The Sandy River Spey Clave and the Theory of Evolution

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All things adapt to stay alive, and they stay alive as long as they have the will and energy to adapt. So far, the Sandy River Spey Clave has been able to adapt, and all for the betterment of the sport of Spey fishing. May 12 & 13, 2017 ushers in the 17th Annual Sandy River Spey Clave, or as it is affectionately called by some, simply The Sandy Clave, which according to several world travellers, is the largest event of its kind on the planet.

A huge crowd gathers for the $10 four Spey casting class at the Sandy River Spey Clave in Oxbow Park on the Sandy River in Oregon.

Fishing with two-hand fly rods is an ancient sport going back hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years. But in North America it is comparatively new in popularity. In the Pacific Northwest region, the “Spey Game” gained popularity after the publication of THE BOOK, Steelhead Fly Fishing, in 1990 by Trey Combs. The Pacific Northwest, with its many runs of large anadromous fish, is a natural playground for the Spey crowd.

Late in the year 2000, I got a call from Fred Evans, who asked, “Did you know that there is a group of guys that are going to have a Spey Clave at Oxbow Park in May of 2001?” I knew of Fred only from his participation in a world-wide online forum called Spey Pages. From what I had read there, it seemed that he was a resident of Grants Pass, Oregon. Some called Fred “The Sultan of Spey.”

My answer to him was something like, “No, I wasn’t aware of that. What’s a Spey Clave?’

His reply was, “You know, like a conclave for Spey casters, a gathering where guys can share information about casting. A place where you can try out different rods and lines.”

“That’s a novel idea. What exactly would be my part in it?”

“We thought you might supply a bunch of tackle for us to try … for free?”

“Oh!”

I explained how we had just dissolved a business partnership after nineteen years, and had just acquired a new building which was in need of a lot of remodeling, and that I would get back to him in about sixty days with an answer on whether The Fly Fishing Shop would be involved or not.

Rather than being put off, Fred seemed genuinely enthusiastic about my reply.

A couple of months went by quickly. The shop remodel came and went, and we moved into our new building right on schedule. After contemplation during that couple of months, the Spey Clave concept started to appeal to me. But, loaning my personal gear, or new tackle out of inventory wasn’t something that I was eager to do. So I called a number of local tackle reps for assistance. Four of the more prominent tackle companies gave full support. There were lots of Spey toys to play with, and the 50-75 folks who came had a grand time.

The first Sandy River Spey Clave was small, but was a resounding success. When I asked members of the crowd if they thought that doing a similar program for the next year would be fun, the enthusiastic reply was something like, “Yes, and we think that YOU should do it! Will you?”

“Yes, I will try.”

And with the support of my wife Patty and our team at The Fly Fishing Shop, we started to assemble a plan.

There are not very many times in one’s life that you are handed an idea that is unique, with a fair amount of the business plan in place, and already proven in front of you with very little gamble. The first Clave was at Group Area “A” in Oxbow Park. It proved to be the perfect location, and hasn’t changed in 17 years. The basic format has been modified only slightly during the same amount of time.

There are many different types of fishing shows. Most are structured around some kind of competition: fishing competition, casting competition, or sales competition. Almost all shows are set up indoors away from any actual contact with nature. In most sport shows, a good deal of the attendees, and the people in the various booths, don’t even do a lot of fishing. These shows are mostly about selling merchandise to the masses. The Sandy River Spey Clave departed far from that kind of structure. Nothing is for sale. No money for goods is exchanged inside Oxbow Park, so this is not really a selling/buying show, even though hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise are on full display. There will be at least 1,000 different Spey rods at Sandy River Spey Clave 2017. The best part is that you can try every one of them on the water at no risk and no charge.

The 2002 Clave attendance was around 250 anglers. Oxbow Park is a long way from any restaurant, so we added free lunches just to keep the crowd at our location. Patty and her friends, along with her son Tony, did all the prep and cooking until the Houston brothers from El burro Loco offered to cater all the food in 2010. That was the best move we ever made. They do it better than we ever could.

Andy Murray from Scotland, who was at the time, vice-president of the prestigious English fly tackle firm, “The House of Hardy,” joined our team of casting experts in 2003. The Clave has featured on-the-water presentations from the very start. When Andy joined up, it attracted some of the other big guns, such as George Cook and Simon Gawesworth.

That year, about 700 people showed up, and the Sandy River Spey Clave was termed the "Woodstock" of American Spey casting events. We made a full length video of the event, which was used as a conservation fund raiser.

One of the original Sandy River Spey Clavers was Steve Choate. In 2004 Steve became the first American to become international Spey distance champion, when he beat all entrants at Broadlands on the Test River in England with a cast of 150-feet.

Due to the improvements in tackle and technique, that record has long since been broken but the exchange of information that happens at The Sandy River Spey Clave has moved the bar much higher. Now local guy Travis Johnson, a regular participant in the Sandy River Spey Clave, holds the current World Record in the fifteen-two class, at 198-feet.

Between 2005 and 2008 attendance increased every year until it reached about 1,200 people where it has stayed each year since. This is about the maximum capacity of Oxbow Park.

People regularly come to the Sandy River Spey Clave from as far away as the U.K., Scandinavia, Europe, Japan, Texas, Florida, Michigan, and New York.

In 2009, a third day was added as women’s day, where all of the on-the-water demonstrations were performed by female anglers. Women’s day was the brainchild of competition casters Mia Sheppard and Whitney Gould. Our headlines were, “Babes In Spey Land,” which attracted a fair amount of attention.

Many women excel in the sport of fly fishing. The fact of the matter is, the first book on fishing published in the English language was authored by a woman, a nun, Dame Juliana Berners. Its title, A Treatyse of Fysshynge Wyth an Angle gives us the word "angling." It's fitting that the birth of our sport starts with a woman.

Women’s Day lasted three years, then was turned into a non-gender related “Beginners Day” where 25 instructors donate their time to teach 125 students how to Spey cast. We found that this amount of students put a lot of stress the size of the landscape available, and have since lowered the amount of instruction given to 100 students.

Sandy River Spey Clave 2017 will follow a proven format: 40 companies will display their Spey toys, and let you use them. We will serve a couple of thousand free meals. 16 different on-the-water programs will be performed for the enjoyment of the crowd.

Please come join us and enjoy the fun!

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