James "OBboats" O'Brien

Some footage from Jerry Brisson of Jim on the Little River:”A frosty day on the Little River in Massachusetts. All other rivers in New England were iced over, this was the only open river…. and what a gem. Jim O’Brien led a group of avid paddlers as we dragged or sledded our boats down the snowy trail for an outstanding run on the river.” (Jerry Brisson)



Here is a little headcam footage from Wavehopper

Jim O’Brien Memorial Paddle will be on Sunday March 20th on the Knightville section of the Westfield River. A meet time of 11:00am should work well. Hoping to organize a little after paddle picnic for those who would like to stick around. Come join us in remembering a great friend.

Rob just sent this video featuring Jim, Jerry Brisson, and Mark Rollins on Fall Creek, MA.

Fellow Boaters and Dear Friends of James O’Brien

We would like to express our thanks to all for the heartfelt support during a very difficult time. Also, a special thanks to Rob Larkham for creating the raffle and securing such awesome prizes that will help Finance the James O’Brien Teaching and Outdoor Scholarship Fund. With this fund we will be able to support some of the activities of the Putnam Outdoor Achievement Club that Jim loved so much.

Also we will be selling many of Jim’s personal boats and gear at the Deerfield River Fest.

Again, Thank You For All Your Support

The O’Brien Family

Proceeds will be given to the Jim O’Brien Outdoor Achievement and Scholarship fund.

For Tickets e-mail:   RobL@obboats.com

For Tickets e-mail:   RobL@obboats.com

A few pic’s of my helmet in honor of Jim

Jims Tailgate

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A photo of Jim’s tailgate at the Memorial service!

Picture Boards

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Picture Boards by Rob L.

Jim in Colorado

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I am an old non-boating friend of Jim's and have recently described a day that he
and I spent fishing in Colorado on a fly-fishing blog that I read regularly
It was the best day of my life that didn't involve getting married or the birth of a
child.  It was also Jim's first taste of the outdoors outside of Western Mass.  


Hello and welcome to my very first original Small Streams post! 

While I’ve enjoyed reading this forum over the years I’ve never launched a new topic

I’m not really a fly fisherman. 

I’m actually not much of a fisherman at all these days as I don’t seem to find or
make the time beyond a short outing or two per year in the early spring. I always
take my fly rod with me intending to stick with it this time no matter what, but
invariably somehow find myself falling back on old habits and my spinning outfit. 

However, back in 1993 a dear friend and I did spend one entire day on a stream with
only fly rods at our disposal… 

And what a day it was. 

Constant companions through High School, Jim and I had spent little time together
since Graduation 13 years prior due to the demands of college, the Army, marriage,
fatherhood, divorce…Life. This trip was a chance to reconnect and also to finally do
what we’d always dreamed of as we read issues of Outdoor Life while listening to
John Denver: Leave our old time worn and familiar Berkshire Mountains of Western
Massachusetts behind and travel to the youthful and dramatic Colorado Rockies for
some serious fishing. 

It was, and remains, the most poorly researched trip of my adult life. We landed in
Denver in the late evening, rented a car and drove up to a cabin we’d reserved in a
resort town near the Rocky Mountain National Forest. So ended the planned phase of
our trip. We got up the next day, went into town and found a rather high end tackle
shop. After buying licenses we asked the clerk for recommendations regarding what
flies to use (we kept our spin fishing proclivities to ourselves) and where to go.
He rattled off a list of rivers and marked them on our road atlas. Then he paused
and looked up at us a moment, probably in the process of deciding that we were
harmless due to our obvious lack of knowledge and preparation as well as the fact
that we were only staying in Colorado for 3 more days. “There is a little stream
just inside the Park that is loaded with Greenbacks” he said, “Would you like me to
show you where it is?”. We said “yes” instantly and he did show us…on a topo map he
had by the register. He explained that it was a short but tough hike in to the
special regulation stream (flyfishing only, catch and release, single hook barbless)
and then set us up with a supply of debarbed beadheads. We’d never heard of
beadheads before (or greenbacks for that matter) but they looked appealing enough.
Maybe the gold metallic beads reminded us of our beloved Mepps spinners. We thanked
the man, paid, hopped in our rental and headed for the spot he’d indicated. 

The trail began with a series of switchbacks across a very steep face. It took us a
couple of rest stops along the way but we got to the top, discovered that the trail
straightened out and soon thereafter found the stream…just as the sky began to
darken. We tried a couple of holes without success with our rarely used and almost
totally unfamiliar fly rods and were rapidly losing our faith in flyfishing in
general and the beadheads in particular as the sleet started to fall. I distinctly
recall having a sudden panicked thought: “When you fly 2000 miles to fish, you ought
to have a plan!”. Suddenly I sensed something as my beadhead swung across the bottom
of a small pool and set the hook on what turned out to be our first Greenback Cutt. 

