A copy of The Compleat Kilburn and the August 1975 edition of Western Angling

Jim Kilburn

Jim Kilburn

A year ago this weekend, November 13, 2021, a man who I came to know far too late in life passed away. Jim Kilburn was 94 years old.

I met Jim about 15 years ago and I quickly realized that he was a man I wish I had known all my life. But in a very small way I did already know something about him through his writings about flyfishing and fly tying in British Columbia.

I grew up in Abbotsford and pedalled my bike anywhere there was fish to be fished from the Vedder Canal to the Salmon River and down into Washington to fish the Nooksack. There were back then very few places to find tying materials. We relied mostly on Ken Ruddick’s original shop in the chicken coop on his property in Stave Falls. We also had Harkley & Haywood on Cordova and Woodwards downtown which was the domain of Earl Anderson (Anderson’s Stonefly Nymph), and for mail order; Herters, Veniard’s and Dan Bailey.

The local library also held few resources for us. I singlehandedly wore out the pages of their copy of Roy Patrick’s Pacific Northwest Fly Patterns. But we did have one thing we waited to see on the magazine racks around town. That was a periodical titled Western Angling. For it was within the covers of that magazine that there were regular offerings from the mind and pen of Jim Kilburn.

Jim’s regular contribution was a series of articles titled The B.C. Flyfisher. Jim lived at a time when I think we were in what was sort of a latter golden age of flyfishing in our province. Among his contemporaries were men such as Earl Anderson, Jack Vincent, Tom Murray, Werner Schmid, Al Limber and Peter Broomhall. Within these articles we found a great deal of inspiration. Jim had a deeply curious mind, and he was blessed with the intelligence to articulate in print what he had discovered through participation and observation. 

His writings were informed, and he spoke through them with the passion that he had for flyfishing, tying and simply being out on the water soaking in all the intangibles that fishing brings to us who participate in its glory.

On August 14th we celebrated Jim and what he meant to us all. We had the great pleasure of being entertained by a band consisting of his old Jazz buddies including his son,Rick on bass. Rick is an accomplished musician winning four Juno Awards for his music and production.

In 2003, The B.C. Federation of Fly-Fishers collected all of Jim’s writings and published them in a compendium titled The Compleat Kilburn. I had obtained a copy and as I was planning on handing it down to my oldest son and having two sons, I figured I better locate another one. I contacted Ron Schiefke. Ron is one of the best networkers I know when it comes to knowing people within our fraternity. Ron has been a Godsend to the families of many of those who have gone before us and helped distribute their gear after they had gone to their happy fishing place. I was lucky to obtain my original copy with Ron’s help, from the library of Van Egan after he died.

Ron advised that Jim was still living in Qualicum Beach, and he might have a copy. He provided a telephone number and prior to hanging up he told me that if Jim did still posses a copy, he would likely just give it to me. With that in mind I began to devise a plan just in case I found out that Jim was as generous as Ron had said.

I called Jim and found him to be extremely inviting and we arranged a time for me to visit him and his wife, Joyce. I arrived in the evening and Joyce greeted me with a smile not to be forgotten and welcomed me inside. She directed me up a somewhat narrow spiral staircase in the centre of the room and I made my way up to Jim’s study. What followed was an evening of wonderful conversation that I will never forget. Jim showed me photos and fly boxes, rods and reels, research and writings published and some still under construction. It was a wonderful evening and such an honour for me as I felt like I was in the presence of one of my childhood heroes.

When it came time for us to part, Jim took the copy of his book and glued one of his PKCK chironomid patterns to the cover and addressed the book to my youngest son. When I asked him about paying for the book, he flatly refused so the plan I had devised earlier now had to come into fruition. In my pocket I had placed a couple of packages of smoked salmon I had done up and handed them to him. “Good trade”, he said.

Jim Kilburn and some of his fly patterns

Jim Kilburn and some of his fly patterns

Jim Kilburn was an inspiration to me. He was an intelligent, curious, and inquisitive man. He was an accomplished fly fisher and tyer. He was a founding member of the Totem Flyfishers. He was also a highly accomplished and renowned jazz guitarist and through all the many facets of the man, he made, through his simple good hearted nature, friends all over Canada and the northwest United States. His name is sadly now, known to fewer and fewer within our community, but in his day his flame burned brightly for many of us who took inspiration from him.

Jim, I will miss you.

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