James M. Warner January 8, 1928 – February 12, 2015

Jim was a wonderful kind-hearted man with a quick wit and a hearty laugh. He cherished his family and made his living in the heart of the Lakes Region in Wolfeboro, NH. He spent nearly half a century on the waters and shores in and around Lake Winnipesaukee (the “Winni” for those in the know). Jim ran a busy tackle and outdoors shop called the Sportsman’s Center that later became the Lake’s Region Sports Shop. He was successful because he was an avid hunter and fisherman who identified with locals and visitors alike, but most of all because he knew what time it was when it came to being a sportsman. Hands down his greatest strength was as a fisherman – he fly fished, he spin fished, he bait fished, he trolled, and ice fished. Case and point – into his seventies he was making trips with retired Game Warden Roger Whitcomb to Portsmouth, NH to fly fish for stripers.

Ken Craigue Jr. presenting Jim Warner with a framed set of streamers from the Jim Warner Fly Swap
Ken Craigue Jr. presenting Jim Warner with a framed set of streamers from the Jim Warner Fly Swap

I probably met Jim many times before I got to know him since I lived in Tuftonboro not far from his Winter Harbor home. My dad knew him well and that’s probably why he purchased my Christmas present from him in 1972 – a well-stocked fly tying kit. At ten I loved tying flies and when I landed my first trout on a fly in the spring of 1973 I loved it even more. Until I graduated high school in 1980, I went to his shop every chance I got. I know I must have been a pest, but he never once scolded or put me off. To the contrary, he would look at the flies I had tied and offer suggestions or let me watch him tie at his bench in the back of the shop. I would buy his flies and try to make mine look as good as his. I would dissect them, trying to figure out just how materials were attached and then reconstruct them. I will never forget the winter afternoon that he looked at the bunch of flies I brought in and said, “those look good.” By now I would have been about sixteen and I knew that he was telling me that I was competent as a tyer. I still visited the shop and purchased my materials from him, but my tutelage was complete.

Jim Warner's Redfin Shiner and Blue Magic
Jim Warner’s Redfin Shiner and Blue Magic on an old receipt.

I didn’t see Jim for many years after I went into the Marines out high school, and moved away from the Lakes Region. In the late 90’s however, my son was visiting his grandparents and my father introduced him to Jim. As a result I taught my son the craft Jim impressed upon me. It would be years later that I would visit Jim in Melvin Village, NH, not far from where I grew up and fished. It was during these visits that we would talk about his years as a guide on the Big Lake, his years owning and managing a shop for sportsmen, and the thousands of dozens of flies he tied. Mostly we talked about fishing Lake Winnipesaukee and the streamers he created to imitate baitfish native to the area. He considered the Wolfeboro Bay Special and the Winnipesaukee Smelt his crowning achievements although he has over one hundred original patterns to his credit. Aside from feather wings and his interesting, but deadly ten feather “bottle flies” (a local moniker due to keeping them in cigar tubes), these flies made use of marabou which was an emerging trend at the time. Jim was quick to downplay his role as an innovator by stating that often he just played around with adding readily available materials left over from holiday trimmings. I recognized it as pure genius and the work of a master tyer, not to mention that he was still tying flies well into his 80’s.

Jim Warner Smelt and "Winni" streamers
Jim Warner Smelt and “Winni” streamers

Jim freely shared his knowledge which I found rare. Sure he had some “secret fishing holes,” but even those he shared with enough information that one who was familiar with the lake would have little trouble finding. It was during this time that Jim gave me plates as he called them of his patterns which I treasure almost as much as streamers I’ve collected from periods in his career. I also began to ponder just how many lives Jim had touched – how many boys like me became connected to the art and sport of fly tying and fishing simply because Jim Warner took the time to encourage and share. How many sportsmen and women had fishless days erased because they tied on one of his killer patterns.

A few of the different backing cards Jim warner used for his streamers.
A few of the different backing cards Jim warner used for his streamers.

I find it ironic that Jim passed away on February 12th because it brings to mind words cited at A. Lincoln’s passing: “…[N]ow he belongs to the ages.” While Jim would argue that he was not worthy of inclusion with such a figure, I would say that he is because he left a legacy that will endure through the ages. His works are documented in numerous books and publications and will undoubtedly be reproduced in pursuit of freshwater gamefish in the Lake’s Region and beyond. Jim consistently said he tied flies to catch fish. He was not concerned with perfect proportions or tying convention, but simply the fly’s effectiveness where it counts the most, in a fish’s mouth. As you sit at your vise this winter take just a moment to remember Jim Warner, there are not many like him. He was a humble, gentle giant of a man and master tyer who was always glad to share himself with others. He certainly had a life worth living that he spent sharing and freely giving his time and expertise to anglers worldwide. You will be missed Jim and most fondly remembered.

Jim Warner and a prized blue
Jim Warner and a prized blue – Photo Phillip L. Butterfield

Ken Craigue, Jr – Ken grew up near the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in Melvin Village, NH. As a young boy he fished the big lake and the lakes region. At ten years old, in 1972, Ken discovered fly tying and was immediately hooked.
[visit Ken’s streamer page on Streamers 365]

Jim Warner – A New England Classic – Mike Martinek
Jim Warner’s Streamers 365 flies
Jim Warner Streamer Fly Swap – Kenneth Craigue Jr.
Trolling For Fish In New Hampshire With Master Angler, Jim Warner – Dr. Harold Lyon

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5 Comments

  1. I got to know Jim personally in the early 60’s. He started me fly tying streamers in 1956 on an old Thompson vise and a pair of shears I had along with a hackle pliers made out of a coat hanger. All thumbs I was. Living in Maine and fishing was a way of life for a lot of us younger boys. Even a few weeks before his passing Jim and I would chat about when he first started tying. What a great gentleman, fly tier, husband, father and a great friend to all he meant along this great man’s wonderful journey of life. Rest in peace my friend…you have touched so many lives with your gift and greatness.

    “The Grizz”

  2. Jim will be missed here in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. I have known Jim for nearly sixty years, spent many hours in his shop in Wolfeboro, where many of us who fished Lake Winnipesaukee and other lakes, would gather. His stories were great, you always learned something new. His Wolfeboro Bay Special has always been one of my favorite flies.

    In the 60’s and early 70’s he would make the long trip to Boston for United Fly Tyer meetings. There was always a large crowd around him when he was at the tying bench. His legacy will long be remembered.

  3. Jim was a great guy…I got to know him very well in the past few years..
    We stayed in contact by phone and e-mails.
    I always called him from my boat while trolling for Salmon..
    Going to miss those great conversations…
    R.I.P Jim

  4. …i was 1972, the year before I graduated from high school, when i went into Paul’s Fly shop on Green Street and was introduced to Warner’s streamers…time and time again his smelt and attractor patterns were brought back as the benchmark…he was a guy who always made time for the important things…
    jim lukas

  5. What a remarkable man, wish there was more like him . This is why fly fishing used to be known as “The sport of gentlemen” R.I.P. Jim….

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