The truth is, I’m not sure where this latest fishing bobber art obsession has come from. True, they’ve been part of my life since I was a kid. I remember tagging along with my Dad and some of his friends and our neighbours when they headed out to the Lakelse, Kitsumkalum, Skeena, or Copper Rivers in Northern British Columbia to fish for whatever salmon was on the run.
Dad’s tackle box had some of those bobbers and, even today, I can remember being drawn to how bright and colourful they were. I especially remember thinking that they had to be just the perfect piece of equipment to help me catch my favourite trout - cutthroat.
Can you remember, as a child, keeping your eye peeled for just the slightest movement in that bobber? It was thrilling, wasn’t it!
A little research has confirmed my suspicions that fishing bobbers have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. Supposedly, the first written mention of them is in the 1400s....but I’m sure some scholar will come along soon to say they’ve found a fishing bobber hieroglyph or a rare cuneiform reference to them as a trade item in Babylonia. Until then, the fishing bobber as we generally know it, is a product of the late 1800s (along with so much other mass produced fishing gear). Until that time, it seems bobbers were part of the folk art of utilitarian objects.....if you wanted to go fishing and wanted a bobber; well, you carved your own and paint it up!
When I started this series of small watercolour paintings, it was a random scattering of sketches and some light washes to give them some depth and some variety. Different shapes and different sizes of fishing floats started to roll out onto the bits and pieces of watercolour paper I had kicking around in the studio. Soon it was clear the theme wasn’t going to go away until I’d dome something a bit more organized about it.
In the end, I went back to an old and much loved standard composition format that’s permeated lots of my work over the past several years - the panorama. Over time, I’ve done lots and lots of wide narrow panorama works of art with a whole range of themes - streetscapes, vegetables, fruit, landscape and more. This time, I took that sentiment and simply trimmed it down to a smaller size, and that’s part of the collection in this blog.
The colour palette in the fishing bobber world is actually pretty limited. It’s dominated by red and white and that makes complete sense - what better combination to catch the eye when it’s resting out in that rich pool of cutthroat trout or other prized fish. Other colours, however, are represented in this series too, and you’ll see that I’ve brought out the yellows, blues, and greens that show up from time to time.
There is a bobber that shows up in all of these pieces, however - the round and distinctly red and white one that (I bet) every kid remembers. I know my childhoods small and limited fishing tackle box had two or three sizes of these bobbers, and they served me well on every trip to the river or creek that I explored.
The other shapes in the bobber world is where the variety, and quite frankly the art, begins to show up. So many bulbous and elongated forms round out any collection of vintage fishing floats - most of these it seems are made of wood or some kind of early form of plastic. From top heavy egg-shapes to tear-drop forms and everything in between, the collector in us has lots to look for.
Sadly, I never did collect any of these old bobbers for myself - working in the museum field for my career, its pretty much universally frowned upon for staff to collect anything (people get to asking, ‘Are you collecting this for your Museum or for yourself?’) So all I have are the memories of my Dad’s fishing tackle box and its allure of fishing bobbers. Maybe that’s as it should be though, because I bet I’m right in thinking that every kids Dad’s tackle box was a box of magic - filled with tales of the ‘big one’, the ‘best lure’, and the broken bits of fishing reels and other tackle (covered with dried fish blood and slime) that scattered the bottom of the box.
Imagine if you could go back to that tackle box today and just spend some time poking through its treasures. I bet you’d be smiling - and those smiles are exactly what got me to painting this whole watercolour series of vintage fishing bobbers.