During a year in which Australia lost a number of flyfishing greats, the recent passing of Rick Keam is amongst the saddest loss.
I first met Rick about 30 years ago. We were friends and colleagues from early on, working together on various writing projects and in recreational fishing advocacy; particularly around trout fishing.
I soon learnt that Rick was a powerful intellect and a stickler for detail almost to a fault. His editing of my second book, ‘The River Behind Hill’ left me in no doubt about his encyclopaedic knowledge of all things flyfishing. If you wanted to challenge Rick on any point, you had better have done your homework… and mostly, he was right anyway! While some may have been bemused or even annoyed by this, I came to really value it. If I had a question about a flyfishing fact, grammar, or trout fishery management, Rick was a rock-solid resource.
My books and articles were not the only beneficiaries of Rick’s immense editorial and research abilities. Although he often gladly worked in the background (sometimes all but anonymously) his contribution to accuracy and insight across many modern Australian flyfishing publications was extensive. Knowingly or not, anyone who’s widely read Australian books and magazines over recent decades, has probably benefitted from Rick’s work.
For all that, Rick was perhaps best known amongst anglers for his flies. He brought the same intellect and attention to detail I’ve already described, to the flies he designed – topped off by extraordinary inventiveness and creativity. I think any fur, feather or synthetic material ever created, was viewed first by Rick for its fly-tying potential! From plastic packaging to camel fur, nothing was safe from Rick’s vise.
Rick was on a mission to create practical flies which behaved as realistically as possible. He was bothered by how poorly many popular flies behaved once on or in the water, and he strived to come up with better alternatives – which he succeeded in doing many times over.
To anglers, Rick may be less known for his musical abilities. Not so in the folk music scene, where his talents as a songwriter, player and singer were widely recognised and awarded.
Besides his many abilities, Rick was generous and kind. He often sent me original flies and fly-tying materials, always accompanied by an informative note in his beautiful handwriting. At times, he expressed concern for a fellow flyfisher (or two) who was going through a tough patch. “Give so-and-so a call,” he’d say, “I think they could do with a boost.” This was in spite of the fact Rick suffered various bouts of ill health for as long as I knew him, and although there were some dire prognoses over the years, his regular recoveries had me subconsciously expecting that he’d outlive us all.
Rick’s death is a great loss to his family and friends. And because I doubt we’ll see another like him, it’s all the more tragic for the angling world.
RIP Rick; thanks for everything.