The other day I got a call from Jim Vincent; one of this industries more innovative personalities, a great stick regardless of species, and at one time a prolific writer. Fortuitously I had him queued up for my next Throwback article after I came across this photo I took of him bowing while fast to a pissed off tarpon. For those not familiar with who he is, Jim and his wife Kitty began RIO, a leader, tippet and fly line company that changed all aspects of terminal tackle as we know them today. He sold the company a decade ago, yet he still helps them pursue perfection when it comes to the products that RIO offers. That is, however
when he’s not fishing or chasing upland game, which he does a fair amount of now that he’s retired.
In 1990 or 91 I met Jim and Kitty at a buyers show in Denver. They had some cleaver little gadgets, some waterproof journals and a few other nick knacks in their 10′ X 10′ booth , but nothing in particular that would lead one to believe that they would one day turn the fly line industry on it’s head. Jim and I hit it off . Our common ground for chasing steelhead and fishing the Henry’s Fork has led to a long relationship, yet it was the steelhead game that created that first ah ha moment with he and Kitty’s new found company.
When I began the steelhead game I quickly learned that the only leader and tippet material you used was Maxima. For those who pursued these fish there were simply no other viable choices. I learned that the hard way, but that’s another story. Although it was a tough material, their system for keeping it on the spool was useless and a constant source of frustration. It was always a tangled mess and in various stages of unwind in your vest. That was until Jim came up with Tippet Tamers.
Most of you probably have never heard of this product, but at the time the two rubber sowing machine belts that came in each package of Tippet Tamers when fit securely around a spool of Maxima solved this chronic problem. Next to meeting these two charismatic people from RIO, of all the cool stuff I saw at that show, there was nothing I was more exited about than those.
It wasn’t too long after we met that I started to learn how to use a Spey rod. Unlike today where one has a variety of ways to quickly queue up a Spey casting lesson, I learned from a set of simple stick figure drawings that Jim sent me. Like most things fly-fishing he was always out front of the game and at the time he was the only person I knew who had taken up the big rod. It wasn’t the easiest way to learn, but between my frequent phone conversation with Jim, what books I could find on the subject, and an eventual lesson from him that I started to figure it out. I’m sure I drove him nuts.
Coincidentally at about that that same time Jim, Kelly Watt and a few other creative steelheaders were working on what would become the first modern Spey line. Some years later RIO would eventually bring a version of it to market. Before Spey lines were available you simply used a very large double taper fly line. These lifeless lines simply sucked. No other way to put it. Jim was still in the gadget phase of his business and had yet to contract with the Cortland Line company to build his first RIO fly lines. So Jim and his buddies started manually splicing together 3 to 4 different fly line sections to make what would eventually become the first performance based Spey line. I was fortunate to get some of those early formulas. Although a serious and expensive pain in the ass to construct, they were a significant improvement over the old double taper lines we initially were forced to use.
Jim’s dedication towards manufacturing the best fly lines, leaders and tippets became evident when he invited me to join him on one of his two week saltwater R & D sessions in Key West. Twice a year, Jim and members of his RIO team would work with key dealers on improving the growing line of RIO products. First in Key West, then with a fall trip to the Missouri River. I knew little of these trips, but by now I knew Jim pretty well and knew above all he liked to fish. Although we did plenty of that, the R & D part was far more extensive than what I had originally surmised.
From the moment I arrived in Key West my initial perception of what was going to go down for my brief stay was throttled . There was stuff everywhere in the living room of the house he’d rented, and by stuff I mean boxes of fly lines, leaders, backing and tippet. In a corner stood a pile of rods. Strewn across the kitchen table and counter were an array of very nice saltwater reels loaded with the latest fly lines to test. Sitting off to the side was another pile of reels ready to receive the next saltwater prototype. It was an overwhelming and impressive sight , but what really impressed me was Jim constant focus.
After our day on the water Jim was still processing how the products we tested performed. In the middle of dinner he pulled out a small pad and pen and began to write down his impressions, some calculations and thoughts we’d just discussed. As much as he had been driven to become a very talented and diverse flyfisher, it was evident as well that he was equally motivated to build a successful fly-fishing company and the best products in the business. Over the years that pad and pen became a familiar item I’d see Jim scribbling on. Even in our most recent conversation he was still tweaking and refining that which he set in motion over twenty years ago. He just can’t let that inquisitive process rest.
One of my most memorable encounters with Jim involved my son, Mike. It was almost a decade after we’d met. My son and I were on the Henry’s Fork when he was around 12 or 13 years old. Since the Henry’s Fork was in Jim’s back yard, it wasn’t unusual to find he or Kitty chillin in their Airstream or fishing these fabled waters. We came across Jim and watched him proceed to hook a nice rainbow. Nonchalantly with trout in tow, he waded over to us casually handing my son the rod and briefly instructed him on how to land this fish, which Mike eventually did. Mike at his young age didn’t have any experience with a fish like this, and I remember Jim telling him “if the fish wants to run, let him run. If it stops reel it in”. I still crack up a little when ever I think about that moment knowing that as easy as he made it sound, for those of us who fish this river we know this to be far from true.
Although those that know Jim recognize him for his business success, few knew him as a gifted writer. It’s a rare steelhead season when I don’t pull out one of his old articles in Gray’s Sporting Journal. What I liked about his writing, other than he was a great story teller, is he never gave away his waters. There may be hints in his writings, but he never promoted the rivers he fished. With the advent of social media, and selfies I’m sure Jim’s aversion to todays frivolous practices leaves him rolling his eyes rolls. If you like good writing, and can procure any of his old articles, I would recommend doing so, especially if you steelhead fish. Although he hasn’t written a piece in a while, now that he’s got more time, I wish he’d put pen to paper once again.
There have been a number of people who have come to know in this industry, some more influential then others. Jim was one of the later. Before we hung up, we got onto the subject of steelheading. It’s pretty rare that we don’t. That’s one thing we have never done together. Given his contributions to my steeheading prowess, while I still can I hope that’s something we’ll be able to do that, especially while we still have t time.