TEN QUESTIONS WITH SHAUN LAWSON
You grew up on the Henry’s Fork—what was that like?
Wow, what a question! Certainly brings the memories crashing in. Short answer — it was epic! I wish I would have realized just how special it was while it was happening. My parents opened Henry’s Fork Anglers in 1976. It truly was a Mom and Pop operation and when the fishing season was on they were working most of the time. The river was right across from the fly shop and the family lived upstairs. As kids, we were on our own to keep ourselves entertained during the day. Hanging out and watching TV wasn’t an option – idle kids were quickly put to work!
I was drawn to the river at a very young age; I remember as a small boy my father would rig me up with a fly and send me across the road to the river. I would flog away at the water from the bank for hours until my fly was broken off or was tangled beyond repair, then I would walk back to the fly shop and my Dad would patiently re-rig me and I would go back and try and try again. I fished with my Dad a lot in the evenings after he would get off work and have fond memories of fishing evening brown drakes, PMD spinner falls and caddis until dark. I caught my first fish on a fly at the age of 5 and at around the age of 11 was catching big fish on my own in the Ranch. My parents wouldnt let me wade until 14 but I could hike to the water I could get to from the fly shop. The Railroad Ranch is where I spent most of my time. I fished hard every summer until I turned 14 and had to start working in the fly shop full time. I started working as a fishing guide at the age of 18, and did that full time for many years while I was going to college and several years afterwards. After moving to Montana, I spent June every summer going back to take trips until 2014. All in all I spent 23 years as a licensed guide on the Henry’s Fork and really do cherish every moment… It truly is a special place to me and I have made some of the best friends of my life there. I am humbled to have been part of the Henry’s Fork Anglers guide team and am incredibly thankful for the opportunity that my parents gave me to grow up in such an incredible place!
How’d you connect with Yellow Dog?
I got to know Jim Klug when he was an independent fly fishing sales rep. I used to buy merchandise from him when I was the fly shop manager and outfitter at the South Fork Lodge over in Idaho. I moved to Montana after eight years on the South Fork and went back to guiding full time during the summer months. As an independent contractor fishing guide, I ran several trips for Yellow Dog through outfitters they were booking. Ironically, what got me on board with the company was a website job! Yellow Dog was doing a redesign of their website several years back and they found out that I knew Adobe Dreamweaver, the program for making updates; I had learned the program while at the South Fork Lodge. A year later I took on the U.S. West and Canada programs then the Mexico program the next year!
You’ve had the opportunity to travel the world, rod in hand. What’s your favorite location so far?
I would have to say the Yucatan fishery of southern Mexico. It certainly is one of the most diverse saltwater flats fisheries Yellow Dog represents and is without a doubt one of the best places in the world to catch a permit! There are tons of bonefish, tarpon, snook, barracuda and other toothy critters to throw at as well. I really do enjoy visiting Mexico and love the Mayan and Mexican people of the region.
We all end up eating some weird local food on the road. What tops the list?
While traveling with Tom Melvin across the Yucatan a few years back we stopped into a restaurant along the way to grab some lunch. I ordered what I thought was going to be shrimp wrapped in bacon with a lemonade. The shrimp came out wrapped with something that resembled the 80’s era Sizzlean that tasted like liver with a large blended, frothy coconut drink!
The fly-fishing industry is changing rapidly. What’s one movement or trend you’ve been excited to see emerge?
I have really been excited to see more and more women getting into the sport! When I was a kid fly fishing seemed to be dominated by tweed-wearing, academic males that were looking to get away for the summer. There really were few ladies that were doing it. Today there are many women guides and pros in the sport and it has also become very popular activity for couples and families to do together. I have had the opportunity to work with many of the ladies of fly fishing over the years – both clients and co-workers. I am always appreciative and taken by the energy and perspective they bring to the sport.
What’s the one fly you always make sure is in your box?
Hands down an old-school Renegade for trout fishing – white hackle in front, ginger in back, herl body and don’t forget the gold tinsel for a tag. The Renegade is hands down my favorite trout fly and I carry it in my box from size 8 to 20; you size it to whatever is on the water and throw it out there – the rest takes care of itself. You can drift it, swing it, sink it or even strip it!
Favorite species, and why?
I would have to say steelhead – sea run rainbows. I started fishing for steelhead in my mid-20s and absolutely caught the bug. I read Trey Combs book, Steelhead Flyfishing, in a tent on the lower Salmon River in Idaho. I have always been taken by the journey they make and the transformation from salt to fresh and back to salt again. They spend most of their adult life in the waters of the northern Pacific Ocean running from orcas and sea lions. Then, some of them literally travel over 1,000 miles to get from the ocean to their spawning grounds on the Salmon and Clearwater rivers in my home state of Idaho! I have spent many years swinging for steelhead alone, with my kids and some of my closest friends – special memories and moments that I will cherish forever.
You can only bring five items on a trip. What makes the cut?
8-wt. fly rod
Spool of 2x tippet
If you could tell a new angler one thing, what would it be?
Manage your expectations and enjoy the ride! We fly fish in some of the most beautiful places in the world – look around you and take it all in. You will also have the opportunity to meet some very amazing and unique people that are drawn into the sport and the business of fly fishing. DO NOT get hung up on how many you caught and how big that they were, letting your own overblown expectations drive you! A great day on the water shouldn’t be gauged solely on numbers of fish to hand or the size. The resources that provide us with the opportunity to fish are very fragile and should not be disrespected or taken advantage of, but appreciated and respected. Take in your surroundings, relish each moment, each shot and every day that you are on the water because you truly never know when it may be your last.
What’s new and exciting for 2016?
Personally, I am looking forward to spring and summer here in Montana and spending some good time with my two boys – Beau and Tanner. We always get together and chase the turkeys around in the spring and get a couple of solid fishing excursions in during the summer. Here at Yellow Dog, I am planning to get down to the Yucatan this spring or early summer when their season winds down with Jake Wells for a visitation to check in with our partners there. We are also planning to continue to grow and develop our current U.S. West and Canada offerings, and I am looking forward to being a part of that as well.