Lee Straight inducted into the Steelheader Hall of Fame
Part I -
So what can you say after spending 3 hours with Canada’s sportsman/journalist
legend, Lee Straight. At 86.5 years young, he’s still as sharp as a razor.
On a sunny
Sunday in May, I had the opportunity to visit Lee at his home in Vancouver. As
always, Straight is up to date on issues foremost in sport fishing and, like a
lot of us, he questions what the future conceals.
Lee’s past, however, is well documented on the walls of his home. His
den, hallways and living room walls display framed photos from his rich
outdoor background. He recalls, during his 33-year stint as the outdoors
writer for the Vancouver Sun, that he wrote many of his daily columns while
being totally exhausted. After a full day of climbing mountains or on the
water, writing a column was tough, but he did it.
Straight: "Where did you get the
Winchester Arms cap? I remember when the first ones came out - Winchester Arms
used to have conventions every year, that outdoor writers were invited to. So
did two outboard motor companies. I got a lot of free trips to ‘promotional
seminars’ to review their products. But the newspapers got tired of them,
knowing they were just getting free advertising in our columns."
Hanson: "What are your current ideas on the outdoors?"
Straight:: "Right now, we seem at the lowest point I can remember, in our
government’s treatment of fishing and hunting: And there is some scorn for the
shooting sports, even against anglers. I know the reason for it: ‘ Way back in
the forties, I deplored the approaching TV. As soon as it started, hobbies --
guys working in their basements, fly-tying and in other handicrafts - were
threatened. TV threatened to take over, and has; Far fewer find time to tie
fishing flies or build something like a boat.
"I had helped build a canoe, a sail boat and skis for sale - the latter
all in one year. TV has come along, it’s hard to tear yourself away from it.
The life I relished was is well nigh gone - the handicrafts and hobbies.
There’s been a vast change, just in my life.
"Fishing? I started before I was born. My father, while he was a school
principal, annually took our family camping and fishing, in the Sechelt area.
Dad fished almost daily and Mom preserved cases of salmon in jars.
Occasionally, my mom, even when pregnant went out with Dad in their little
rowboat. So, I can claim I went fishing before I was born, which was on
September 15,1915. Similarly with my brother, Byron, born September 5, two
years later (also still living, by the way).
"We had a joke in our family: the three sons were all born in September.
The joke is it was my Dad’s way of giving Mom a Christmas present - a
"surprise" that didn’t appear until September.
"I joined the Navy in 1944 (World War II) and eventually stationed in
Nova Scotia. My brother, Hal, had just been made managing editor of the Sun.
Hal had gone through three outdoors editors in 1945. He found one of them had
plagiarized his sample columns. The other two were Sun reporters, who proved
inexperienced in the outdoors. Hal was desperate.
"Meanwhile I, already a nut on hunting and fishing, had written home
about shooting rats in a garbage dump, near where I was stationed. Hal liked
my report and wrote me, asking how long I’d be in the Navy. I replied that I
wouldn’t be out for ages. The war seemed almost over but I had only a year of
service and was therefore low on the discharge list (unless one were returning
to former employment).
"Hal’s response was, ‘Don’t forget, you worked for the Sun as a UBC
student sport news reporter. Perhaps you can go back to your old job.’ So I
applied for it. Months passed. I returned west on annual leave (holidays) but
still wasn’t discharged. After my leave I was posted to de-storing naval
vessels at Bedwell Bay, near Second Narrows Bridge.Then was finally
discharged, via Victoria.
"I thought I had some good employment prospects waiting for me when I got
out of the Navy, they didn’t gell. When my brother insisted he hadn’t found an
outdoors writer and that the job was still open, I said I would work for the
Sun, temporarily. But it proved what I liked, naturally, and I stayed.. I
worked diligently my 33 years and the salary wasn’t bad. I did think of taking
a year off to finish my degree. I had completed only three-plus years at UBC.
But the Sun wouldn’t let me go back, part-time back to UBC, and neither would
UBC, in those days. Nowadays, of course, employers even encourage it. I seldom
In 1978, however, discouraged by a very long general newspaper strike, I
signed a contract as the recreational angling consultant with the federal
Department of Fisheries. That’s the same job Bill Otway of Port Coquitlam held
from 1985 until last year. I was the first to have it -- for six years, but,
when I turned 69, felt I had worked long enough, hence recommended that the
job go out to tenders. Otway won it."
Hanson: "Is there any highlight that you can think of, being a sports
writer for 33 years at the Sun?"
Straight: "There were dozens of course but, foremost were the writing,
itself, catching some trophy fish and fine game animals, and qualifying for
the 1952 international Canadian military rifle team, which competed annually
and very successfully against the rest of the British Commonwealth. That still
takes place, at Bisley, near London, England. From the mid-1800s until after
World War II, national rifle teams were big in sports.
