Drake Magazine Back Issue Content 1998Triple Threat

The Artist

Twenty-five years later, Simms and I are sitting in his modest Jackson home, next to the garage where he creates pieces of fine art for a living. A large picture of Bruun hangs on the wall, holding a bright British Columbia steelhead – a rarity for Bruun, he says.

“Paul tried steehead fishing in a number of places over the years,” Simms said. “And it never seemed to work. That day was an exception.”

“It was Important for me to know more about this town, this state, this part of the country, than anyone I met.”

Simms and Bruun didn’t get to fish together much that first summmer, what with Bruun’s new job at the paper and all. “I didn’t have time to go to the bathroom,” Bruun says of his first year at The Guide. “It was important for me to know more about this town, this state, this part of the country, than anybody I met. And I worked very hard at it.”

As for Simms, he spent most of the 70s summers working the whitewater operation he started and ran with Charlie Sands up at Flagg Ranch – and later in the Snake River Canyon – which would eventually become Sands Wild Water River Trips.

During the winter, Simms worked as an avalanche forecaster and patrol at Jackson Hole Ski Resort. As a skier, Simms solidified his reputation eternally by joining Sands for the initial launch into a chute east of Corbet’s that would forever after be known only as S&S Couloir. To this day, neither will say who went first.

It was also while performing the duties of a patroller that Simms lost much of his hearing.

“I shot the 75 recoiless [howitzer] 1800 times one winter,” Simms said. “And what ear protection we had, the mice had eaten all the foam out of.”

Besides skiing, Simms loved fishing. And inventiveness. The combination of which led to the founding of two companies in the late 70s. The first, Snow Research Associates, made avalanche forecasting equipment. The second, JESCO (John Earl Simms Co.) specialized in small fishing items like gravel guards and wrist locks. Through growth, investors, partnerships and the natural evolution of business, the two companies eventually merged and came to be known as Simms/Life Link, now two of the biggest names in the outdoor industry. (Simms himself invented the Life-Link avalanche probe, a ski product now as common in the backcountry as fleece and duct tape.) Simms ultimately sold his interest in the business to partner John Krisik, who later sold the Simms portion to K.C. Walsh. Simms Fishing Products is now located in Bozeman, Montana.

I ask what it feels like to have his name on all those products from a company he’s no longer involved with.

“It’s fine,” he says, and appears to mean it. “I’m just real glad it’s successful.” So now Simms is a sculptor.

“I never thought I had an ounce of talent,” he says of his latest vocation. “Although my mother’s an artist, my brother’s an artist, and my daughter’s an artist. So I figured it must be there somewhere.” Throughout all the inventing and business ventures of the 70s, Simms continued to guide, working both on his own and out of the Moose Tackle Shop, one of the first fly shops in the Rockies.

“I always enjoyed it and often felt it was the next best thing to doing it yourself,” Simms said of guiding. “Sort of like fishing by proxy. And I kind of got Paul into it after he stopped working at The Guide.”

Bruun and Simms eventually shared many a trip together, both working and playing, over the next several years. And in the spring of 1978, as the last few turns were being made at Jackson Hole Ski Resort, Bruun would meet a young ski bum named Tom Montgomery, who had stopped to partake in a casting competition unfolding behind the tram dock. Later that spring, the three of them took the first of what would be many trips together – a five day journey to Ocean Lake and later the Wind River near Thermopolis.

“That’s the trip when we all met,” said Montgomery. “It started then.”

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