It is with a great deal of sadness that I have learned of the passing of Ian Colin James, a fly fishing great, and a long time friend of mine. Ian, who was only 55 years old, suffered a massive heart attack during the night of June 28th, 2015. Although he had heart problems for awhile, it was still a shock to hear of his passing.
I have known Ian James for almost 30 years. I will never forget the first time I met him – I was dragged along by my wife at the time to a craft show that was being hosted by her boss at work. I didn’t really want to go, but it was important for her career at the time, to make an appearance. And to my delight, sitting back in a corner, was Ian James creating and selling fly “brooches” – classic Scottish salmon patterns on hooks that were especially made to be used as brooches. They were suitable for both women and men, and often would be seen at weddings because they were so classy.
Ian James and I exchanged phone numbers at that event and the rest is history. We became very close friends, and although it is odd that we both loved fly fishing, we actually spent more time drinking coffee together or talking on the phone than we did fishing together. Part of the reason for that is because fly fishing and fly tying was his job. I was always envious of that aspect, but Ian was one of the few that actually made a full time living from guiding and fly tying, and he knew how to do it. Sometimes it was not always so easy, but he managed to figure out ways to promote his services and make some kind of living out of it.
Ian was a most interesting person and while he had a wicked sense of humour and was well known for that, I can also attest to a deep caring side that he had. For some years, he lived with a lady that had two children from a previous relationship, and when that relationship ended, it was not the relationship he mourned solely for, but for the separation he felt between a young child named Willie. Ian gave four year old Willie credit for inventing the “puke fly” (which despite its name, catches lots of fish) and I heard Ian literally cry after some time of separation from Willie.
When I went through my own family issues, and before the “internet” was much of anything, Ian James was there for me, and one of the first to offer empathy and understanding to how I was feeling. He also became quick friends with my dad, who happened to live in the same town – Guelph, Ontario. My dad would often call me to tell me about flies Ian James had dropped off as a gift, or a meeting on the river, or the pond near the Guelph Jail, and Ian would offer my dad suggestions and advice that would make his fly fishing outing more memorable along with learning new skills to make the next one better.
Ian often helped me out with my fly fishing sites (I was once a “Guide” with About.com) and provided material that I could use. But it wasn’t for his own benefit; so often he would go out of his way to help and to encourage. And always with some funny joke.
Although his job was his passion – fly fishing – he also went out of his way to do things for others and to help others. He could have charged me a mint for casting lessons for my son Colin, and I would have paid him – but he refused any idea of compensation, especially when it came to sharing his passion with children. He was patient, knew how to teach, and seemed to revel in teaching others the skills that he knew. And figuring out how to teach those skills quickly so there was less frustration on the part of the student. And in doing that, he was also a person that helped others create memories – I have many memories of some wonderful times on the Grand River with my son Colin, who would actually correct me in some of my own bad fly casting habits, because Ian James just had a way to imprint them on your mind in a short amount of time.
My own friendship with Ian James went way beyond fly fishing. We talked about many things, and even our struggles at times. He was there for me in a heartbeat when my father passed away. Sometimes there were other life issues, and a 30 minute phone call was enough to help “cut through the crap and get to the point” while also showing a great deal of empathy.
Ian also had his detractors as well. And that’s ok. Ian didn’t seem to mind much, and expected that. But he moved on and found a way to rise above it. Whether or not some criticize him, for personal or professional reasons, he did a lot.. and a lot was always expected of him. Even in my own friendship with Ian, there were a couple of occasions where we had words… and I’ll never forget his reply to me along the lines of: “Yes Ian, I have not always been perfect, but we cannot let this affect our friendship we have had for years and years. Let’s go fishing together next week.”
And we did. And we laughed and laughed, and caught fish, and pretended we both had some secret fly… and then he filled up my fly box with some of his amazingly professionally tied flies, while I gave him a few of my crappy looking creations compared to his.. but I reminded him, “They still catch fish even if they are ugly.”
And he smiled and laughed.. and would even tie them on to his own leader… and when he caught a fish with one of my crappy flies, he would laugh and give me credit.
Rest in peace, Ian – but I have to admit it’s hard to accept you’re gone.. and a little bit of bitterness that we won’t be able to take my 12 year old son David out this summer as we had talked about a few weeks ago, and it’s with tears in my eyes, that I write this.
What am I going to do in two weeks time when something happens, and I think, “Gee.. I need to call or email Ian?” For almost 30 years, you were like a brother to me, and although our backgrounds were different, we could joke about them and at the same time, share our love for a sport, but also share both tragedies and triumphs together. And always a good laugh. And no matter what, I always knew I could depend on you.
I hope you knew while you were alive, how much I admired you. And how much what you did, meant to me. And even though we sometimes did not agree, there was a loyalty.. that I admired and appreciated. Just a few weeks ago, when I needed some assistance with an issue, you drove out to Orangeville and you were there. And although I knew you missed Willie, you laughed and laughed and talked so lovingly about your nephew in Scotland and related stories .. that made me laugh to, and I knew how much you cared, but even through the caring, life was about finding something to laugh at.
I guess I need to thank my ex-wife – and you would find humour in that – for having the chance to meet you and eventually call you one of my best friends. You were larger than life .. and you made others also realize we can also be larger than life, if we stick with what we believe in, and muddle through the crap, which can sometimes be distracting – but get back to what you want and love.
I am going to miss you so much, Mr. Ian Colin James. I keep hoping the news of your passing is a mirage, a bad joke, and that like Tom Sawyer, you’ll be there at your own Memorial Service, grinning, and pulling just another silly joke (perhaps we won’t all find it funny..), and next month, I’ll be getting an email from you, or a reply to one of mine, or a phone call… and you’ll be arranging time to teach my son David how to fly cast.
Like a champion.
And then I shed tears, realizing it’s not a joke. You are gone. And I hope I expressed to you enough, when you were alive, how much you meant to me, over the past 30 years.
You were my friend. And the memories keep pouring down. Dam it Ian.. why did you have to die? We have plans , man.. we have plans.. .
Thank you for being my friend. I miss you.
I’ll muddle through the next 30 years (if I make it that long) with Muddlers, some “Puke Flies,” some Blue Thunders and always some Muncher Nymphs. And think of you.