View Full Version : In Memory of Jim

03-20-2016, 08:37 AM

I first posted this story 6 years ago under the title "Imposter".
I've been thinking of my childhood best friend lately and thought I'd put it out there once again.

I hope you enjoy it.


Hello and welcome to my very first original Small Streams post!

While I’ve enjoyed reading this forum over the years I’ve never launched a new topic because…

I’m not really a fly fisherman.

I’m actually not much of a fisherman at all these days as I don’t seem to find or make the time beyond a short outing or two per year in the early spring. I always take my fly rod with me intending to stick with it this time no matter what, but invariably somehow find myself falling back on old habits and my spinning outfit.

However, back in 1993 a dear friend and I did spend one entire day on a stream with only fly rods at our disposal…

And what a day it was.

Constant companions through High School, Jim and I had spent little time together since Graduation 13 years prior due to the demands of college, the Army, work, marriage, fatherhood, divorce…Life. This trip was a chance to reconnect and also to finally do what we’d always dreamed of as we read issues of Outdoor Life while listening to John Denver all those years ago: Leave our old time worn and familiar Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts behind and travel to the youthful and dramatic Colorado Rockies for some serious fishing.

It was, and remains, the most poorly researched trip of my adult life. We landed in Denver in the late evening, rented a car and drove up to a cabin we’d reserved in a resort town near the Rocky Mountain National Forest. So ended the planned phase of our trip. We got up the next day, went into town and found a rather high end tackle shop. After buying licenses we asked the clerk for recommendations regarding what flies to use (we kept our spin fishing proclivities to ourselves) and where to go. He rattled off a list of rivers and marked them on our road atlas. Then he paused and looked up at us a moment, probably in the process of deciding that we were harmless due to our obvious lack of knowledge and preparation as well as the fact that our temp licenses announced we were only staying in Colorado for 3 more days. “There is a little stream just inside the Park that is loaded with Greenbacks” he said. “Would you like me to show you where it is?”. We said “yes” instantly and he did show us…on a topo map he had by the register. He explained that it was a short but tough hike in to the special regulation stream (flyfishing only, catch and release, single hook barbless) and then set us up with a supply of debarbed beadheads. We’d never heard of beadheads before (or greenbacks for that matter) but the flies looked appealing enough. Maybe the gold metallic beads reminded us of our beloved Mepps spinners. We thanked the man, paid, hopped in our rental and headed for the spot he’d indicated.

The trail began with a series of switchbacks across a very steep face. It took us a couple of rest stops along the way but we got to the top, discovered that the trail straightened out and soon thereafter found the stream…just as the sky began to darken. We tried a couple of holes without success with our rarely used and almost totally unfamiliar fly rods and were rapidly losing our faith in flyfishing in general and the beadheads in particular as the sleet started to fall. I distinctly recall having a sudden panicked thought: “When you fly 2000 miles to fish, you ought to have a plan!”. Suddenly I sensed something as my beadhead swung across the bottom of a small pool and set the hook on what turned out to be our first Greenback Cutt.


I apologize in advance for the above and the rest of the pictures as they were taken more to capture the setting than the fish. Also, they are scans from prints taken with disposable cameras nearly 20 years ago.

Jim caught one soon thereafter


but we quickly decided to head back to the car as the sky menaced with sleet, snow and the occasional flash of lightening.

Two days later, after results on other area streams with familiar browns and rainbows that we could have easily achieved back home, and armed with a decent forecast, we decided to try again. The weather started out great and only got better as the day wore on.


Our plan was to hike up to the source lake, some 6 miles, and then fish our way back down. The sharp eye can spot the trail switchbacks at the lower right hand corner and the escarpment in the upper left hand corner that rises above the lake.


We occasionally yielded to temptation and dropped off the ascending trail to try an inviting hole or two and were consistently rewarded with fish. Nothing terribly large, but any hole big enough to catch our eye proved to have multiple greenbacks in it and they were literally shredding the beadheads.




At the top of the trail the stream emerged from an odd notch in a natural berm that held back the lake.


The lake was a gem.


An apparently fishless gem but a gem nonetheless. The setting exceeded every expectation either of us had about being in the Rockies. I checked an Atlas when we got back home (Al Gore hadn’t quite perfected the internet yet) and learned that the altitude of the lake was 10,987 feet. Had I known this at the time, we’d have climbed another 13 feet just to say that we’d made 11,000.

