Apr 25, 2012

A Weekend With SIMMS

You have all heard the name, seen the logo and you probably own some of their gear. SIMMS: The undisputed mother of all fly fishing gear and apparel companies. The words, SIMMS and fly fishing just seem to stick together like PB and Jelly these days. That's just the way it is. What started in the nineties as a small startup by fishing guide, John Simms out of Jackson, WY, SIMMS has grown steadily into not only an innovative, industry leading company but seemingly something larger than that. Somehow, these five letters have come to resemble a certain concept or frame of mind. Just glancing at a bumper sticker displaying this text can conjure up that inner angling desire or take one back to a place in time where the water flowed flawlessly. Although marketing displays the words, the fact remains that more serious fly anglers depend on SIMMS gear than any other- which gives this company a vital role in countless stories that play out daily around the globe. It's no wonder that SIMMS ignites thoughts of fly fishing and to many, the two have almost become synonymous.

Why the success? Well, solid employees performing solid business practices comes to mind. Sure, getting a hold on expenses, logistics, quality control and all that stuff is a given for any business to be successful. This isn’t always easy, but SIMMS has this stuff covered. However, what really separates these folks is that they are “IN TOUCH” with their market. They have a deep respect for the people out on the water and they understand that opinions from their customers are never throw-away items. How do you help provide the best gear for people? Well, you listen to the people. Innovation deserves the right kind of advice.

SIMMS has long understood that the selling and engineering of fly gear is best achieved at the personal level. Over the years, specialty fly shops have provided this platform where people can meet, talk and make informed choices on fly gear. The Gorge Fly Shop is proud to be one of those shops helping people buy the right gear and provide necessary feedback to the product line.

Aside from their presence in shops, SIMMS has thousands of fishing guides using their gear. It’s a good scenario for both. Guides stay dry, comfortable and functional and SIMMS gets broad, personal-level marketing and professional feedback.

This past weekend marked the annual SIMMS Ice Out Event at their headquarters in Bozeman, MT.  Like an impending hatch of stone flies, guides from far and wide “crawled” to Southwest Montana for this smorgasbord of speaker events, cocktails, factory tours, feedback sessions and the much touted “Guide Olympics”.  I have to hand it to them, they put on a fine, hospitable show for the entire three days - some of which I will share below. 

Ice Out: We were greeted by anticipating eyes and hopped on a tour of the facilities. Nice place – a collection of buildings each one housing a distinct part of the operation. People were hard at work amidst sewing machines, presses, gluing stations and taping machines. We started in the back with the raw Gore-Tex material and proceeded on from there. It was interesting to witness all that goes into manufacturing a quality wader. All these people and this place and their hard work - all wrapped up in a box for some hopeful angler.

This lady was using a hot press machine to weld zipper pockets to a wader section.

At this station, this guy was gluing neoprene boot-foot pieces

And passing them over to this guy, who then fit the pieces together.

This fella was a whiz on the seam taping machine. 

Here's Nicky in the Warranty/Repair department checking for leaks

Pretty nifty embroidery machines.  This was a custom line of hats getting stitched

Walking through the facilities, you never got the feeling that this was a disjointed, impersonal operation. On one of the walls a large American Flag hung overlooking the factory floor and the Americans who work there.

After the tour, we grabbed some drinks at the River’s Edge Fly Shop where we caught up with a few attendees. Everyone seemed to be having a good time talking about fishing and flies and rivers and what type of fixings came on the barbeque pork sandwiches. Keeping pace with the schedule, we cruised to a downtown auditorium for the Keynote Speaker. It just so happened that we got to listen to this guy:

Bobby Knight! You see folks like Bobby on TV and in the news over the years and they just seem to have a certain presence or potency about them. In person, there was no mistaking it. He paced confidently and spoke knowingly. A fly angler from way back, Bobby can tell some stories – like the one he shared about salmon fishing with Ted Williams in Russia or stories about himself and his wife flogging various rivers in Wyoming. He went on to talk about winning the Olympics while coaching Michael Jordan and sharing other pivotal moments from his illustrious basketball career. Perhaps the most entertaining portion of the presentation was during the question and answer session. This was his reply when asked if he could demonstrate how far he could toss one of the chairs off the stage:

“If anyone would like to challenge me in chair tossing, I’ll do it but I’ll only do it for five hundred dollars and you will lose... Now, does anybody have a real question?”

Or when asked what he thought was the most important quality in a fishing guide….

“I think guides got to relax a little and let people make their own mistakes. That’s what I used to do coaching. I’d let them screw up and then I would jump all over them and chew them out!”

When asked if his wife was in the audience and if he could introduce her…

“OK, Karen (I think it’s Karen) please stand up honey… And you (pointing at the questioner) stay the hell away from her!”

The guy is a classic and he had our full attention for the entire event, much like his players' I would suspect.

The following day brought organized chaos to the MSU Field House in the form of the SIMMS Guide Olympics. Events included backing a trailer through a web of pylons, as well as cooler carrying, casting and knot-tying competitions. Performance levels were all over the map. Nerves were pounding but smoothed out amidst an underlying current of camaraderie.

