WHITE, Charlie

Author Tags: Fishing

Charlie White was born in Pittsburgh in 1925. He died on January 29th at the Saanich Peninsula Hospital after suffering a stroke on December 14th en-route to a family vacation.

Charlie White majored in civil engineering at an Ivy League school, served in the navy in World War II, and then joined a firm specializing in water and sewage treatment. One day he realized he wasn’t keen on spending the rest of his days as a sewage sludge expert.
He got a job with the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) when it was transforming warplane raw materials into consumer goods, such as aluminum pistons for General Motors cars. White had loved fishing since age five, but the nearby rivers and streams were polluted. He moved to Oregon to join that state’s Fish Commission as a biologist and filmmaker.
In Portland, he got involved with building the first ultra-high-frequency TV station. He also met and married his first wife, Anne. The couple opted for a honeymoon in Victoria, where Charlie went fishing.
And was hooked.
“I just fell in love with the place and thought it was absolutely beautiful.”
Before catching the ferry to Port Angeles, he looked up television and radio stations in the phone book. He walked into the only downtown radio station and asked to see the manager. When the owner, Dave Armstrong, came out, he exclaimed, “Oh my God, it’s Charlie White.”
He’d read about White and the Portland UHF station in Broadcasting magazine and he wanted to build a similar station in Canada. By 1956, Armstrong and White had applied for a broadcasting licence and he’d moved to Victoria.
“In Portland there was only river or open-ocean fishing,” he recalls. “I got seasick on the ocean and here was this nice calm water…”
White co-founded Victoria’s CHEK-TV but later accepted a buyout offer from a Vancouver station. He hung out the Gone Fishin’ sign and became an expert fisherman.
“I owned a little 25-foot cabin cruiser and people began paying me to take them fishing. There were other fishing guides, but they stayed in Saanich Inlet and used deep tackle and heavy lines. I fished with light tackle — more of a sporting approach to fishing — in the Gulf Islands.”
When opportunities arose to manage the biggest television stations in Seattle and Miami, White turned them down. By the late 1950s, he’d established a reputation as a guide and kept his boat on a mooring buoy outside his house on Saanich Inlet. He picked up his customers at Swartz Bay, then an isolated backwater, took the early birds fishing from 5 A.M. until noon, then took his second group until evening. He’d clean the fish, run home, siphon gas from the big drums in his yard and refill the boat’s tanks.
Financially, it was a disaster. “At the end of the season, with gas, bait and repairs, I actually lost money,” he says. Worse, the pressure of being a fishing guide exceeded that of working as a hotshot engineer at Alcoa.
“One day this company president and two vice-presidents flew in from Denver in a private plane. They’d heard stories about me. They’re fidgety, drumming their fingers on the side of the chairs, and I could just hear them thinking, ‘Well, Mr. Expert, where are the fish?’ Well, some days the fish aren’t there and they won’t bite no matter what you do. I found it highly stressful.”
So White teamed up with Art Phillips, who later served as Vancouver’s mayor, and invested in coin-operated laundromats. White wrote to one of his fishing clients, the president of Maytag, whose foreign sales manager was assigned to work with White. “The manager thought the Maytag president had completely lost his marbles, asking him to negotiate with a fishing guide, so he wrote me a polite letter explaining that this was a business requiring an office and everything.” Charlie responded by sending in his résumé, giving the manager such a shock he flew to Victoria and concluded the deal in person.
While the laundromats were being established across western Canada, he co-founded CFAX Radio (again with Art Phillips as partner), and participated in local committees to bring more tourists to Victoria. White conceived of “an aquarium in reverse,” a marine-life exhibit that puts people in the tank while the fish freely swim outside. The concept grew into the Undersea Gardens, still one of the most popular attractions in Victoria. White holds patents for the concept and has built three more undersea gardens in the United States.
As a publisher and author, White taught courses and seminars on sport fishing, covering such topics as lures, getting them to the proper depth, knowing when and where to go for good fishing, how to read water and the best season for catching different fish.
White also noted that new fishing techniques with nylon nets and fish finders were cleaning out the surface fish and strip mining the ocean. “The only fish able to spawn were those that swam deep under the nets, so we had to go deeper and deeper to catch fish. I hated it because you had to put heavy weights on your lines and there’s no sport in dragging around this five-point piece of lead.”
