Jack Simpson considers it his duty to pass along what he knows to those willing to take the time to learn.
That’s the way he learned how to fly fish, and that’s the way he intends to perpetuate the “science,” as he calls it.
“Ask and ye shall receive,” says Simpson, a 68-year-old fly fisherman sporting an unbridled confidence many anglers could only dream of having. “Lots of times people have come within 100 feet of my boat and said: ‘Mind if I come over and pick your brain?’ I say, nope. Let’s do this.”
His interest in fly fishing began at a young age. He was raised in the Chilcotin near Tatla Lake, so the opportunity to fish was never in question. That changed, however, on his 17th birthday.
“I left when I was 17 to go into the military in 1961,” Simpson says, noting he flew radial-engined prop planes for the Canadian and U.S. militaries. “Following that my 10-year career in the military had led me into civilian life in Vancouver and out around the Vancouver area.”
In 1973 Simpson met his then-to-be wife, Grace Simpson, who now works at Thompson Rivers University’s Williams Lake campus as the campus co-ordinator.
“When we got married [in 1976] we decided if we were going to raise kids we really didn’t want to do it in Vancouver,” he says. “When the opportunity came to move back to Williams Lake [in 1979] it was a no brainer with what we wanted to do with raising a family.”
That’s when he started to get back into fly fishing. However, all the while raising two children, Simpson never really had time to be as “obsessive” as he is now about the sport.
“It was probably about 25 years ago, maybe more, when I kind of reinvigorated my interest in fly fishing and I’ve been doing it ever since,” Simpson says.
That reinvigoration now consists of tying flies, building rods, selling rods, discovering secret lakes and teaching his craft to anyone willing to put in the work to learn the sport properly.
Learning to become a true fly fisherman came by chance, Simpson recalls.
“I was fortunate enough to acquire probably one of the finest fly fishing teachers in the whole world purely by accident through a chance meeting at what was then a Cariboo College Christmas function in Kamloops,” he says. “I met a guy who was standing over in the corner and not part of the academic conversation. There was this tall, slim, Asian guy there whose wife worked at Cariboo College and we struck up a conversation and we’ve been good friends ever since.”
That was Brian Chan — one of the most distinguished fly fisherman not only in B.C., but the world. Chan, who lives in Kamloops, spent many years working as a professional fisheries biologist with the B.C. Ministry of Environment and many years with the Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C., has written several books and been featured in film, TV shows and magazines throughout the world.
“He was so free to pass on information and hints and stuff,” Simpson says. “If you could commit yourself to learn he’d help every step of the way if he could.”
The knowledge passed down to Simpson has, in turn, come full circle to the point where Simpson now hosts regular casting seminars and fly-tying sessions.
“I now build rods,” he says. “That’s sort of the progression if you’re truly obsessed. The epitome of it is to tie one of your own, original flies, build a rod and then catch a fish with that combination.
Simpson has a basement room where he builds rods professionally, plus a room upstairs he uses for fly tying and other activities.
“I built 26 rods this past winter,” he notes.
Simpson insists, however, the industry and rod builders are now more concerned with instant gratification. That is, allowing a person to walk into a store, buy a rod, reel and line, walk out the door, head to a lake, and send out a 60-foot cast.
“The primary thing is looking cool and that’s where the fly rod industry has directed their efforts is to the instant gratification,” he says. “Those people then develop the perception of, ‘Well, I don’t have to learn anymore.'”
That’s where Simpson becomes selective about who he’s willing to share his vast amount of knowledge with.
“Real fly fishing is about entomology, about fish habitat, about species or strain, about eating habits, and it goes on and on,” he says. “It’s a lifetime pursuit of learning.”
Simpson says he fishes about 80 to 120 days of the year. However, he doesn’t simply arrive at a lake, dump in his pontoon boat and head out. He starts by doing research.
“It starts the day before,” he says. “It’s redoing the research on that lake — refreshing my memory of the bathometrics (depth and drop-offs), the strain of rainbows that have been stocked because each strain has a particular habitat that they prefer and a particular food supply that they prefer. Then I go out.
“In the good, old Brian Chan tradition I probably stand at the shore and open my eyes, see what’s going on, see what the birds are doing — because the birds are a clue, especially swallows and those type of bird — and if they’re swooping down and going along the surface then I know there is a chironomid hatch going on.”
All simple things, Simpson insists, but things that need to be done in order to fish properly.
Simpson also runs his own company, Sandpiper Fly Fishing, and recently began supplying some of his own stock, and other professional manufacturers stock, at Blue Mountain Gun Smithing and Sales on Mackenzie Avenue in Williams Lake.
“What’s also happened this last month is I was asked to join the professional staff for 3M, Scientific Angler and Ross fly reels and rods,” he says. “That entails being sent whole bunches of good stuff to give them objective input, to try out new products and to promote their good products to my circle of influence.”
For inquiries or for more information contact Simpson at email@example.com.