I apologize in advance for the above and the rest of the pictures as they were taken
more to capture the setting than the fish. Also, they are scans from prints taken
with disposable cameras nearly 20 years ago. 

Jim caught one soon thereafter 

but we quickly decided to head back to the car as the sky menaced with sleet, snow
and the occasional flash of lightening. 

Two days later, after results on other area streams with familiar browns and
rainbows that we could have easily achieved back home, and armed with a decent
forecast, we decided to try again. The weather started out great and only got better
as the day wore on. 

Our plan was to hike up to the source lake, some 6 miles, and then fish our way back
down. The sharp eye can spot the switchbacks at the lower right hand corner and the
escarpment in the upper left hand corner that rises above the lake. 

We occasionally yielded to temptation and dropped off the ascending trail to try an
inviting hole or two and were consistently rewarded with fish. Nothing terribly
large, but any hole big enough to catch our eye proved to have multiple greenbacks
in it and they were literally shredding the beadheads. 

At the top of the trail the stream emerged from an odd notch in a natural berm that
held back the lake. 

The lake was a gem. 

An apparently fishless gem but a gem nonetheless. The setting exceeded every
expectation either of us had about being in the Rockies. I checked an Atlas when we
got back home (Al Gore hadn’t quite perfected the internet yet) and learned that the
altitude of the lake was 10,987 feet. Had I known this at the time, we’d have
climbed another 13 feet just to say that we’d made 11,000. 

After a short rest, and a snack for our squirrel friend... 

who bit deeply into Jim’s thumb about a second after I snapped this shot, we began
to fish our way downstream. 

The action was insane. 

The fish were everywhere and all we had to do was get the beadheads in the water
somehow and move, or simply hold, them in the current to get a strike. While we
earned no style points with our rudimentary skills that day, I am absolutely sure
that each of us brought well over a hundred fish to hand. Probably closer to 200 a
piece, in fact. 

We very nearly ran out of usable flies but were to find that a bead on a hook
trailing any sort of unraveled body material was enough to draw another savage
strike, often from a fish that was desperately racing one or two or three others to
the apparent exotic meal which had suddenly appeared before them. The biggest fish
we landed were about 11 inches long. I turned one over 3 times that appeared to be
in the 13-14 inch range but otherwise it was a steady stream of 6-10 inch fish who
were much more brightly colored then the ones we had caught in the lower stretches
on our first trip in 2 days prior. 

All good things must end. We began to worry about the approaching sunset and none
too soon. After leaving the river for good and then steadily increasing our pace
until we were moving at a fast trot we got back to the switchback and stumbled our
way down it to the car in near darkness with our thighs burning from exertion and a
lack of oxygen. 

We drove into town and found a tavern where we enjoyed a few beers and some pretty
good chili. We passed on the Rocky Mountain Oysters despite being encouraged to try
them by our heavily pierced (rather novel back in the day), but very attractive
barmaid. I think she was bored and just wanted to see any odd expressions we might
have made while trying to down the local delicacy. I don’t recall that we talked too
much about what we’d experienced except to agree that it was everything we’d ever
dreamed of listening to John Denver all those years ago: Like a tuning fork inside
each of us had been struck and was resonating a particular tone that we’d always
longed to hear, and didn't want to spoil with conversation. For me, the tone
eventually died: A second marriage, career ups and downs…Life. For Jim, the tone
never faded. He became the consummate outdoorsman, never at peace unless he was
outside in his beloved Berkshire Mountains, be it skiing, fishing, hunting, boating
or just walking about enjoying the present season and thinking of the one to come. 

I know the pictures above don’t do the fish from that magical day justice. As I
mentioned they were all taken with disposable cameras and as much for the scenery as
for the trout. I have, however, saved the best for last as a reward for those of you
who were interested or patient enough to get this far, and for another reason as
well. Here’s your “money shot” featuring Jim: 

Since the first time I saw it standing outside the 1 hour photo shop the day we got
back from our trip this has been my favorite photo and a symbol of what remains the
most special day in my life that did not involve a birth or a wedding. My friend Jim
and I went back to our individual adult lives keeping in touch and occasionally
getting together to do a little fishing. Whenever we did get together, talk
invariably turned to memories of our Colorado trip. 

James died 4 weeks ago yesterday while pursuing another sport that ultimately became
his true passion: White Water Kayaking. The better photos in this story and some
others from the trip were made into a poster which was displayed leaning up against
one of his kayaks at his Memorial service. Since the most perfect memory I have of
my oldest and best friend is the glorious day we spent on a small stream in the
Rockies when we literally had no choice but to fly fish, I thought I’d also share it
with all of you who, in telling your stories on this forum, have given me so much

Who knows? Perhaps this spring I’ll finally pick up my fly rod or, better yet, one
of Jim’s and stick with it. 

Then I’ll be qualified to write another post! 

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