Pawson’s Legacy

Rob Sloane indulges in some competitive nostalgia

With the World Fly Fishing Championships returning to Tasmania for the second time in 30 years, it seemed timely to approach the original players and establish how Australia’s involvement came about. My own memory of the details was sketchy, but finding a black and white portrait of Tony Pawson and his son John when digging through some memorabilia in an office clean-up, prompted the following reconstruction… It all began when Tony Pawson visited Tasmania in 1986 while researching his book Flyfishing Around the World, published the following year. At the time I was heading the Inland Fisheries Commission and Tony came to Tasmania on a campervan trip with Andrew Fink, Owen Nuttridge and Terry Piggot, all members of the Western Australian Trout and Fresh- water Angling Association (WATFAA). Their trip was timed to coincide with the Australian Fresh Water Fishermen’s Assembly (AFWFA) meeting and related wild trout conference held at the Great Lake Hotel. This is where I first met Tony and the WA crew. Pawson, a respected UK sporting journo and angling columnist for The Observer newspaper, was a leading advocate for competition fly fishing, having won the 1984 world title in Spain and written the book Competitive Fly-Fishing (1982). Comp fishing was very big on the UK stillwaters at the time, being the era of Bob Church, Brian Leadbetter and Chris Ogborne to name a few. Tony had been given Andrew Fink’s contact details (Andrew was WATFAA President and AFWFA Secretary at the time) by Australian officials in London, hence the WA connection. Andrew also put Tony in touch with John Sautelle Snr, a well know fly fishing identity and President of the AFWFA. The Sautelles subsequently hosted Pawson on the Monaro in New South Wales, all of which is reported in the first chapter ‘Go Fish Australia’ in his 1987 international guidebook. Admiring the skills of his newfound antipodean fly fishing friends, Pawson encouraged them to represent Australia at the WFFC in England the following year (1987), which he fortuitously was organising. Sautelle Snr and Fink took up the offer and cobbled together a team comprising themselves, Nuttridge, Piggot, Sautelle Jnr, and John Rumpf representing Victoria. John Snr, then in his late 70s, was the non-fishing captain. Impressed by the Tasmanian fishery, and by its wild brown trout in particular, Pawson also encouraged me to tag along on the England trip and stake a claim for Tasmania to host the WFFC in the following year. He thought that Tasmania and its diverse public fishing would inspire anglers from the European countries that dominated the event at the time. Sautelle Snr arranged Qantas sponsorship for the team’s flights to England and Reg Ransom, a WA real-estate man, joined the team as an additional guest. ENGLAND 1987 My secondary role in England, as the official team (trout) doctor, was to keep the larrikin Aussies out of the pubs and off the streets. I failed on both counts, but had fun trying. The Hangover movies come to mind… It was a memorable trip for us all, fishing the leading stillwaters including Rutland and Grafham from boats and learning the latest loch-style techniques. We were also given privileged access to chalkstream beats on the Avon, Itchen and Test, although cooling your beers in such hallowed waters and fishing weighted nymphs on dry-fly-only beats is not exactly cricket. Later we fished the English Lake District in search of wild trout. Some lasting impressions of the trip were later recorded in my second book, More About Trout, published in 1989. Australia’s makeshift team of mischief-makers finished the England event in a very close second place, beaten only by the host team of proficient ‘stockie-bashers’. Thunderous applause welcomed the Aussies when awarded the Dewar’s trophy and associated £1,000 prize for the best international visiting team. Old John Sautelle really did have the English press convinced that he rode to his fishing on the back of a kangaroo with his fly tackle in its pouch! Perhaps even more surprising was that our bid to have teams from 20 or so countries descend on Tasmania for the championships in the following year, largely facilitated by Tony Pawson, was successful. We also signed up Dewar’s in the UK as the major sponsor, which greatly delighted Sautelle Snr who (unlike me) could drink a bottle of Scotch without any ill effects. We had 18 months to prepare… TASMANIA 1988 A reception at Government House, opening dinner at the Hobart Sheraton, a visit to the Salmon Ponds, a bus trip up to Bronte Park and the competition was underway. There were three lake venues — Bronte Lagoon, Little Pine and London Lakes — with beats pegged along the shores, largely dictated by the lack of suitable boats. Other than losing one venue supervisor through a near fatal car accident on the eve of the event and another through the untimely death of his father, the championships ran like clockwork despite the lousy weather. The refurbished Bronte Park Village