By Wayne Moss, 🕔Mon, Mar 21st, 2011
The big bang heard in Victoria on August 10th 1935, was the mold breaking shortly after Tom Moss was born. Since then, nobody from the same cast has ever walked the face of the earth. He´s one of a kind and probably the last of his kind. (A dinosaur, as he says)
Born and raised in Victoria with his two brothers Gary and Norm, (both now deceased) Tom experienced a type of childhood now unheard of, in the urban metropolis of Victoria. Imagine being a kid living on Cedar Hill Cross roads in Central Saanich, hunting and fishing within a short distance from the front steps of home. The Pheasants that were once abundant are now all gone, only a distant memory. Ducks could be shot from any farmer´s field, are now unavailable due to development and strict regulations. What a life he had!
It was not until the early 1950´s when Tom´s real passion was discovered, Salmon fishing. From his first boat a speedy 12 footer, with a 3.5 horse motor, anchored in Towner Bay. He fished as much as possible, learning the secrets Saanich Inlet had to offer, once being a great fishing destination for the rich and famous. Tom´s local knowledge and ability came naturally the more his determination fueled his desire to fish.
Prior to the invention of Downriggers, Tom paired up with local legend Jimmy Gilbert. Together they devised better ways to catch salmon, be it making new kinds of tackle, or ways of cutting bait. They always tried to improve their methods. At times they would even ask their guests to steal their wives nylons, which would then be filled with rocks and carefully rigged with a paper clip, which would open when a fish hit, dropping the rocks to the depths of the inlet. Now their clients could play only the fish and not have to fight the weight of the rocks. (What a far cry from electric downriggers, light monofilament line and graphite rods) In those days you had to be tough and crank everything by hand and catch way more fish to limit out. New inventions that would make part of your day easier were always welcomed. Especially when three charters a day was a regular event.
People, who traveled long distances and paid good money to fish for salmon in Saanich inlet, were at times privy to events that are now totally unheard of. In the old days the BC coast was abundant with Basking Sharks, these beasts would grow to lengths over 20 feet. It must have been a site to see these harmless lumbering dinosaurs, swim with their enormous mouths open, filtering plankton. At times they would swim so close to the boat, that the rocks, which were used in the nylons, could be dropped on their heads, making them splash, as the guests snap photos or shot some primitive super 8mm video, (always good for a 2-5 dollar tip)
The basking sharks are now virtually gone from the BC coast. Almost extinct, not from rocks being dropped on their head, but from DFO, (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) killing them off, by running them over with boats, that were fitted with bow mounted blades.
To appease the commercial gill net fishery, who were upset about the incidental catch, which would ruin their nets. (Sounds like a good way to keep the seal and sea lion population in tune)
Tom tells of a story about a time prior to the invention of teaser heads. He and Jimmy Gilbert were trying to find a way to rig whole herring and get it to roll like a wounded baitfish. They came up with a double hook set up, which was attached to the nose of the small herring with a wire wrapped around the nose to the back of the eye and the line running through the wire helmet. It was then tied to the eye of a 12-foot bamboo pole, which they proceeded to walked up and down the dock, discussing there new found technique. Tom boasting about his new roll, said, “Boy that god dam thing looks good.” Before the words even came out of his mouth a 25 lbs lingcod, which lived under the dock, decided that this sexy looking herring was lunch. Little did it know this was going to be his last meal? The cod fly through the air, landing on the dock and clubbed on the head. (Dinner was served)
Guiding on and off for the Gilberts from 1952, as well as working in the steel construction industry and cutting strip for Rhys Davis, Tom did what ever he had to do to pay the bills. In 1954 his life took a dramatic turn, while working on a building in Victoria, standing on a whaler, which broke, he fell 3 stories to the bottom of the elevator shaft, luckily landing on a 2×12 which was laying flat on top of vertical rebar at. His back was broken.
Living for 2 years in a full body cast. The Doctors told him he would never walk or continue work again, as he knew it. They said he should become a cobbler, fixing shoes or do something very menial. This was the point when Doctors were no longer his favorite people and his dream of becoming a fireman like his Father was over.
Continuing life, despite the pain of a broken spine and neck, he still went fishing. He would stubbornly wiggle into a rowboat and paddle to the Manatee, which was anchored off shore. Once there he would untie the line from the anchor boy and pull himself up the stern and climb on board. Once he fell in the water, sinking like a rock to the bottom 40 feet below. It was nothing but a fluke that he landed on the anchor chain and managed to pull himself back to the surface, where he called for assistance, and was later helped from the water.
Despite his injuries and pain, Tom filled in guiding for Gilberts, while Jimmy was at University getting a degree in Marine Biology. He guided 12 months a year and continued to develop different ideas, mainly using wooden plugs, which gave him the best success catching Chinooks. He had trouble keeping the plugs working consistently, they would either get water logged, or the paint would flake off. The wooden plugs would only work for so long until the water infused into the wood and the action wouldn’t entice any more strikes making them virtually useless. He would then dry them out in the oven at home and refinished them with paint.
This frustration went on for years, to the point where Tom was modifying all his wooden plugs. He was carving the noses, modifying tow bars and trying different color patterns. A plug wouldn’t go to the salty depths, unless it was swimming properly and had an attractive enticing wiggle. He came up with the idea of solving this problem by making a plug from plastic. It would never fill with water and the paint would probably stay on better.
So in 1962, while living in Brentwood, Tom perfected the prototype of a 3-inch plug. This was used to make the original dye for the first Tomic. Injection-molded from butyrate plastic, the plugs could be spray painted with durable lacquer paints. They also have a hand made metal tow bar, which is inserted with the tap of a hammer. Little did he realize, this was the start of his life work.
This original was a great success. Local guides and the commercial fishermen begged for his plug, as their catch rate went up. They basically forced Tom to develop bigger plug and more colors. The line was soon increased to a 7 and 6-inch model, all available in any color (approx 800 at last count). The plugs were so successful that the factory was moved to Sooke. Soon a 5 and a 4-inch style was born, as well as a line of flashers called The Sonic by Tomic and then a jointed lure called the Broken Back.
With the commercial Salmon industry booming, Tomic Lures Ltd was a major player for the 7000 trollers from California to Alaska. Running two shifts and up to 25 employees, it was hard to keep up. Until around 1984, when the commercial trollers started getting cut back, by time and quotas and finally the species. This was the beginning of the end of a booming commercial business.
Now that the huge commercial orders of the past cease to exist, Tom sells his plugs in mainly Europe, BC and the USA. Now number one in Sweden, his plugs have been used successfully at every Lax cup, (The Largest Atlantic salmon Derby in the World), since 1996 and either came first or placed in the top three. Also producing some excellent Pike and Musky lures, Tomic is a name that every successful fisherman knows.
Now in his mid 60´s, Tom Moss is still playing with new ideas and testing them in the waters off of Sooke. He´s seen the best and the worst of the Salmon fishery in BC, yet is still capable of catching a few, even when the fishing is slow. He changes his gear every 15 minutes, until he finds something that is working and he swears at the seals when they steal his fish. He loves trout fishing and hunting in the interior of BC. He doesn’t fish Brentwood anymore, as it´s like the Dead Sea. He hates going to Victoria and refuses to go to Vancouver, but that´s because he despises change. The pheasants are gone and the things he remembers from his childhood are gone. He´s a dinosaur, the last of his kind.
After writing this article, I consider myself lucky; I’ve been taught to fish and grew up with one of the best, my Dad, Tom Moss.