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Kennebunkport fishing guide recalls nearly 40 years of friendship with President Bush

The pair shared a love of the fly-fishing sport and being on the water, which spanned nearly four decades.

BUCKSPORT (NEWS CENTER Maine) -- The late President George H. W. Bush was an excellent fly fisherman, owing a lot of what he learned to his Kennebunkport fishing guide.

To Jim Dionne, Mr. Bush was more than his President. He was his dear friend.

"He would constantly call me up on the phone and say, 'hey, come on over, the stripers are out,'" said Dionne.

The pair shared a love of the fly-fishing sport and being on the water, which spanned nearly four decades.

"It's not about, 'hey, I know a President,'" said Dionne. "It's not about that. It was just a great man and I don't care if he built houses. I don't care what he did for work. [He] had such an inspiration."

Dionne received hundreds of personal letters from Mr. Bush over the years, mostly regarding fishing and fishing gear.

"I'm a working guy and I've got 200 letters," said Dionne. "Imagine all the other people whose lives he touched as well, besides a fishing guide from Kennebunkport."

Dionne met President Bush 38 years ago after Dionne came out of the United States Marine Corps and opened a little fishing shop in the Bush family's summer hometown of Kennebunkport.

"President Bush showed up at my shop and came in and I was just totally overwhelmed," added Dionne.

Mr. Bush was getting teased in town for not being able to catch any fish.

"He says, 'I'm wondering if you can help me catch some of these stripers,' and I said, well, sir, I know a few things, maybe I could give you a hand with that," recalled Dionne. "He says, 'well, I want you to come on over to Walker's Point and maybe we can have a beer and take a few casts off the rocks.' So, I did."

The pair didn't catch any fish that day, but so began a friendship lasting decades.

"I was just a working man around Kennebunkport with a small store that he used to frequent very, very often but he always took the time," said Dionne. "Every single summer, I've never missed not going out there at least once or twice a summer and just spending time with him."

Even in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Dionne stood by Mr. Bush's side, taking comfort in being on the water and with each other.

"President Bush said, 'Jimmy, what are you doing out here,' and I said, well, sir, I just came to check on you, make sure that you're alright," remembered Dionne. "He said to me, he said, 'just say a prayer for my boy, George. Say a prayer for my boy George, Jim.' I said, yes, sir, and I said President Bush, and he said, 'yes,' and I pointed to the American flag on Walker's Point and I told him, I said those colors never run, and I think he really appreciated that."

That same flag on Walker's Point in Kennebunkport has been at half-staff since President Bush's passing Friday night.

"Principles that he really valued about compassion and kindness and tolerance and love of country, those are things that we should all learn for today as we move forward," said Dionne. "With his passing, I think it's a great gift for us to all look at his legacy and learn from it because it's a great roadmap for the future."