SHAW, Jack

Author Tags: Fishing

Born in 1916, Kamloops' resident Jack Shaw developed an allergic reaction to dust while working in a body shop for car repairs. He consequently took a job as a sales clerk and fly tyer at Burfield's Ski and Sport Shop. Over the years he developed several popular patterns for fish flies. "I started tying the Blood Leech and the Blood Worm about 1965," he said. "There were the Damselfly Nymph and the Dragonfly Nymph, which became known as the Jules Nymph. The McLean's Special was originally my Brown Sedge... I was fighting tradition by trying to educate people to fish flies that didn't have wings. Some guys got right argumentative. It was a long struggle, but it eventually caught on." Reprinted several times since 1976, Shaw's first book is Fly Fish the Trout Lakes (Heritage, 1989). It was followed by Tying Flies from Trophy Trout: From B.C.'s Kamloops Country (Heritage House, 1992).

[Image: Shaw selecting a fly]

[BCBW 2004] "Fishing"

(Article January 1990)


by Bob Jones

Jack Shaw never set out to write a bible, but thousands of anglers have elevated his book Fly Fish the Trout Lakes to that status. Since 1976 it has been considered the most authoritative treatise on fly fishing in the Kamloops area, and is regarded highly throughout the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere. Quite an achievement for someone who left school in the sixth grade, but for Shaw it was simply one of many challenges tackled during his lifetime.

Born in 1916 in Montreal, Quebec, Shaw moved with his parents to Burnaby, B.C., in 1925. There his lifelong passion for fishing began. "I started as a kid delivering papers down on Marine Drive. I always carried a fishing line wrapped around a stick in my pocket. After finishing my route I'd fish my way back up Buller, Gilley and Patterson creeks. There were lots of what we called brook trout -- young rainbows about seven to ten inches that still had parr marks. If I couldn't find a few worms around the stream bank, I'd use Sumac berries for bait. You only got one chance with a berry -- if you missed that first strike, too bad, you wouldn't get any more."

As was fairly common in those days, Shaw left school at age 11. He worked as a bowling alley pin setter for two years, then was taken on at Canada Western Cordage where he worked for nine years as a rope maker. "As I got a bit older we started fishing around Burrard Inlet and English Bay. False Creek had good fishing in those days, and so did First and Second Beach. It was mainly handlining from shore with a sinker and three hooks. We'd swing it over our heads and heave it out, then sit and wait for a bite. We used to get a lot of fish that way, mostly bullheads, flounders and rock cod."

In 1940, Shaw moved to Kamloops. There he alternated between working in a vehicle body shop and as a ranch hand. A year later he met and started courting the attractive young owner of a restaurant, Dorothy Lawrence. They married in 1942, and eventually raised a family of two sons and an adopted daughter.

"When I came to the Interior I started trout fishing with a gang troll and worms. However, I learned very quickly that it wasn't the way to go, so I switched over to flies. Once I learned how to fly cast I was away."

While Shaw took quickly to fly fishing, one aspect irritated him: the names of fly patterns. "Traditional patterns bugged me then and still do. The names don't mean anything, they're just somebody's glory trip. What in hell's a Halford's Fancy or a Greenwell's Glory? What do they represent? Nobody knows. After determining fish were eating damselfly nymphs I'd start looking for a damselfly nymph pattern, but there were none -- I'd have to go with a Greenwell's Glory. But first I had to know what the Greenwell's Glory looked like! It was just a whole lot of garbage."

During the early Fifties, Shaw ended the fly identification confusion by tying his own patterns and naming them after the creatures represented. "I wanted them to look like what was in the fishes' stomachs, so I started studying insects. In the late Fifties I got the first of several aquariums -- and quickly learned you can't put certain insects with others because pretty soon you won't have anything left. It was common to have Mayflies, damsels and chironomids flying around the house, even in December."

Studying live aquatic insects in their environment revealed how they swam through the water, movements Shaw learned to imitate through line and rod tip manipulation. Patterns based on the insects' sizes and shapes evolved from his observations, but he was seldom satisfied with the colours. "I tried preserving the insects' lifelike colours by putting them in alcohol and by moulding them in clear plastic, but neither worked. Thinking maybe I could photograph them, I got an Instamatic. The first bug picture I took was of a shrimp -- through a pair of binoculars. It didn't work. I ended up with a little circle in the middle of the frame.

"I went to a camera shop and asked what I required. Well, I got more damned junk that is useless for taking insect pictures than you can shake a stick at. I couldn't find anyone who could tell me anything about close-up photography, so I went the hard route and started experimenting on my own. In the process I found out all about things like depth of field, colour factors and film speeds, and how to use bellows attachments, macro lenses and 2X extenders. There was one problem after another, but eventually I got it all sorted out and could record the insects' colours and sizes."

Shaw has graduated from his first attempts with an Instamatic to 13 cameras, including large and medium format, plus several 35mm models. He does all of his own black and white processing and printing, and also makes large Cibachrome prints from his slides.

Photographing an insect out of the water poses no problem to a properly equipped photographer, but Shaw has gone beyond by mastering detailed close-ups of swimming insects. To do so he must shoot through the glass side of an aquarium, and has but a fleeting moment during which the creature is in position to provide sharp focus and maximum depth of field.

