March 26th, 2001
The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
Archive of Readers Casts
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
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
"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
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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