White decided there had to be a better way to get a lure deep enough. He put down a second line that would pop free when a fish struck. He experimented with a window-sash weight, clothesline and clothespin, tied it to a cleat on his boat’s stern and found that the rig worked. He then built a model out of a two-by-four with a pulley and a wire, and remembers his glee when it functioned even better. He took his idea to Blayney Scott of Scotty Fishing, Marine and Outdoor Products and together they designed the Scotty downrigger.
Scott Plastics developed the manufacturing process and made the moulds, and the downriggers, now in various designs, some electrically driven, sell around the world.
White also lays claim to having invented the Thinking Man’s Sinker and the first artificial ice packs made of plastic.
As well, Bayliner decided to produce a fishing boat called the Charlie White Special. “I gave them some ideas, but they came out with a boat with just a downrigger hooked onto it. I didn’t think it was very special. ‘You have to design it right,’ I told them, ‘with fish boxes and a well to store bait.’ This became the Trophy, which started out as 16- and 18-foot boats, then grew to a 28-footer.”
Many people he took fishing didn’t know how to keep a fish on the line after it struck. “It used to drive me absolutely nuts because I’d take people out, they’d hook the fish and lose it, and at the end of the day, they’d blame me. So I asked myself, ‘What actually happens underwater? How do fish act around a lure?’”
He attached an underwater camera to the downrigger and the resulting video, which showed how a fish approaches and strikes a lure, became a hit. White rented Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre, told jokes and showed the film. He repeated the presentation 10 times. The Seattle Opera House was next, then theatres all over California.
The underwater camera showed how often a fish would bite, then open its mouth and spit out the hook. That led to Charlie developing an electric hook sharpener. “The hook has to be sharp enough to stick on your fingernail,” he says with emphasis. “If it won’t stick there, it won’t pierce the bony surface of the fish’s mouth. Sharp hooks will triple your catch.”
The first video’s success encouraged White to deploy a remotely operated camera in the south Pacific to film the rovings of the great white shark. White also recorded the movements of a herring ball, with its millions of individual fish swimming in unison. These ventures led to a television series, Charlie White’s Underwater World. One of his fishing clients, music arranger David Foster, composed the music for his TV show. White has also traded fish stories with former B.C. premier Mike Harcourt, tennis player Andre Agassiz and science guy Carl Sagan.
Charlie and Anne White had three sons and divorced in 1980. Eight years later, he married Darlene, a gardening writer. In 2000, White suffered a stroke that paralyzed his right side. With therapy and help from his son, a kinesiologist, he’s again ambulatory.
The White family has donated time and money to the Saanich Peninsula Hospital’s fundraising campaign and made a $600,000 gift to Sidney’s Sanscha Community Centre. The town has since named their performance hall the Charlie White Theatre.
White believes any new product must solve a problem. And new problems are always easy to find. One day, when he got tired of waiting for the charcoal to heat up in his barbecue, White dreamed up Son of Hibachi, a fast, tabletop, self-cleaning unit that has sold millions.
White is now tinkering with a virtual fishing machine “to give anglers a chance to catch the big one without being on the water,” as well as something he calls the Forget-Me-Not. It’s a tiny electronic device that can be attached to any object, even a person. “I’ve lost so many pairs of glasses,” he explains, “but with this gizmo, if I get farther than a certain number of feet away from my glasses, a battery-operated beltpack beeps and reminds me. It can be used to track a PalmPilot, attach to your laptop when you’re going through airport security, even track small kids in the mall.”
White keeps a 28-foot Bayliner at his dock and he continues to fish.
“Fishing has completely influenced my life. It prompted me to come to Oregon and then to British Columbia. My love of fishing has made me want to spread the word. I’m an evangelist for fishing. It’s a great sport and I’m still fascinated by learning more about it and about all the life under the sea. I see teaching people how to fish as my legacy. It gives them lifelong recreation, but also an important survival skill. You know the old Lao Tzu saying, ‘Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.’”