provided a rustic basecamp setting and the international visitors were seduced by the local landscape, clean air and unique flora and fauna. Most of them had never been run off the road by a log truck before, aptly described by one foreign competitor as ‘a forest on wheels’! The idea of free-range fishing, right across Tasmania, for the meagre cost of a two-week angling licence seemed incredible to most of the overseas visitors. It was heaven after the privately controlled trout streams and stocked ponds of Europe. The Tasmanian event also helped put wild trout and the catch-and-release concept on an international platform — fish were measured by controllers and released — which was a welcome change after the slaughter of stocked fish experienced in England. The whole show was essentially put together by Inland Fisheries Commission staff and a small advisory committee chaired by Spencer Logue (a retired tourism figure and keen angler). Andrew Fink joined me on the committee, and local fly fishing clubs and the Tasmanian trout guides association hosted the teams during practice and volunteered the team guides and controllers. I had done the rounds of the local fishing clubs to win support initially, with all enthusiastically coming on board, although there was some collateral damage. The much-revered David Scholes in particular was dead set against competitive fly fishing and resigned from the Flyfishers Club in protest. He must have forgiven me eventually, though, because he did become a regular columnist in FlyLife. Perhaps it was prophetic that the English team (guided by Noel Jetson) went on to win the Tasmanian event and Tony Pawson’s son John was crowned Individual Champion. The Australian team placed third, behind France. Captained by Owen Nuttridge, the host team members had been nominated by peak fly fishing bodies in each of the main trout fishing states. Jan Spencer, representing Tasmania, was one of two women to compete. The England team had taken to our lakes like ducks to water, happily wading out in rough conditions on seemingly barren shores and pulling fish from nowhere on teams of wets. It was a real eye-opener and reinforced the value of such events as a learning experience for all involved. The World Champs in Tasmania were followed concurrently by the inaugural Commonwealth Fly Fishing Championships at London Lakes, which had been organised between Jason Garrett, John Rumpf and Arthur and Anne Humbert in the UK, with the teams and beats already in situ. FOUNDING MEMBERS The next year it was Finland, and Australian team selection was again ad hoc, drawing nominated representatives from various states. My coverage of the event was published in Freshwater Fishing, with the main technical advancement being through our introduction to the then relatively new shortline nymphing techniques used to extract grayling and trout from turbulent current seams right under our rod tips. Subsequently refined, these methods have held sway on river venues in competitions ever since. By this stage it was clear that a properly constituted organisation was needed to oversee State and National fly fishing competitions, to select the very best anglers, and to arrange sponsorship to help fund team travel. And so at a meeting in Sydney in 1990, facilitated by John Sautelle Jnr (a solicitor) and attended by Andrew Fink, the Sloanes, and Alan Basford from the AFWFA, Fly Fish Australia was formally incorporated. We all kicked in to fund the organisation and Owen Nuttridge was also acknowledged as a Founding Member. The rest, as they say, is history. THE BENEFITS Whilst I have enjoyed travelling with the Australian team, participating in practice sessions and attending competitions, I’ve never felt I had the constitution to actually compete. Being competitive in a relaxed social sense is a very different matter — the elite competitor in any sport is a rare and dedicated breed. Tony Pawson, for example, played first class cricket for Kent and first division football for Charlton Athletic. As an observer, the true value of such events to me has been in the friendships made and the travel exposure, coupled with the unrivalled learning opportunities. As an individual event the World Championships leave a lot to chance — rivers, in particular, are difficult (if not impossible) to section into comparable beats. As a team event, however, the cream always rises and we can learn a great deal from the winning tactics employed. The local fly fishing scene is always introspective, and often more concerned with keeping foreign anglers out. Participating at any level in such international get-togethers opens up a brave new world of fly fishing. Yes, thirty years is a long time, but in retrospect we have Tony Pawson and the original Australian team members to thank for fostering Australia’s involvement in the world of competitive fly fishing, and we can all look forward with great anticipation to the World Fly Fishing Championships returning to Tasmania in 2019.

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