Some Early Sport Salmon Fishing

by John M. MacFarlane 2014

Naval ships at anchor up the British Columbia coast often provided the base from which to pursue some relaxing, recreational fishing at the end of an operational day or on the weekend. In the 1940s to 1960s this was a widespread activity among naval personnel on the Pacific coast.

Comox Salmon

Petty Officer Spike Sullivan and Petty Officer George R. MacFarlane with big salmon at Comox BC 1943. MacFarlane had been a commercial fisherman before his enlistment in 1941. (Photograph from the MacFarlane collection.)

The rise in popularity of sport fishing after the Second World War and the increasing availability of salt water sport fishing gear and reasonably, inexpensive small boats enabled many more amateur anglers to go salmon fishing.

John MacFarlane and Salmon

In 1957 a young John MacFarlane won the ship’s fishing derby for the largest salmon in HMCS Stettler. (Photograph from the MacFarlane collection.)

The largest sport–caught Chinook salmon weighed in at 97.25 pounds (44.11kg) at Kenai AK. While a salmon of that size is somewhat of a rarity, large 40+ pound springs are still a hoped for catch and even fishing for the smaller varieties, such as the just–as–tasty coho, sockeye, or pinks, throughout West Coast waters still proves ever popular.

The RCN Anglers Association

Established in 1955 this association has been consistent in promoting sport fishing and fishing competitions on the Pacific coast among members of the Navy. Their mission statement says it best –

The object of our Association is and always has been, to encourage and develop interest in all forms of angling within the Pacific Command, particularly among Junior Canadian Forces Personnel, and to provide for more competitive events within a wider area of Vancouver Island waters than is provided by any other Anglers Association on Southern Vancouver Island.

As members of a Sports Association, we are the watchdogs in the conservation field. Constantly on watch for poor conservation practices, stream pollution, game laws infraction and poor logging programs. These are but a few of the many abuses our resources are being subjected to by thoughtless groups and individuals. An Angler’s reward does not all come from the weight of the catch. The contingent values, the lore learned, the appreciation of what we have inherited from yesterdays are often more important that the number of fish we land.

One of the driving forces in the establishment of the RCN Anglers Association was Chief Petty Officer Dick James RCN. He and his wife, son (nautical historian Rick James) and younger brother, Jack, were permanent fixtures in every salmon fishing derby. They were often the winners of the big trophies.

Dick James

This photo appeared in The Crowsnest and the caption stated that "This one didn’t get away and, too big to be held at arm’s length for the photographer it was lashed to a post. Chief Petty Officer Dick James of Naden, a leading light in the Pacific Command RCN Anglers’ Association landed the 33 pound seven ounce Spring salmon in Cowichan Bay." (RCN Photograph E–51646 from the Crowsnest collection.)


CPO Jim Ross on right receives the Esquimalt Meat Market trophy as 1959 Steelhead Champion from Commodore P.D. Budge RCN while CPO 1st Class, G.I., R.E. ‘Dick’ James RCN looks on. (Photo from the R.E. ‘Dick’ James collection.)

Membership Card

His favorite fishing spot in those days was Cowichan Bay out of the Anchor Marina. (Photo from the Rick James collection.)

Halls Boathouse

Dick James, Rick James and Jack James at Hall’s Boat House after a successful day of angling. (Photo from the Rick James collection.)


The trophies awarded in the fishing derbies as well as for the largest spring, coho, steelhead or trout of the year caught by a Navy angler were quite sophisticated and went way beyond the quality of those awarded in other sports such as bowling or golf. The group was more than generous with its recognition for fishing achievements and provided special awards in separate ladies and junior categories. (Photo from the Rick James collection.)

Lee Halberg

Victor Holman Jr. RCNAA Junior Champion 1957, receiving the Murdock–Girard Trophy from Lee Hallberg ... 23 lbs. 2 oz. (Lee was the host of a weekly CHEK–TV show back in the 1950s and early 1960s that brought the public up to date with the latest fishing news from around local B.C. waters. His wife Patty held the record for the world’s largest sport caught coho, by a woman, at the time: a 31 pounder caught at Cowichan Bay in the late 1940s.) (Photo from the Rick James collection)


Felt patches to indicate championship achievement were awarded that could then be sewn on jackets or caps to permanently indicate previous wins in the various categories. This was useful to advertise that one was a well experienced fisherman with lots of talent to compete with. Also, one goal of many of the particularly keen members, like the James family, was to try and win patches for all categories: spring, coho, steelhead, trout. (Photo from the Rick James collection.)

Mrs. Dick James

1961 Lady Trophy Winners – Left to right Mrs. M. McKay, Mrs. June James, Mrs. Irene Westover, all partners of those serving in the RCN, receiving their Ladies class trophies at an annual gala RCNAA awards ceremony for champion fish. (Photo from the Rick James collection.)

The James family eventually moved away from fishing Saanich Inlet, from Hall’s Boathouse, to Cowichan Bay. It had a great run of springs in the summer and then the schools of coho jumping and fining would return in September and October. By the end of 1950s the James were well established at Anchor Marina where they tied the boats up. Rick James’ Dad had a small clinker cabin boat, June Bug, powered by a Briggs & Stratton engine and his brother Jack had an open clinker, Josephine, also with a Briggs & Stratton, he’d won in a Saanich Inlet fishing derby in the early 1950s and he still owns it! It sits on a trailer at his Vic Royal home.

After retirement in 1961 Chief Petty Officer James jumped at the chance to manage Ordano’s Boathouse (in Cowichan Bay BC), much to the chagrin of his wife, June, since they’d just had their dream home built out in Gordon Head. Old Domingo Ordano kept the Briggs & Stratton engines all running and in good shape and that was the motive power for the rental fleet. Dick and family stayed there a year or so; for one full season of sports fishing. James really turned the place around: cleaned it up, advertised it widely and, as a result, it was absolutely booming once spring and coho season started. Rick James recalls that 1961 looms large in his memory – as a 13 year old – he got to run the boats himself and even went guiding a couple of times. Ordano’s was even the marina of choice for Americans who showed up because they were well aware that Cowichan Bay was a sports fishing ‘hot spot’ on our coast.

Bucktail Flies

Dick James’ Flybox containing bucktail streamer flies. (Photo from the Rick James collection.)

Rick James still has a couple of boxes of his dad’s collection of bucktail streamer flies. They are rather beautiful in their variety of colour combinations. The trick was to start out coho season trying different colours; changing flies regularly to see what exactly appealed to that year’s particular coho return. (Many fisherman who didn’t get it, would keep dragging around the same old fly wondering why they wouldn’t get any strikes. Often one totally different colour combination from the year before would prove to be the ‘killer’ fly. Rick remembers the ‘Gray Ghost’ bucktails were often the hot ones. Also, it was particularly important to clean them up after every use, allow them to dry, and then rub them down with Brylcreem.

Dick’s brother, Jack James, became very proficient tying flies – bucktails in particular. He used those skills to go on and develop his own fishing lure company: Radiant Lures. His son carries on the tradition but today he depends primarily on the internet to sell fishing tackle.

Author’s Note: The author is indebted to Rick James for the use of materials from his collection and providing extra insights into the RCNAA. In later years he went on to become a commercial fisherman on the Pacific coast before he became a marine historian, author and professional archaeologist.

To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2014) Some Big Sport–caught Salmon From Years Past. 2014.

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