That night, another set of speakers stood before us. Kicking it off was Trout Unlimited’s Chris Wood who spoke about conservation efforts and their unique approach to protecting vital watersheds. These people do wonderful work, and if you are not already a member, think about it by learning more at their website: http://www.tu.org/. Ignited by Dave Egdorf, who owns a lodge on the Nushagak River and who is part of the cast in the feature film, Red Gold, much of the conversation centered upon the looming Pebble Mine decision in Alaska. If allowed to go forth, this could create one of the greatest ecological disasters ever known to modern times. You can learn more about this on TU’s site.

After Chris finished up, we were introduced to this distinguished group of people.

(Left to right) John Gierach, Dave Whitlock and John Simms! They each took their turn on the microphone.

Driven in to him by his mother, John Simms always had that sense that he could accomplish anything that he set his mind to. An avid skier and ski patroller, John put his technical mind to use, developing equipment to aid in the science of snow safety. While in Jackson he started Life-Link Inc, which brought backcountry ski equipment and avalanche gear to the consumer market. As a fishing guide during the summer months John started thinking about how to keep gravel from getting into wading boots. His first design, the gravel guard, paved the way to starting SIMMS and a new line of waterproof waders. He had a friend who worked with Gore-Tex for an outerwear company and before long, John started incorporating this technology into wader construction. His message to all of us was clear: We all have the potential to make a difference and as fly fishing guides, a duty.

Next was Dave Whitlock, who spoke with such an eloquent, personable grace that to the ears, felt like song. I knew of Dave mostly through his fly creations and his numerous fly fishing articles over the years. He filled in the blanks, talking of his serious physical limitations as a child, overcoming them, quitting his day job and pursuing his dearest love for fly fishing full time by the age of 35. Dave and his wife Emily Whitlock have taught fly fishing schools for many years and Dave has written four books, illustrated many more, written articles and developed many, many important fly patterns. One of his initial fly patterns, which can be found in most fly shops around the country is Dave’s Hopper. Leading up to this pattern, he told a story of a beginner fly fishing trip out on the Bighorn River in Montana. He noticed many grasshoppers on the banks and started putting them on his hook, catching lots of trout. After the outing he stopped by Dan Bailey’s in Livingston, MT to tell all of this amazing experience. Dan said, “Oh yeah sure, that’s great. You know Dave, we do have flies for that!” And his patterns took off from there. What I learned from Dave was gathered up more from the shape of his words rather than their meaning. Noted on every syllable of his speech was this earnest desire to share. His tone, his emotions said: Sharing is beautiful.

John Gierach started by telling a story about his first introduction to fly fishing: When he first saw a fly line in flight he asked the person at his side about it. The person responded by telling him that it was an art and the most difficult yet most wonderful way to fish (something like this). The next time he saw a fly angler he again made mention of it to the person by his side at the time. This person replied by saying, “Oh yea, those guys are the most egotistical pricks on the planet.”
For folks who have read pieces by this renowned fly fishing author, this story must come as no surprise. It’s stories like these, told by such a keen yet off-the-cuff perspective that keeps everyone buying his books. He went on to explain how he went from being a broke, struggling writer to the person sitting before us.

“It is still hard for me to believe that I’m up here and not out there with you.”

He told of his first job for the newspaper, then his first outdoor column.

“It was great. It was my job to fish and write about it. It kept me writing, I had to write, you know I had deadlines.”

Simply put, he fished and he wrote… He meandered through the talk looking pensive and acting as though he was thoroughly unimpressed by himself. Much like a writer I suppose, the story most interesting to John on this particular night was likely not himself.

On this night, John might have told us, in some indirect way, to interpret how you will. Find a perspective, they are everywhere.

I can’t tell you how invigorating it was to experience these guys in the flesh. You can’t help but think of their amazing trails through time and how paths sometimes intersect.

Robust was Ice Out 2012 – fraught with presentations, awards ceremonies, good eats and a lengthy product feedback session from the attendees. There was a seminar on how to operate successful guide businesses, talks about spey tactics, entomology, adventure travel and a blow-out gear sale capping off the weekend. Oh, and someone won a brand new RO Drift Boat.

With the amount of resources dedicated to this year’s event, there is little question as to the value SIMMS places on professional fishing guides. Innovation does deserve the right advice. Much thanks to SIMMS and their thorough hospitality. And thanks for building the right gear. May we all keep up the fine work!


  1. nice Mike. Clearwater this fall? It would be good to see you back on the beat.......cheers mate, Doyle

  2. Thanks for reading folks. Doyle, sounds like a plan!

  3. Hey Duffy,

    I had the chance to meet Bobby Night on one of our Loomis pro-staff events. I asked him why he never recruited me in high school (I was considered one of the top 3 players in the state of Washington) and he quickly asked me..."Where did you go to high school...I humbly replied..."White Salmon", imagine the look on his face as he then said..."That's why."...then we laughed about it. It was pretty funny.

  4. oops, sorry my last post didn't identify who posted it. This is John G :)

  5. John,
    I can picture the look now. Guy is an absolute riot!

  6. sounds like a memorable event! I'll be up in IP 1 June. You should plan to be there last week of June. PD


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