Sunday, 15 March 2015

Saanich inlet Fishing Stories – SS Guppy II

Hi everyone. I am still looking for Saanich Inlet fishing stories and history of its fishing to put an e-book together while we still have many of the people around who made the history. You can send them to or to Mike Rose: Please come forward. And, yes, Jack James, I will catch up with you. I have just been slow.

Here is a story of mine:

The SS Guppy II

My parents used to live on Coles Bay across the water from Jimmy Gilbert’s house. I came into use of my brother-in-law’s ‘whaling dory’ for fishing. It had a faded 2.5 HP Evinrude that was far more reliable than it looked.

The ‘vessel’ was designed well, but he had scaled it down so the boat was squished shorter to 9’2”, a tub far too buoyant for mere water. It floated on air. He had to mix and add two bags of cement to the inside so it would draw a few inches of water. In other respects, it was properly built with a sandwich core of fibreglass matt on wooden ribs, then glassed on top, both inside and out. Nothing could sink it, and on the plus side it couldn’t be stolen either, as it weighed at least 250 pounds.

In my crumby, rubber, hip waders, I dragged it down to the water, launched it and climbed aboard. There was one rule: the engine had to be brought up from the beach every time I used it. The unstealable SS Guppy II could be left on the beach because no one strong enough to steal it would be dumb enough to want it. A ‘sleek’ white hull with Mediterranean blue gunwhales, oar locks, a mid-ship seat and a helmsman bench. Arrgh Billy.

I cut my fishing teeth in this ‘craft’, learning the buoy off the Dyer Rocks, fishing the gully across the Bay, down past Gilbert’s house, to the Yellow House, known so because it was, well, yellow. In between was a hotspot I called ‘The Gas Station’ because it had a raised deck and cherry picker and looked like a gas station, though it was just a boat house.

One day, trolling along the Gilbert side, I bagged a nice ling cod, a chinook of five pounds, and with frost all over me and the seat, putted past several fellows in a big warm boat, who had, thus far, caught nothing. And, of course, just then, I got a big bite on the strip on the other side of a two pound lead ball.

I didn’t have a net (and still don’t really use one much) and the fish war far too big to get in the boat. So I towed the fish on the surface for half a mile trying to catch up to the Cadillac of sporting fellows, and called for their net.

My other rod still fishing, and their several tips on my side, I manoeuvred in, took the net, and pulled out to net the fish, though they offered, noting my decidedly challenged boat, the frost on my nose, and my rod with electrician taped guides. To them I looked a poor cousin, a Grapes of Wrath relative.

When I finally scooped the fish, it was far too big for the net, and with its head in the mesh, and the rest of it hanging out the back end, I lifted it, as heavy as the boat itself, and once in the boat chased it around with a rock trying to bean it a good one.

My Evinrude at max knots, I hunted down the boat full of sports, weaved in among the rod tips, handed off the net, pulled out to run alongside and say thanks. I lifted up my first big spring, one hand in each of the gill openings, and strained it high for good viewing. The mouths of all the sports dropped several inches, and it just added to the smile on my face. I casually asked how they had been doing and was told not a sniff.

So I held up the cod and five pounder, and offered it to them. They politely declined. I was as chuffed as the Michelin Tire man, and putted off across the bay, to land my first big fish – 24 pounds, in April no less. I was some impressed. But more so with my success in a boat of so little worth no one would steal it, and on the other hand, the million dollars of high-tech stuff and zero fish.

The SS Guppy II served me well for the next few years, as I got to know the Ardmore cliff, and the spine of rock that runs north from the buoy to two thirds across Coles Bay toward the Yellow House. Structure, the thing of chinook, I memorized.

One summer night, on water so calm it looked like I could have walked out there, I putted out to the spar buoy, and dropped my 40 gram black (works better than green in Coles Bay) Stingsilda from my state of the art Daiwa 275, anodyzed aluminium reel into the twinkling school of just-hatched herring, perhaps 1.5 inches long.

I looked across the water to Bamberton, that later I was to get to know well, fishing planers and wire line. On the Malahat ridge was a horizontal white line coming down the wall. A puff of wind hit my face, and I realized it was a storm blowing in. When the line hit sea level, several waterspouts disappeared up into the clouds.

At max speed, 3 knots, I knew I was in serious trouble it I stayed half a mile off shore, and with the waves building to one foot, following me, then two, then three, my hat blew off into the sea, I beetled shoreward. By the time I reached Dyer rocks, the waves coming up my stern exceeded 6 feet tall and the wind had climbed to 40 knots.

In my little boat I was some afraid, so I watched the waves crash down on me and try to steer straight out of them, without going through the wave in front of me before my stern was lifted high and over the wave coming at me, then under me. I turned to look for the beach, and directly in front, having come from nowhere, was a tugboat, straining to keep a four hundred yard long boom of logs, presumably lifted from the beach, from being dragged back onto the beach, and  perhaps the tugboat two.

This was, at that time, the scariest experience of my limited ocean captain experience. I had no choice but to turn sideways to the 7 foot seas in my nine foot boat, with 112 inches of freeboard. I really didn’t think I was going to make it all the way to out run the boom and tugboat. Each wave was a new introduction to death.

But I did finally out run the tug, and went flying by him at 3 knots, both of us eyeing one another with the wild expression of “Where the F#*$%&*@#$ did you come from?” I manoeuvred between the dock next door and the 20 foot rock on our side, and from seven feet high was dropped hard on the granite. Waist deep in foam, I yanked the boat the waves almost deposited on top of me, up on the logs thrown high by a previous storm. After several expletives, I was able to clip the line from the nose ring of the bow to the beach rock. Up to my chest in water, 25 pounds of Evinrude kept me steady, heading to the rock steps and up the bank to safety.

I left my rods, reels, tackle boxes, gas can, oars and the etceteras in the boat and retired to a  night of rain and shrieking Sitka spruce lining the seawall. In the morning, all the logs had been moved like toothpicks, and the beach was rearranged. When I got to the boat line – no boat in sight – I dragged it out of the gravel. There on its end was the ring to the bow, the screw having been pulled free. But no SS Guppy II.

I never did find the boat, only scraps of fibreglass. The boat had been pounded into nothing over night from a gargantuan 250 pounds into pieces too small to find. My tackle box had been thrown high into the cliff bushes. My rods, reels, the contents of my tackle box had disappeared, along with the oars and gas can. I found one metal dodger sticking out of the beach but that was all. Arrgh Billy.

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