"The results made the front pages of the Sun and Province. I had done
some sporting ammunition hand-loading and amateur gunsmithing, and testing of
firearms but didn’t realize how I was ‘tuning up’ the old trigger finger. When
I came out of the Navy, acquaintances suggested I’d be interested in
competitive shooting, when they saw me trying out rifles at Barnet Rifle Range
in Burnaby, which, years earlier, I’d helped start. So I was recruited by the
Seaforth Highlanders reserves. I eventually qualified for the Canadian Bisley
rifle team at the next year’s national matches, in Ottawa.
"In those days, teams went to London, England, by train and boat, not by
air, so I needed six weeks off. The best I did in qualifying for the 18-man
team was sixth in Canada. The Sun seemed pleased and, since the army paid my
fare, suggested I write some stories about it. I recall replying, ‘Oh sure,
but it will probably mess up my shooting’… and it did." I sent frequent
reports from Bisley."
Hanson: "How about your fishing?"
Straight: "When I was a kid my best pal’s dad was a fly fisherman. He
started us on fly fishing and I was happy with it. Also, my dad salmon-trolled
at sea, Mostly, through my ‘teens, I played team sports and angled little. So,
when I wrote just basic fishing reports about fishing I’d return from my own
fishing trips with few catches to report. I wasn’t yet a truly skilled angler.
Fly tackle was much poorer in those days. So I rationalized that the
average man spin fishes and bait fishes and does much better, I soon switched
to hardware lures, learned to fish with salmon eggs and casting rods.
With one fly-caught exception, my early steelhead were taken on bait, a
spinner or a spoon. But I worked hard at mastering all kinds of fishing and
gradually learned to fly fish for steelhead. Before too long, I preferred
you use a sinking-tip line of some sort?"
Straight: "In those days there were two basic kinds of fly line, braided
silk, cheap cotton.. Silk was better but cost more. The best coating was
linseed oil, rubbed on, and in. It would float about a half-day. They
gradually sank through the day and taught us the relative advantages of
floating and slow- and fast-sinking fly lines. More recent plastic coatings
have vastly improved fly success, as well as the pleasure of angling."
Hanson: "So I guess you’ve caught a few steelhead?"
Straight :""Not a million, but my share."
Hanson: "Do you still go fishing?"
Straight: "I can’t.. I’ve lost my balance. Other things, too. Couple o’
heart attacks and a survivor of prostate cancer, 20 years back. After my last
heart attack I came away with one of those little braided ‘stents’ in my
coronary artery. Keeps the plaque from collecting in the narrow spots. So I’m
just a rambling wreck.
"You know, I never needed to use a wading staff 'til I was almost 70. I
used to scorn them. Until then I just hopped over the rocks.
"All through our ‘teens, a pal and I used to explore the North Shore
mountains and valleys, mostly the Lynn, including skiing. I spent as much time
with his family as mine. " That friend, retired Brigadier-General Paul Smith,
now lives in Qualicum Beach.
"We went in any month to climb those hills. That’s how, wearing our
favorite caulked logging boots, we once ran the length of the Lynn, when it
was frozen almost solid, from the canyons in North Vancouver to the sea; There
were no other good climbing boots in those days."
Hanson: "Do you have any special views on B.C.?"
Straight: "One is that I believe the integration with the aborigines has
been poorly handled in Canada. Many countries seem to have integrated well
with their indigenous people. The United States seems to have done so, much
more smoothly than we."
Hanson: "As an outdoor journalist for the sun, how did you deal with the
content for your columns?"
Straight: "At first I was allowed two columns a week, then five a week,
for the rest of my 33 years. For five years I had three assistants in a
drop-in ‘Information Bureau’, one of whom phoned around for, and reported
‘Fish Tips’ for two of our five weekly columns.
""There were few ‘Green Peace’-type or other ecology or environmental
writers in the immediately post-war years. The outdoors and natural history
writers (‘birders’) covered all that. Basically, it was the outdoors writers’
combined voice that warned the public that people were ‘wrecking’ the country,
with logging, industry, and rampant real estate development. There seemed
unlimited subjects to write about.
"I wrote most creative type columns in three hours or so. Themes were
always whirling around in my head. "In addition I, more than other newspaper
outdoors columnists that I read in North America, made a point of covering
shooting and angling competitions, and important meetings of the wildlife
clubs. A larger problem was deciding what reports or concerns to print and
what to ‘throw away’ - literally.
