This is long overdue...
My good friend and longtime fishing/drinking/traveling/rod show/Powell historian buddy passed away in August of 2021. Not a day goes by that I don't think of him. The noticeable holes are more fleeting and maybe a little further in between, but I still regularly have that brief thought of "I can't wait to tell Jim about this..." before the inevitable pang of reality settles. Jim was a total Chico guy. He loved the Sac and the Sierras. He was a frequent guest at Scotty's. You'd often see the white Ford van rambling the Skyway or Hwy 32 - heading up to fish and grab a beer and burger at the Bambi. We once rolled up to Cherry Hill to fish Butte Creek on a late summer afternoon. We parked at the campground. I headed up and he headed down. Fishing was slow with just a few dinks to be found. Butte Creek was already in decline due to years of low warm water. I headed back to the van to find Jim dozing under a tree on a fold out futon he'd pulled out of the van. "Fishins slow" he grunted. "Let's go to Bambi and get a burger."
Jim grew up in San Carlos. He graduated high school and bummed around a little. His dad was a machinist by trade. Jim had grown up working in his dad's shop. But in true Jim style, he bailed on the bay area and the family business to chase a beautiful girl to Chico. Finding himself at loose ends he wandered into the Powell shop in about 1983 with a buddy who was looking for some fly fishing stuff. Press was just on his way out on a trip and was lamenting out loud that they didn't have anyone available who could run a lathe. Jim spoke up and said he'd grown up around them. Press took him to the back, set him up turning grips, and left for a week. No formal interview or paperwork and no formal job offer. When Press returned the word from the other folks in the shop was that Jim was doing great work and was a good dude. And so he was formally put on the payroll. Jim worked for Powell for 12 years building rods and as rod production manager. Jim remembered those years with a lot of fondness. The Powells could be hard to work for. It was a family business, not a corporate one. They worked hard and they played hard. It was at times messy and harsh but at the end of the day they were turning out great rods that brought so much enjoyment to so many.
In my files I have a copy of Jim's resignation letter from The Powell Rod Company dated 5 July, 1995. The letter is concise, appreciative, bittersweet. It pained him to leave Powell but he knew it was the right thing to do. It was at this time that Schwab was getting involved with the company and Jim felt it was time to move away. So Jim hung out his own shingle and opened Raptor Rod Works. The big account he took with him was Hexagraph. Harry Briscoe purchased the line from Walton in late 1992 or early 1993 and production of the rods continued under Powell's roof concurrently managed by Jim. With the changing winds at Powell Harry agreed that shifting Hexagraph production to Jim and Raptor Rod was the smart play. Jim told me several times over the years that Harry's decision to contract with Raptor for all Hexagraph production is what allowed Jim to make Raptor Rod work and get through the first few years and establish himself.
He then spent the next 25 years solidifying himself as a NorCal legend.
Jim was an artist and a craftsman. From his time at Powell to all the years running Raptor, Jim did more to educate, enrich, and just flat keep guys on the water with the rods they loved than anyone I know. Jim was as honest as they come, sometimes to a fault. He had no tolerance for time wasters and bull shit. If he thought you were responsible for either he'd call you on it. Or bill you for it. Or both. Very much in keeping with the Powell/NorCal 1980s ethos Jim worked hard and played hard. He was a dear friend of mine for nearly 20 years - most of my adult life. There are so many memories I'll always cherish.
Miss you bud...