After a short rest, and a snack for our squirrel friend...


who bit deeply into Jim’s thumb about a second after I snapped this shot, we began to fish our way downstream.


The action was insane.

The fish were everywhere and all we had to do was get the beadheads in the water somehow and move, or simply hold, them in the current to get a strike. While we earned no style points with our rudimentary skills that day, I am absolutely sure that each of us brought well over a hundred fish to hand. Probably closer to 200 a piece, in fact.

We very nearly ran out of usable flies but were to find that a bead on a hook trailing any sort of unraveled body material was enough to draw another savage strike, often from a fish that was desperately racing one or two or three others to the apparent exotic meal which had suddenly appeared before them. The biggest fish we landed were about 11 inches long. I turned one over 3 times that appeared to be in the 13-14 inch range but otherwise it was a steady stream of 6-10 inch fish who were much more brightly colored then the ones we had caught in the lower stretches on our first trip in 2 days prior.

All good things must end. We began to worry about the approaching sunset and none too soon. After leaving the river for good and then steadily increasing our pace until we were moving at a fast trot we got back to the switchback and stumbled our way down it to the car in near darkness with our thighs burning from exertion and a lack of oxygen.

We drove into town and found a tavern where we enjoyed a few beers and some pretty good chili. We passed on the Rocky Mountain Oysters despite being encouraged to try them by our heavily pierced (rather novel back in the day), but very attractive barmaid. I think she was bored and just wanted to see any odd expressions we might have made while trying to down the local delicacy. I don’t recall that we talked too much about what we’d experienced except to agree that it was everything we’d ever dreamed of listening to John Denver all those years ago: Like a tuning fork inside each of us had been struck and was resonating a particular tone that we’d always longed to hear, and didn't want to spoil with conversation. For me, the tone eventually died: A second marriage, career ups and downs…Life. For Jim, the tone never faded. He became the consummate outdoorsman, never at peace unless he was outside in his beloved Berkshire Mountains, be it skiing, fishing, hunting, boating or just walking about enjoying the present season and thinking of the one to come.

I know the pictures above don’t do the fish from that magical day justice. As I mentioned they were all taken with disposable cameras and as much for the scenery as for the trout. I have, however, saved the best for last as a reward for those of you who were interested or patient enough to get this far, and for another reason as well. Here’s your “money shot” featuring Jim:


Since the first time I saw it standing outside the 1 hour photo shop the day we got back from our trip this has been my favorite photo and a symbol of what remains the most special day in my life that did not involve a birth or a wedding. My friend Jim and I went back to our individual adult lives keeping in touch and occasionally getting together to do a little fishing. Whenever we did get together, talk invariably turned to memories of our Colorado trip.

James died 4 weeks ago yesterday while pursuing another sport that ultimately became his true passion: White Water Kayaking. The better photos in this story and some others from the trip were made into a poster which was displayed leaning up against one of his kayaks at his Memorial service. Since the most perfect memory I have of my oldest and best friend is the glorious day we spent on a small stream in the Rockies when we literally had no choice but to fly fish, I thought I’d also share it with all of you who, in telling your stories on this forum, have given me so much pleasure.

Who knows? Perhaps this spring I’ll finally pick up my fly rod or, better yet, one of Jim’s and stick with it.

Then I’ll be qualified to write another post!

03-20-2016, 08:41 AM
Thanks to rstouff for fixing the first two photos.

04-09-2016, 09:41 PM
That was an enjoyable read and a fitting tribute to your friend. One of my best friends and I rendezvoused in Montana a few years ago for an amazing trip; we need to get together again before time slips away.

08-14-2016, 05:21 AM
Thank you JasonS. I'm glad you enjoyed it and hope that you and your friend do make another trip together.

08-19-2016, 11:52 PM
Thanks for sharing that story. Well written and thoughtful. And the photos look perfect.

08-20-2016, 12:03 AM
Thanks for sharing that story. Well written and thoughtful. And the photos look perfect.

11-30-2016, 10:30 AM
Thanks for sharing that story. Well written and thoughtful. And the photos look perfect.

Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed the story and pics.
Jim's birthday is coming up on Monday. He would have turned 54 this year