"My fishing reports were obtained from the Wildlife Branch but I noticed
some fishery officers - also being overworked - merely repeated reports of
previous years. Also, angling reports from some sports shops and boat rentals
proved unreliable. To keep an unbroken list of columns, in anticipation of
out-of-town ‘assignments’, I carefully researched material that I wrote for
future columns, which we called ‘time copy’, to publish when I was travelling."
Often, when reporting from the field, I could ‘wire’ (telegraph} from
railway stations or not too distant hotels. It was risky to try to telephone.
There were too many technical names of wildlife, not to mention hunting and
Newspapers in much of the world received a special rate of one cent a
word, for any distance, as long as it was sent at night. Many of my
out-of-town columns I typed and sent while exhausted from shooting or fishing.
I wrote a few while I could hardly keep my eyes open. Much of my hunting was
alpine, all day long - pretty demanding. Until later years, I and any
companion were forced to be in shape. Obviously, I didn’t avoid opportunities
to stalk deer elk or moose."
Hanson; "So, besides fishing and big game, you had an interest in bird
Straight: "Yes, in those days, upland bird and waterfowl shooting were
still the main interest around the Lower Mainland. There was huge interest in
pheasant and duck - even snipe and pigeon -- Richmond and around Chilliwack --
basically the Fraser River delta., which was teeming with game birds.
Eventually, though, crop seeds were coated with mildew-resistant
chemicals, and farm borders were more carefully groomed, all of which
drastically reduced the food and habitat for birds - all birds, including
insectivorous (‘song’) birds. That deterioration of the habitat was and still
"Many who moved to the prairies, the Cariboo and Peace River were drawn
by the hunting, especially the bird shooting. Some rural residents disdained
shooting game birds on the wing because of the seemingly high cost of shotgun
shells. They just ‘harvested’ them. A standing joke was about a fellow who
walked along and saw another man carrying a gun and said, ‘You’re a hunter,
eh? The hunter said ‘Yeah.’
"The guy would raise his gun and there’d be a pheasant running along. The
observer would say, ‘You’re not gonna shoot that thing while it’s running
along the ground? [The answer is supposed to be that he shot at it to scare it
to wing.] ‘Like hell! I’m waitin’ till it stops!’
"When I first went to Alberta or Saskatchewan (the 1930s), the farmers
seemed very poor. That was about when oil was discovered. Few shot anything on
the wing. One shotgun shell cost maybe a man’s daily wage, so they ‘potshot’
ducks on the water. ‘Way different than it is now."
Hanson: "Despite the influx of ‘immediate media’, like the internet the
Arts, writing and photography are still specialized skills."
Straight: "True, true. Right to today, we have lots of photographers in
the big city. Back in my time, the Sun and the Province had staffs of up to 10
photographers. For promising, newsworthy stories, they sent a photographer
with a writer. I liked photography and learned some dark-room work, so I could
illustrate my own yarns - usually with more photos than editors wished.
Latterly, the new digital photography is rapidly changing all that "
Hanson: "It’s a changing world but one thing that doesn’t change is
mother nature, of course. No matter how advanced we get, we still need nature.
Just one example is for medicines. Our first responsibility, as outdoor
journalists, is to protect the outdoors. The biggest threat now is still the
automobile and emissions. Nevertheless I quess we’re still fortunate in that
we can just jump in the car and explore the outdoors."
Straight: ‘When I was at University, one student had an old wreck of a
car that carried some of us to school. That car was also used for hunting and
fishing. From that day to this, we bemoaned the guys that drive the roads to
pot-shoot from the cars. There was a strong feeling about what we called road
hunting and there still is now - can’t get rid of it because of the wonderful
cars and four-wheel-drives and so on. I was eventually well into four-wheel
drives. I had truck station wagons but rarely prowled with them.
"It was the end of the era of pack-horse trains, which were, and are
costly. Though that’s a great way to hunt the wilderness."
Hanson: "I know there was more pollution - trash or rubble."
Straight: "Very little concern about it when I was a young guy. Pollution
was widespread in densely populated New England and other eastern states.
Eastern Canada was catching up. I saw a feature on TV last week about the
Hudson River. From the 1890s on, there has been a massive battle to clean up
the pollution from industry and riverside habitation. The Hudson was just a
sewer, the whole length of it, wholly from industry and habitation on its
"That reminds me of another standing bit of irony: If you fell in the
Hudson River, you never came up. You dissolved in the acids and sludge!
Clean-up campaigns were started in dense areas quite a while ago, but, in the
west we were late. By the time I reached middle age I noticed that the
pollution was declining in the country. People were learning to pick up after
"Indians seemed worse because those in the wilderness knew no better and
were paupers. Some Indians in arid area still lived in holes in the bank- many
were nomads who left piles of trash as they roamed. That situation has
improved, I’ve been told, but’, in the wilderness, you could go around a
corner and there would be three or four Indians just standing, seeming
frightened. Their condition was often deplorable, their clothes ragged, sox
hanging down, even a shoe missing.