Living off the Sea (Heritage House, 2010 [1998]) 9781926613642 $11.95

How to Catch Bottomfish (Heritage House, 2003) 9781894384605 $15.95

How to Catch Salmon: Advanced Techniques (Heritage House, 2003) 1894384644 $16.95

Charlie White's 103 Fishing Secrets (Heritage House, 2003) 9781895811612 $14.95

How to Catch Crab (Heritage House, 1998 [2nd ed.]) 9781895811513 $8.95

How to Catch Shellfish (Heritage House, 1998 [2nd ed.]) 9781895811490 $9.95

[BCBW 2010] "Fishing"


from Times Colonist (2020)
Charlie White was born on July 7, 1925 and died on January 29, 2010.

The following obituary appeared on January 30, 2010.

Charlie White is survived by his devoted wife of 22 years, Darlene and sons; Chad, Kevin (Leslie), David (Karen), step-son Jay (Theresa), step-daughter Brandy, as well as grandchildren Emily, Celia, Tesja, Zachary, Kai, Simone, Justine, Rhea and Courtney. He is pre-deceased by his brother, Gordie (Laverne).


A sports-fishing guru who co-founded CHEK television and CFAX radio
stations died yesterday morning after suffering a massive stroke last month.

Charlie White, 83, suffered the stroke while travelling to Hawaii on Dec. 14, said Darlene, Charlie's wife of 22 years.

He and Darlene flew home by private jet earlier this week. White died peacefully, surrounded by his family, early yesterday morning at Saanich
Peninsula Hospital.

"In a way it was a blessing," said Darlene. "He was such a vital guy and
he loved life."

"He said often that he's had a wonderful life, and it's true. He also
used to say that you regret the things that you don't do, so he didn't
have very many regrets."

An inventor, filmmaker and entrepreneur, White earned a civil
engineering degree at Cornell University before serving in the navy
during the Second World War, then going to work in water and sewage

He later moved to Oregon so he could fish the unpolluted lakes and
streams. When he and his first wife Anne married, they came to Victoria
for their honeymoon and White fell in love again, this time with the city.

The couple moved here in 1956 and White applied for a broadcasting
licence to set up a television station, as he had done in the U.S. earlier.

Bob Wright, owner of Oak Bay Marine Group, said yesterday that he and
White started out as competitors and ended up as friends.

They met in the late 1950s, after White and Art Phillips co-founded CHEK
television and CFAX radio stations.

"[White] started out with Pacific Undersea Gardens at the Oak Bay Marina
and we ended up as competitors when I brought in Sealand," said Wright.

After five years, White moved the gardens to the Inner Harbour. Today,
Sealand is gone and Wright owns the Undersea Gardens.

One day, Wright recalls, White accompanied him on a fishing trip to Port Alberni.

"With me he got his first two big salmon," said Wright. "That triggered
him and away he went. He was really hooked."

White was "absolutely fantastic" as a fishing-gear inventor, said Wright. One of those inventions, the Scotty downrigger, became a staple piece of equipment on Wright's sportfishing boats.

Son Chad calls his dad an inspiration: "He inspired us that we could be
anything that we wanted to be as long as we put in that 110 per cent and
a lot of emphasis on doing what you love."

White excelled at promoting his wares and had a television series called
Charlie White's Underwater World. "He was always attracted to show biz and entertaining," said Darlene.

"He loved to get his face in front of the cameras. He was on TV and radio a lot."

Chad says his father was an entrepreneur who was able to put into effect "wild ideas" -- such as making ice-cream out of a three-bedroom
apartment in Portland.

"They made it in the back bedroom," said Chad. "People would call in for
an order and he'd go, 'Can you hold for a second? I'll put you onto production.'

"One of his roommates would come to the phone and say, 'Production! How can we help you?'"

Another wild idea turned into the Undersea Gardens, and as a youngster,
Chad played a pivotal role in testing out the concept.

"He built a little test tube first. I remember crawling down this little
ladder. It was an overgrown vertical pipe that had a little net at the
bottom with some fish.

"He also had us selling his fishing boats on the docks when we were on
fishing trips. We knew the whole sales pitch."

Gerry Kristianson, a member of the Pacific Salmon Commission, moved to
the coast in 1973 after being in the foreign service. The first thing he
wanted to do was get fishing, and he says most of what he learned in
those early days was by reading White's books.

"He was also the guy who attached a camera to a lure -- and for all of
us ardent fishermen, this was a chance to get the fish's view of things.

"When you think of thousands of Victoria anglers who've sat in their
boats, staring at those lines in the water and wondering what the devil
is going on down below, suddenly we had some sense of that."

Victoria cartoonist Nelson Dewey collaborated with White on 20 to 30 books.

"Another project we worked on was called Son of Hibachi -- he invented a
little fold-up barbecue.

"He had an imagination that just went everywhere."

The Whites donated $600,000 toward construction of the Mary Winspear
Centre in Sidney. The town has named its performance hall the Charlie
White Theatre.

Besides Darlene and Chad, White is survived by sons Kevin and David;
former wife Anne; and stepchildren Jay and Brandy. He also has nine

-- Sandra McCulloch, Times Colonist, January 30, 2010