March 26th, 2001

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

Buckwheat - A Tribute to James Buckingham
By Hugh E. Smith

"Ol' Buckwheat, we're sure gonna miss him," was Steve Kilpatrick's response when told of Jim's passing. Jim shared Steve's boat in the pursuit of the giant Homosassa 'poons of Spring.

Known and loved by the least of us in flyfishing and by the very icons of our sport, Jim Buckingham's death leaves a large blank space in the world of fly fishing.

"Jim, lemme show you this craft fur shrimp. " It was Lefty Kreh leaning over my shoulder to get Jim's attention. Moments later Lefty, at Jim's vise, was demonstrating how to tie a new variation of a shrimp imitation for bonefish. We tried that pattern in the Yucatan and the bones loved it! For the next several months Jim showed this successful fly to anyone who would listen.

"Let's talk about flies for big tarpon…here is my current favorite, tied by Jim Buckingham…" The host on this classic fly fishing for tarpon video? Stu Apte.

Honest to a fault and generous beyond all imagination, Jim was one of those folks who never met a stranger. Local fly shops worried that Jim would give away so much, to so many, from his amazing stash of fly tying material and fishing equipment that local entrepreneurs would suffer. Truth was he fostered considerably more business than he could ever stifle. On any weekday morning, in a kitchen so cluttered with fly tying stuff, fishing stuff, art, and more . . .somehow a half dozen fly tiers would squeeze their vises on to his kitchen table. Local guides, wannabes, fly tiers, fly shop owners, CCA and FFF members, IGFA record holders and rank amateurs would gather, often with no formal or prior notice, to tie, and share, and think of good tides, subtle takes and strong runs of big fish in the salt.

Born in Iowa, Jim started flyfishing as a young man in creeks and streams of the great heartland of America. He graduated from the University of Iowa and later attended their School of Law where buildings have been named for his father. Jim spent nearly a quarter of a century serving his country in the United States Air Force.

We shared many happy moments on our local waters with speckled trout and redfish, ladyfish, jacks, bluefish, and Spanish macks all pulling one way or another on our "strings." We enjoyed the more southern climes, targeting permit, bones (Jim and I still hold the record for most bonefish in one day at one Yucatan lodge), and the smallish Mexican resident tarpon. And finally we lived the visceral excitement of the big boys of Homosasa. I can still see the twinkle in an eye, the cocked posture, and wry smile peaking through his signature beard when the opportunity to exhibit his wit presented. With the tarpon in sight, my hurried job of biminis, a huffnagle, and a double surgeons loop resulted in a tarpon leader with a shock tippet of at least 15 inches, not exactly IGFA standard. "Think you got enough bite tippet there Unk?" was Jim's sparkling comment.

Jim's fly fishing moon was unquestionably in its seventh house. Most of us start by wanting to catch a fish on a fly. Then we want to catch a lot of fish. Then we want to catch a big fish . . .then a lot of big fish. All along the way, knowingly or often even unknowingly, we seek the recognition that comes with great success in any endeavor with this degree of challenge. Jim had undoubtedly been there early on and long ago moved well beyond any such mundane search for recognition. His endeavors targeted only the highest and most ethereal levels of our sport. He spent the most time and derived the most pleasure from mentoring and helping someone else to 'catch a fish on a fly.'

Jim loved "walking for macabi," which is sort of Mayan for "wading for bonefish." On a day out of Pesca Maya some years back, a day with rain clouds and blustery winds, we were almost kidding ourselves to even try to wade for bones. But by the time we would normally head home, Jim had actually landed a few. . . and I, not one take. Both of our Mayan gillies were nearly frozen (75F is cold to a Mayan) and more than ready to brave the four footers we would crash our panga boat through on the way back to the lodge. But Jim was having none of that vamos a casa stuff. He knew we would get a little break from the wind about sunset, the bones would start to show their tails, and insisted we stay a little longer. He, of course, was right. Next could come descriptions of tight loops and challenging casts to tailing bones in six inches of water, but let's just say for some of us, one bonefish is a helluva lot more than none. And Jim knew that. My pleasure and sense of accomplishment virtually paled in comparison to his. He was clearly the more pleased, still beaming an hour later as we drug stools up to that mahogany bar at the lodge. "Hey guys, let me tell you about this four pounder my partner caught…on my fly."

Two weeks ago, six fly fishermen and six Mayan guides, dear friends and admirers of Jim Buckingham, staked panga boats on a flat near the mouth of Laguna el Paradiso on the north end of Ascension Bay, Mexico. It was late in the day. The weather was perfect with a light easterly puffing through the mangroves and the occasional thin white wisp of a high cloud lighting the sky. That wisp was just starting to cast color to one of those classic Yucatan sunsets. The freshness of a good incoming tide virtually assured the final touch to this idyllic scene . . . three large schools of bones moving busily far out across the flat, tails occasionally flashing in the fading sun. As we stood calf deep, there were stories of Jim Buckingham's feats of superhuman effort promoting fly fishing, his longevity in our sport, his great knowledge of fly fishing and fly tying as well as other great accomplishments and even some notable failures. There was a very old bottle of single malt. We called it a memorial service…

Jim Buckingham is survived by his wife Lee, perhaps the sweetest fly fisher on this planet. ~ Hugh


About Hugh

The author is a retired Air Force jet pilot. He now lives in the Florida panhandle, ties a few flies, writes a little, and flyfishes when he can.


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