"Back to newspapers… I notice the Sun and Province seem to have done away
with editors of "copy" or manuscripts. Now they seem to miss typographical
errors in headlines. The editors seem to delegate all the editing to the
writers themselves. I guess they can’t afford such proof readers, or don’t
Hanson: "Today we see the advent of spell checkers, that don’t really do
the job and the allmighty internet, which seems instantaneous with respect to
news and broadcasting. And now we have these e-magazines where all you do is
turn on the computer. You don’t have to go to the store to buy a paper."
Straight: "Well, I think it’s going to be a race between the technical
sophistication becoming too intricate to manage, on the one hand, and human
over-population perhaps smothering everything, on the other. I fear the human
population is out of control already.
Chum’s very wise father, Paul Moody Smith, said, well before the advent
of computers: ‘Paul, (the 2nd) and Leland, you were born about fifty years too
late. I think I’ve seen the best of it.’ Meanwhile I’ve read dissertations on
how many parents have been saying that since about 1000 A.D. "
Hanson: "What do you think about the salmon farm issue, happening now in
Straight: "They’re having the same problems with salmon farms in South
America, Europe and New Brunswick. There’s an excellent article in the
‘Atlantic Salmon Journal’," whose author describes the salmon situation in
Norway. He rates it the biggest Atlantic salmon fishery in the world - farm or
wild -- and deplores the damage and threat from fish disease; how everything
is threatened and may collapse.
Edited by Terry Hanson, Richard Probert and Lee Straight. Copy and
pictures Copyright 2002.
Straight: Shot taken by Terry Hanson May '2002 at Lee Straight's home.
65.5 lbs. Tyee Chinook
caught on ultra-light rod, line of 15lbs. breaking strength.
Straight wrote The Vancouver Sun Outdoors column for
3) Lee Straight 21.5 lbs. hen steelehead on the fly Dean River, BC
(37"long, 20.75" girth).
4) Lee Straight, Dean River 1982. Photo by Brent Lister 15lbs. AUGust
22, 1982 - released.
Part II -
Full-time fish and wildlife columnist of the Vancouver Sun newspaper for
33 years, to 1978. Now 86 years young.
Born in Vancouver of New Brunswick stock, educated at the University of
BC. Intended to become a school teacher, rather than a journalist, majoring in
englsh and mathematics.
Moved, 1979-85, to last full time job as contracted recreational
fisheries advisor and ombudsman, inaugurated by the federal Fisheries and
Oceans and sporstmanship Canada, a position that existed until 2001.
Finally, except in occasional free lance writing. Longtime former member,
and served on the executive of, the Sports Fishing Advisory Board, Fisheries
and Oceans Canada.
A past president (1986-88) and former longtime director of the Steelhead
Society of BC. A charter member, past president and life honourary member of
the Totem Fly Fishers, BC’s first incorporated fly fishing club, and associate
member of the BC Federation of Fly Fishers.
Life member, former director, BC Wildlife Federation, and former member
of its inland fisheries committee. Former member, Canadian Wildlife Federation
and its fisheries committee.
Has written three books on angling and one on hunting. Contributed
chapters to three other books on angling and to the milestone book, Our
Wildlife Heritage – 100 years of Wildlife management (in British Columbia).
With wife Joan as a partner, published the BC Freshwater Fishing Guide
and BC Sea Angling Guide, annuals later sold to the BC Outdoors magazine, in
1982 which still publishes them in expanded forms.
Made over 700 addresses to service clubs, school parent-teacher
associations and other educational institutions, and been a guest on several
radio and TV talk shows.
Holds heavy-fish trophy buttons for steelhead trout, tyee chinook salmon,
sailfish, dolphinfish, king mackerel, wahoo and tuna – several of the
steelhead and tyee being caught by fly-casting.
Fished and hunted widely in Canada and the United States as well as on
special trips to the United Kingdom, Denmark, the Bahamas, Mexico, Christmas
Island, New Zealand and Australia, including the inaugural "World Series of
Fishing" (Florida-Bahamas, 1960) and International Tuna Match (Wedgeport, N
Won trophies as a rifle, handgun and shotgun marksman, qualifying for
Canada’s international rifle team to Bisley, England in 1952. Was manager of
Canada’s Pan American Games Shooting team in Brazil in 1963.
Was awarded the Canadian 125th Anniversary Commemorative Medal
(C.M.) In 1992, for community service.
Straight #25 -- The Athlete