Lee Straight inducted into the Steelheader Hall of Fame

Part I - Interview
  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.
Interview notes
  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 regretted it.
  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 flies."
  Hanson: "Did 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 angling jargon.
  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 shooting."
  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 is continent-wide.
  "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 banks.
  "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 themselves.
  "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 care.
  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 BC?"
  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.

Photos
1) Lee Straight: Shot taken by Terry Hanson May '2002 at Lee Straight's home.
2)
Lee Straight 65.5 lbs. Tyee Chinook caught on ultra-light rod, line of 15lbs. breaking strength. Straight wrote The Vancouver Sun Outdoors column for 33 years.
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 - Biographical Data

Lee Straight
  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 Scotia, 1967).
  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.

Lee Straight #25 -- The Athlete

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