By March Brown
Smokey wisps of morning mist rose off the calm waters of Saanich Inlet when Jim Gilbert and I trolled our lures past Wain Rock. We had had a little action but nothing to write home about. Jimmy told me to be patient because the bite wouldn’t start for another half hour. Forty years of guiding and sport fishing gave him the intuition to have that special ‘feeling’ when action was about to occur. Sure enough, a short time later the line popped out of the starboard downrigger and a small coho started dancing over the surface. About the same time, I spotted gulls and terns diving into a balled-up school of herring. A group of lazy seals slid off the rocks and joined the feast. It was like all of nature was waking up after a sleep. How did Jim Gilbert know? Years spent on the water with an artist’s eye gave him the experience.
Suddenly, a mature bald eagle dropped from the sky and splashed into the water. It tried to take off again with a small salmon clutched in its talons, but the fish was too big. The eagle flapped and swam to shore, pulling the salmon with it. It crawled out on the rocks of Moses Point and spread its wings to dry. The eagle took on the pose of a native Indian design
“Look at that,” said Jimmy “it gives me an idea for another painting, or even a carving.”
Jim Gilbert retired from the guiding and marina business in 1972 and became a full-time successful artist. Retirement from the fishing business didn’t mean he no longer had any involvement with or impact on the industry. He still had his lure business. He became a founding member and director of the Sport Fishing Institute of British Columbia, a founding member and director of the Victoria Charter-Boat Association and an executive member of the Sports Fish Advisory Board and Chinook Management Committee.
Jim has long been a critic of the top brass in the federal fisheries department. He feels DFO has no flexibility on internal creative thinking to respond to a crisis. Jim has a lot of respect for the many hard-working biologists but says lack of leadership is the problem. Nobody is putting all the knowledge together to come up with a long-range viable plan. Most of the money is spent on a bureaucracy in Ottawa and little filters down to the people in the field who do the most important work.
Jim was born in 1932 and raised on Saanich Inlet. His father started a boat building and rental business on Brentwood Bay in 1926. Jim’s earliest memories are of sitting on the dock in a wire cage playpen while his father rented boats and cleaned his clients’ catch. Jim watched with interest and as he grew up he gradually began to help his father.
As a self-confessed ‘beach rat’ Jim became an entrepreneur and guide at the early age of 13. He rented tackle and took greenhorns fishing. The more experienced anglers were too proud to have a ‘kid’ guide them, even though he usually out-fished them. With an artist’s creative mind, Jim studied the water temperature, the tides, weather, and sea birds, and he learned all the little secrets of nature that lead to more successful fishing. Continual experimenting with a variety of bait, and methods of cutting it for different action taught him how to be more efficient. His success rate increased and he became more in demand as a guide. The marina and Jim’s charters continued to expand until it was time to decide on a future.
Jim obtained a degree in fisheries biology after going to Victoria College and the University of British Columbia. Each summer he worked as a guide to finance his education. After graduating he was offered a job at the Vancouver Aquarium, but turned it down to teach at Victoria College. He wanted to be as close as possible to the fishing in his beloved Saanich Inlet. Jim only stayed a year as a teacher because his father needed his help to repair and run the marina business.
One evening, after returning from a fishing trip Jim suffered a mild heart attack from over-work and stress. Although he took a few days off work, it didn’t slow him down and he took on another venture. With his friend Jack Robertson they started manufacturing the ‘Krippled Minnow.’ It was such a successful lure and the demand was so great, they had to expand.
The profits were turned back into the business. Unfortunately, in 1965 Jack Robertson was killed in a plane crash and Jim had to take over the whole business. He continued to expand it.
Jim’s time was always in demand. He was chosen to guide such notables as John Diefenbaker, Lester B. Pearson, W.A.C. Bennett and hockey legend Gordie Howe. They all managed to catch salmon when fishing with Jim. In fact, Jim Gilbert set a record that is unlikely to be broken. He guided 331 successive trips without a skunking. Jim was appointed as a sport fishing advisor for federal fisheries and he gave sport fishing seminars to the public.
Jim’s father died in 1967 of a heart attack and Jim remembered his father’s advice to slow down or he would die wealthy but with a stomach full of ulcers. Jim stopped trying to expand, and in 1970 he sold the marina, but continued with his charter operation.
[From here summarized by DC Reid]
This gave more time for his west coast native art. When the demand increased for his art, and his interest subsided, Jim gave up the business in 1972. He moved into his new ventures with the enthusiasm of his previous endeavors. He wrote a couple of publications on fishing: 'Drift Fishing' and 'Flashers', and he learned all forms of art, worked on graphic paintings, carvings in bone stone, inlaid shell, and hand sculptured jewelry in pieces of gold.
Jim had been influenced by art from an early age and his childhood fishing partners, Indians. He had studied art with the Hunt family under a traditional apprenticeship. He worked for Tony Hunt at his famous work the Raven. Jim had to learn the basics of carving to become a carver, working for Henry Hunt. He learned the basics and developed his pieces with his own original design.
Jim Gilbert has been a student of the art and with six major “Tribal Groupings” of the Northwest coast. This involved teaching art and he was hired by the Education Division with George Hunt Jr. for teaching. When George left, Jim took over the program himself. This lead to a basic curriculum and 160-page book on the art pf the Northwest Coast.
Jim is now an internationally recognized artist, with graphics and sculpture throughout North America, Asia and Australia.