steelhead day. It had to have snowed 6 inches that day. By some miracle, we both hooked fish under Mike's supervision. This though, was my first hand's on instruction. I still remember several things I learned that day, some casting related and others how to fish a swung fly. It became obvious right away that Mike was a seasoned guide. And while Mike and I became fast friends, his status of Spey Hero was instant.
Mike and I became friends over the years following our guide trip. I was honored when he invited me to camp with he and Scott O'Donnell on the Clackamas during the Spey Clave weekend. A 20 minute drive from the Sandy, Barton Park had looser rules on what some might consider "lewd behavior". Barton Park became a tradition for a few years. One year Scott brought his jet boat so we could run around on the Clackamas. Scott was really proud of his boat. If I recall it was a Polar Craft, about 16 feet, with a Yamaha outboard jet. He mentioned several times that it had a tunnel hull, and could successfully run in 4 inches of water. If you ever saw the boat, it looked like he'd tested that theory many times. That particular day, after fishing hard with no luck, it was time to head back to the ramp. Scott decided to take a side channel back up river. As we approached to top of the channel, Scott backed off the throttle and paused a second, to pick his line. I saw no line, just rocks, trees, and a steep, shallow climb into the tailout upriver. I looked at Scott, he looked at Mike, and Mike looked at me and said, "hold on to the rods". Before that last word came out of Mike's mouth, Scott hammered the throttle, determined to blaze a trail through the impossible. I remember thinking, "oh shit", as I was about to die. By some miracle, we made it. Yeah, we hit every rock in our path, we plowed through some tree branches, but we made it. Scott was a Spey Hero of mine already. This added a legendary element to it.
It may have been a couple of years later that RIO filmed the Modern Spey Casting video series. It was another Barton Park year. The film crew had been on the Clackamas prior to the Sandy Clave. I showed up at Barton unaware of what I might run into. I saw what looked like Mike's wall tent. So, I jumped out of my truck and poked my head in. In the tent was Jim Vincent, Simon Gawesworth, Scott O'Donnell , Mike McCune, Ed Ward, George Cook, and Dana Sturn. I remember feeling a little "star struck" at the time. I had watched all of these guys present at the Sandy Clave for several years. Yeah, I was becoming buddies with some. But these are the guys that were the measuring stick for me, the guys I looked up to, the better part of my "Spey Hero" list. I quietly backed out of the tent, as I didn't want to interupt their meeting.
I met George Cook, probably 2002, while working at the Ashland Outdoor Store fly shop. I had read about George and was very familiar with his Alaskabou fly series. My first impression of George was that of a "cool cat". He was friendly, engaging, funny, and unintimidating. Our relationship started on a professional level, as he was the "giver of pro forms" and such. That has culminated over the years, and the Sandy Clave has a lot to do with it. For years I would "hang out" at the Sage booth. Over time, they had no choice but to put me to work! George's personality is larger than life and it really shines through with a microphone and large audience. When I first heard George talk about being the "Spey Quarterback" and refer to the latest Sage 7 weight as the "30.06 of Spey Rods", I knew we were destined to be friends! George became a Spey Hero of a different sort, as nothing he does is half ass, it's always done in a "mega" fashion. Beside his casting, fishing, and hunting prowess, George has a way with the "public" that has always impressed me. He is no too important for anyone, and always takes the time to go the extra mile for people, regardless of their position on the food chain. To me, that quality is his most mega.
While working at the Ashland Outdoor store 16 years ago, I saw Charles St. Pierre's name on an old class schedule. I remember thinking, "who's this guy?". His name sounded a little too fancy for me. Just so happend that several years later I would meet CSP, as we call him, at the Sandy Spey Clave. It's no secret that CSP is extremely gifted Spey caster, fly tyer, and instructor. Were it not for the Sandy Clave, we may have never crossed paths. What I didn't know at the time that we'd become such good bros.
So while this is somewhat of a historical and personal tribute to my "Spey Heros", many of which have become good friends, this is also a tribute to Mark Bachman, for creating this incredible venue where people can tell such a story. He, Patty, Rick, Derek, and various supporting cast members have logged countless hours over 18 years to make this event happen. Were it not for the Clave, who really knows what Spey casting would look like in the PNW today. Maybe someone else would have carried that torch. It's impossible to say. But what I do know for sure, is that the Sandy River Spey Clave's influence on my personal path has been immeasureable. I would bet others have similar stories, perhaps with similar names, hopefully told over a good Scotch.