BOOK REVIEW: Gilly the Ghillie – More Chronicles Of A West Coast Fishing Guide

By Marianne Scott

Gilly the Ghillie—More Chronicles of a West Coast Fishing Guide

By David Giblin

Heritage House 2020


$19.95 Paperback

David Giblin spent 15 years as a fishing guide at Dent Island Lodge on Stuart Island, where well-to-do people land in big yachts or floatplanes to catch the big salmon. In this collection of gently humourous tales of the human eccentricities of the guides, the locals—and the customers—Giblin reveals the quintessential essence of some parts of BC coastal life. The fish-guiding profession, here centred in the Discovery Islands where tidal rapids create life-threatening whirlpools and break-neck currents, is not a place for the faint-hearted. It’s not a genteel locale where people wear ties. Instead, gumboots, foul-weather gear and survival suits are the norm.


Appropriately, in the first story, we meet Nelson, who manages the lodge where a big TV has been newly installed. Alas, its satellite dish is missing the holding pins and goes walkabout. Nelson has to fight high winds to fasten the huge dish onto a railing with a bathrobe belt. Fortunately, Gilly, who’s looking for a guiding job, arrives on her vessel and together, they solve the problem. The TV turns on and a Milan fashion show bursts onto the screen. Tall, skinny women flounce along the runway. “Nelson and Gilly stood motionless in rapt attention,” Giblin writes. “Their sodden clothing dripped water on the floor.”

Gilly wants to break fishing norms by becoming a guide, now a male preserve. She asks to use the fish cleaning station. Nelson tries to explain that to clean fish, you must first catch them. Taking him down the dock, Gilly deftly cleans two spring salmon she’s just caught in the gale-force winds. Her boat is spic-and-span. Reluctantly, Nelson hires her as a standby guide.

That summer, Gilly begins guiding by taking out the wives of visiting yachties. They catch more fish than their husbands. These begin to clamour for her services—although some still call her the “cabin girl.”

In this second volume of tales (the first is entitled The Codfish Dream), Giblin introduces us to such characters as Troutbreath (don’t ask), Vop, and Carl. The logs bearing Carl’s and Stephanie’s floathouse have become waterlogged. Carl, who’s been able to hide his lucrative cash crop from the RCMP, has developed a detailed plan to lift the house from the logs by crane, insert a new float and then reinstall his dwelling. But a minor miscalculation caused the house to fall from the crane and splinter apart. The boating community spirit—and competence—kicked in. Someone towed in a shed. People brought food and tools. Neighbours lent a live-aboard boat. And people showed up and made the shed livable in a weekend.

The book’s title is a takeoff on Gilly’s name and the Scottish Ghillie, defined as “a man or boy who attends someone on a hunting or fishing expedition.” The book is a good read and reminds us how people even in isolated places form a community.

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