Although contemporary fly fishing gear is full of high-tech advancements like graphite rods and synthetic fly materials, the sport also has a strong traditionalist bent. For many anglers, the romance of bamboo rods, hand-tied flies, and other vintage tackle has almost as much allure as the fish themselves.
Fly fishing at Myrtle and Alex Philip’s renowned Rainbow Lodge was the Whistler Valley’s first tourist attraction, so the Museum naturally has a lot of fishing gear in our archives, not to mention hundreds of photographs.
To better understand these artifacts we recently had Brian Niska and Scott Baker-McGarva from Whistler Fly Fishing give us their take on some of the fly-fishing gear in the Philip collection. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that both Brian and Scott are true historians of the sport, providing tons of insight into our collection drawing from their impressive knowledge of the evolution of fishing tackle design.
We have several old cane and bamboo rods, some for fly fishing, some for casting and trolling.
They mostly demonstrate design features from the 1920s and 30s, the heyday of Rainbow Lodge, but the most obvious feature is the amount of use they have all seen. They appear to have been re-varnished multiple times and have many replaced eyes. This makes sense considering that the Philips and their guests were out on the water almost every summer day (and some winter days as well) for decades on end.
Considering most rods had to be shipped from the U.K. or the eastern U.S., the rods were irreplaceable workhorses whose lives needed such prolongment.
Here we have Alex Philip’s stylish felt fishing hat, a Fedora made by Adam Hats of New York with a special water-repellency treatment for rainy day fishing. Note how the crown is full of an array of traditional wet flies suited to trout fishing in small lakes like Alta.
Made by P.D. Malloch of Perth, Scotland, Scott thinks this particular reel could predate World War One because it is made of brass, and most reels were made of alloys after the war. It resembles some of the reels we see in early photos of Alex Philip, and could potentially be one of the earliest fishing reels used at Rainbow Lodge. We contacted the manufacturer for more information but unfortunately their records were destroyed in a fire in 1986.
Other interesting odds and ends include the large reel in the top right of this photo, an Ocean City brand fortescue-style reel. Scott described it as a “multiplying salmon reel” best suited for larger fish than we typically find around Whistler. The Philips were dedicated anglers that took annual trips every autumn to Canim and Mahood lakes, northeast of 100 Mile House in the Cariboo region. This reel, which was appears to date from the 1930s or 40s, was likely used on these trips.
Mucillin and Lineflote (in the small red and yellow tins, both still half full) were grease-like substances used to give silk lines and/or flies buoyancy. Although synthetic lines are much more common now, Mucillin is actually still sold today in packaging nearly identical to our examples from the 1930s.
Although the lakes don’t provide our valley’s main draw anymore, there is still great fishing to be had. When I was bringing some of our artifacts over to the museum from our off-site storage I actually encountered several people who were on their way to the lake, rod in hand. They were naturally curious about my odd-looking gear, and I’m certain Alex and Myrtle Philip would be equally excited to see their life’s passion alive and well in the Whistler Valley, more than a century after there fateful first casts in Alta Lake.
Whistler Backroads is putting on their 12th annual Fishing Derby this Sunday, June 17th at Lakeside Park. All are welcome, registration is free, and they even have some complimentary gear to use on a first-come, first-serve basis. Happy fishing!