Fish Philosophy From the Finest


He’s been a fisherman all his life, and with 70-years of experience under his belt, Courtenay’s Ralph Shaw shows us the “magic” of fishing.


Perched on the tailgate of his 1980 Ford pickup truck, the 84-year-old Ralph Shaw sips a cup of hot coffee, awaiting my arrival.

Shaw has been at the lake since 8:30 that morning, and our interview wasn’t until 10:00. “It was a good excuse to come out fishing,” says the seasoned fisherman from Courtenay.

Over the course of the next 10 minutes, Ralph preps me for what to expect from our excursion. We share our thoughts on what a gorgeous day it is, while eating gingersnap cookies prepared by his wife of 60 years, Elaine.

“This is magic,” he says as he looks out across Spider Lake, located in Central Vancouver Island. “Listen,” he pauses. “How often can you have silence? When you combine that with fishing, you are in touch with the earth. That’s why I think fishing is incredibly important.”

Shaw was born in Cold Lake, a place where he says his father worked as a game and warden conservation officer. “I have been in the outdoors all my life…it’s in my genes,” he says.

Shaw and his wife Elaine lived in Kamloops for much of their working lives. There, Shaw worked as a principal at an elementary school, while embracing any opportunity to teach children and adults about the environment.


“I got the Order of Canada for the environmental work I did in Kamloops,” he explains. Beginning in 1968, he spent five years dedicated to starting the McQueen Lake Environmental Centre, a place where children and university students continue to go to learn about nature. “Ever since then, thousands of kids have gone there from the Kamloops School Board to discover nature,” he says.

His love of the environment lives on, and he continues to contribute to environmental causes, even in his retirement. Upon moving to Courtenay in 1983, Shaw began to write a weekly column for the Comox Valley Record where he talks about fishing and the environment. “I started my weekly column over 25 years ago,” he says. “And I’ve never missed a week, I’ve done over 1,200 of them by now.”

Still an active writer, Shaw has written two books, and continues to contribute chapters to books, articles to magazines, and essentially, any outlet that will allow him to spread his love for the sport.

“Let’s just go in the boat,” he says to me, as we walk down to his two-seater, well-loved vessel. We climb in, and he begins to row. The sound of swishing water underneath the oars and geese in the distance are the only sounds that accompany us on the lake. “In society today, this is pure gold,” he says as he takes a look around the still water.

Shaw is not a fair-weather fisherman either. He came dressed as he normally would for any fishing outing, a camouflage waterproof vest, a fleece sweater and a hat to shield him from the elements is all he needs to fend off any unexpected showers. He can be seen casting a line all winter adding, “It’s just me, the eagles, and the loons out here then.”

This fisherman has no limits and says that he fishes right across the spectrum, catching anything from halibut, salmon, and trout, to prawns. “There isn’t anything that I don’t fish; my job is fishing,” he says laughing. “I even tie all of my own flies,” of which, he quite often ties boxes of for local fundraisers.

He puts down the oars, and takes a cast with a fly-fishing rod that he says is well over 40 years old, and then again with the second, equally old and invaluable rod. “Look how simple this is. All it is is a line and a tiny hook,” he says. He beings to row again, and lets me in on his personal philosophy on fishing. “They say fishing is more fishing and less catching. I catch lots of fish, but that’s not important, it’s the experience that matters.”

Shaw doesn’t always go it alone either; he and his 90-year-old friend Smitty can be spotted at Caution Cove reeling in a 50-pound halibut, or even hunting for elk during hunting season. “There isn’t anything we don’t do,” says Shaw. “And we try to do it very well.”

As a husband, father, and grandfather, Shaw is also now a great-grandfather, and has made a secret promise to each generation. “I tie each of them a box of flies and put a little piece of jade in the box. That’s a covenant between me and the child that I will take them fishing when they want to go.”

The tugging motion of one of the rods interrupts his story, and jerks us into the present. “That’s a bite,” he says while reeling it in, an act that he has undoubtedly done countless times before. We bring it on board, and he offers the rainbow trout to me for dinner. “How’s that for delivery?” he says, and before I know it the fish is cleaned and on ice, and we’ve already discovered that we should switch to a chironomid fly, based on the stomach contents of that fish.

Aside from the fishing excursion being an educational and relaxing one, it was also very fascinating to see someone with such a raw passion in action. “Now, maybe you can understand why I’m addicted to this,” he says. A Fish Philosophy from the Finest.

This article was written by Lynsey Franks of Island Times Magazine.

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