In 1966, while employed at a body shop, Shaw developed an allergic skin reaction to the dust. He left to take work as a sales clerk and fly tier at Burfield's Ski and Sport Shop. When his boss suggested he tie some of his own patterns for sale, Shaw produced a series of chironomids he had developed and started using in 1962. They didn't sell. "People weren't used to flies without wings. I had to actually start giving mini-fishing lessons on how to fish a chironomid in order to sell them. It became a damned nuisance, but in the process a lot of fellows were educated on how to become chironomid fishermen."

Over the years, Shaw has developed several popular patterns. "I started tying the Blood Leech and Blood Worm about 1965. There was the Damselfly Nymph and Dragonfly Nymph -- which became known as the Jules Nymph. The McLean's Special was originally my Brown Sedge. When I first introduced them I had quite a time selling them. Nymph fishing was unknown around here at that time and the fishermen were reluctant to try something new. The big flies then were Nation's Turkey Wing, Nation's Special, Nation's Fancy, Nation's Black O'Lyndsay and so on. Like I said, I was fighting tradition by trying to educate people to fish flies that didn't have wings. Some guys got right argumentive -- 'Well it was good enough for my grampaw and he caught all kinds of fish.' It was a long, hard struggle, but it eventually caught on."

Shortly after joining Burfield's, Shaw completed a typing course, then started writing a newspaper column that continued until 1976, when he retired. "It was a fishing column that was basically about trout and seasonal. I tried to please two groups -- lodge operators and fishermen -- but it couldn't be done. To lodge operators there was no such thing as poor fishing; it was either good or extremely good, and never less than fair. If I put down poor, they would try to shoot me down as fast as possible. I tried to be honest and reasonable, but it was pretty tough."

In his drive to educate anglers, Shaw taught night school fly tying classes for 15 years, usually averaging 30 to 50 students. After instructing them how to properly use their tools and materials, he would produce an aquarium with three or four different types of insects. Students would be instructed to study the insects, pick out one they wanted to represent, then tie it. "It was alway quite humorous. They would try putting eyeballs on them, or make knee joints and foot joints on each leg. They were trying to create an insect, but that's impossible. You must try to create the impression of an insect -- and there is a big difference.

"If you look at an insect against the light, it's dark in the centre of the body, and toward the outer edges it gets paler. It maintains the same colour, but it's paler because of light penetrating through it. You must take that into account in selecting the correct material. On larger insects you use material that's fluffy -- the outer edges transmit the colour, but the light will still penetrate. You can have a solid body on smaller insects because they have exoskeletons, which are hard and don't permit light penetration.

"To complete the impression, the colour must be right. We have three types of water: murky, with a yellowish tinge; clear, more toward greens and greys; and the algae type, inclined toward yellows and browns. Light transmission through these impurities changes the appearance of a submerged insect's body colours. Take a water boatman or backswimmer out of the water and they are either black, brown, or black and brown. Put them back in and there's a whole lot of silver because they encase part of their body in an air bubble."

As years passed, Shaw became established as a guru to Kamloops area fly fishers. One day a friend approached him at the store and suggested an interesting challenge: that his knowledge be recorded in a book so others might benefit from it. After giving it some thought, Shaw decided to try it. "It was a struggle, but I received help from people who really knew what writing was all about. I wrote everything down my way, which wasn't very good, but they extracted the meat and put my thoughts into chronological order. From their efforts I learned how to write; without them there wouldn't have been a book. I have Mike Crammond to thank for it, because he put in a good word for me with Howard Mitchell, who was a very knowledgeable publisher and a fine gentleman." (Author's note: One of Canada's best-known authors, Crammond was outdoor columnist for the Vancouver Province newspaper at the time.)

In 1976, Shaw's labours resulted in Fly Fish the Trout Lakes, which sold over 7,000 copies. In 1988 a revised edition was released by Heritage House, and the book has now racked up sales of over well 10,000. Not a bad record when 5,000 copies is considered a best seller.

After a lifetime devoted to fly fishing in the Kamloops area, Shaw has developed some interesting opinions about fisheries management. When asked to compare today's fishing to 50 years ago, he said it was about the same -- but there is much room for improvement. "If enough importance was attached to fisheries management we would have the finest, most profitable natural resource in the world. Profitable for the government and the people. Yet government considers it a second class industry instead of figuring out better ways to manage it.

"We simply don't have enough conservation officers or biologists. The people we've got are excellent and I regard them highly, but jobs aren't getting done because of manpower limitations. The world is full of cheats who figure rules were made for everybody but them. Every day you see laws broken because there are no conservation officers around. The obvious answer is more conservation officers and biologists. That costs more money, which should come out of our fishing licenses. Considering the quality of fishing we have, we've got the lowest priced licenses in the world."

Now 73, Jack Shaw is supposedly retired, but between fly tying, fishing, entomology, photography, researching, writing magazine articles and working on a new book, he keeps far busier than most people with full-time jobs. Life continues to offer challenges, and he meets them eagerly -- which all seems quite in keeping for a man many have come to consider a living legend.

[Bob Jones / BC Outdoors]