Marleah – West Coast Troller

by Roland Lussier 2014


Marleah #370623 (Photo from the Roland Lussier collection. )

Here is the troller Marleah. I worked on this boat in 1979 but I took this photo from the Orion Sea in 1978 somewhere off Tofino (on the west coast of Vancouver Island). Unlike most trollers that fished six or eight lines these two boats fished with ten lines. The extra two lines were supported by the bow poles you can see in the photo. This called for more skill and more effort by the crew.

The Marleah was built in 1975 at the Sather Boatworks in New Westminster BC. She was a wooden–hulled troller 12.65m x 3.90m x 1.49m 13.11gt 8.91rt and powered by a 230bhp diesel engine.

Double ender

This little double ender was a common sight on the fishing grounds. On the west coast these boats normally would head for a harbour or safe anchorage for the night as they weren’t big enough to withstand some of the really rough weather that often came up. (Photo from the Roland Lussier collection. )

The Marleah is still afloat and working. In 1975–1993 she was owned by Mitsuo Tasaka, Burnaby BC. In 1994–1997 she was owned by Gordon R. Cawthorne, Nanaimo BC. In 2001–2004 she was owned by Nancy Hamanishi, Vancouver BC. In 2011–2014 she was owned by Gerald G. Boudreau, Comox BC.

The Marleah is a typical west coast salmon troller and one that I worked on in 1979 off Vancouver Island roughly from Bamfield to Nootka Sound. Unlike gill netters and seiners that use nets, trollers drag steel lines that hang from poles and have the same basic fishing gear used by sport fishers. Most trollers fish six or eight lines with each line having many lures and flashers but very few like the Marleah fished ten, the extra two lines hung from bow poles as seen in this photo. The heavy weights or cannon balls used to get the lines down deep varied from 30 pounds for the furthest lines from the boat to sixty pounds on the bow poles. In rough weather pulling the gear in was challenging work and if it got really rough the bow poles weren't used as they had a tendency to bounce on the gunwales and could easily bend.


The sea was too rough for fishing so part of the fleet is tied up in Ucluelet BC. Strong west winds have churned up plenty of white caps in the harbour but on the upside westerlies bring sunshine. On the far left the Orion Sea is tied up to Marleah's starboard side. (Photo from the Roland Lussier collection. )

When these boats were common on the west coast freezer boats were beginning to become popular but the Marleah and most other vessels still used ice which also made for necessary ballast. A typical trip was twelve days at sea anchoring each night in the midst of the fleet, their strobe lights at times made it look like a small city thirty or so miles off shore. Some nights were flat calm as the anchor went down but it was more likely to be a little ‘lumpy’.

Mornings sometimes started off with waves breaking over the bow. There’s a lot of truth to the saying "red sky in the morning, sailor take warning". Days were long, an easy day’s fishing for Chinook might be 30 or 40 fish if they were in the 20–30 pound range, a hard day would be 400–600 Sockeye or Pinks. The gear would be in the water before sunrise and still be in the water as the sun went down but the day wasn’t done until all the fish had been cleaned, belly iced and neatly stacked like bowling pins in the hold. Falling asleep on one’s feet in the cockpit I’m sure happened to everyone who worked the decks.

Dead whale

The Marleah and Orion Sea pictured here have come across a dead humpback whale. What killed it was a mystery, it could have been hit by a ship, attacked by orcas or simply succumbed to old age or disease. (Photo from the Roland Lussier collection. )

It was one of these moments half asleep on my feet that I thought I was seeing things when a gray whale surfaced fifty feet beside me. On my next trip to Vancouver I bought a decent camera and thus began my interest in photography. While commercial fishing is still part of BC’s economy the lifestyle that went with the troller isn’t what it once was. The little wooden double–ender day boats have been gone for years and many of the bigger boats are also gone from the fleet as well. Their graceful lines and seaworthiness have made them very popular as pleasure boats but the days of seeing them fully rigged like the Marleah are over. If I’m not mistaken trollers are now restricted to eight lines and possibly six lines. I’m sure glad I had an opportunity to work on a few of the best.

Editor’s Note: Robin Fregin wrote in after publication to say that: "The front two lines were referred to as heavies, the next two were called main lines, then the next two were called short and long (pigs) retrospectively. Then some fishermen who ran a line off the end of the boom called that one the whiskey line."

Author Roland Lussier reports that there were different terminologies used on the Marleah than those reported by Robin Fregin. He writes: "On the Marleah the two lines after the bow pole lines were called the bow line and the deep line and the last two were the short pig and the long pig, the long pig being the furthest from the boat. The pigs were styrofoam floats that kept the cannon balls or heavy lead weights off the bottom, some say they were once pig bladders and hence the name. "

To quote from this article please cite:

Lussier, Roland (2014) Marleah – West Coast Troller. 2014.

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