Chuck was born on November 10th, 1955. He was a genuine, outgoing, people-loving person, who had an infectious passion for fishing. This passion ultimately led him to singlehandedly secure the title, “Catfish Capital of North America” for his hometown, Selkirk, Manitoba.
In his early teenage years, Chuck left his home to live with his best friend, Terry Waterman. The Waterman family welcomed Chuck into their home where Reggie and Leona Waterman raised him as one of their own. They provided love, guidance, and opportunity. All of which contributed to making him the man he became. Chuck and Terry quickly formed a bond like that of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Trouble was always somewhere to be found. Many hours were spent outside. Hockey, baseball, horseshoes, hunting, and fishing filled the hours. Fishing was clearly the preference. Father-like figure and fish smoker, Reggie Waterman, played a key role into why Chuck’s love of fishing began.
Chuck worked various jobs over the years, but he found his true calling at Gilbart Funeral Home. His neighbour and friend throughout life was Wes Gilbart, so becoming colleagues was a natural fit. Chuck and his family moved into the upstairs of the funeral home, conveniently located across from a Red River catfishing hotspot. Chuck worked as a funeral director for ten years. Because of the difficult nature of his work, his experiences taught him to value and enjoy life to fullest.
The TV Show
The well-known American sportsman and television producer Babe Winkelman’s show Good Fishing was on air during the mid 1980s. Following each season, Winkelman would invite anglers from across the continent to send in their favourite fishing pattern (technique). The contest would result in three winners who would be granted a guest appearance on his series. Selkirk catfish fishing was the province’s best kept secret, and Chuck wanted the world to know about it.
One morning in 1985, Wes Gilbart arrived at work to find Chuck writing a letter to Babe Winkelman. It seemed like a long shot, but sure enough, Chuck received a letter in return saying that he was in the running. One week later he was accepted. Winkelman was coming to Selkirk.
Chuck, Babe, and the film crew set up on the shore of the Red River across from Gilbart Funeral home. They cast their lines baited with frogs and waited. Within 15 minutes the first fish was up. Afterwards they caught nearly 200lbs of catfish. Winkelman was stunned.
“If you ever get a chance to watch the video you’ll hear a whole pile of laughing in the back, that was eight of us sitting up on top of the hill looking down and watching the eyes on Babe the first time he ever saw a bite. He was just dumbfounded” – Scott Norquay
From there it exploded. Hundreds of Americans began calling in to see if Chuck would be their fishing guide. No one could get enough of the ‘prehistoric’ fish hiding at the bottom of the Red River. Chuck hadn’t planned on being a guide, but it was perfect, he could do what he loved and share that with others. Along with his guide partner, Lary Fiddler, “Chuck shared with everyone, young old, able, disabled, he believed in himself, and it all came to be.” Susan Sprong (Norquay).
He went on to share Red River catfish fishing with renowned fisherman Jimmy Houston. Along with Lary Fiddler he also filmed with Henry Waszczuk and Italo Labignan of Canadian Sports Fishing which promoted catfish fishing, Selkirk, and the surrounding areas.
About a year later Chuck the Channel Cat was unveiled. Triple S. Investments, the Chamber of Commerce, and town council were the driving forces behind the well known 30ft fiberglass statue located across from Smitty’s Family Restaurant on Main Street.
Surprisingly, the friendly looking catfish generated contention prior to its unveiling. Surrounding towns felt they should have the title “Catfish Capital of North America. However, none of this would have happened without Chuck, a Selkirk local through and through, so Selkirk won the title.
Town council’s original plan was to raise the statue in Selkirk Park; but this idea was met with much opposition. Business owners wanted the statue to be immediately visible to tourists as they came into town. If Selkirk was to have the title “Catfish Capital of North America,” people needed to know about it. A 900-name petition was cast opposing the Selkirk Park location. At the next council meeting all but one councillor agreed to change the location. Main Street it would be.
Chuck the Channel Cat was unveiled on May 23rd, 1986, and named in honour of Chuck for putting Selkirk on the map.
The well-known restaurant in town, Riverboat, created a new, seasonal catfish entrée in 1986 to take advantage of the novel catfish capital title. In 1994, Chuck was inducted into the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame for recognition as a “legendary guide.” A hall honour is the highest recognition available and was due to his bravery and contribution to the sport of Freshwater Fishing. A plaque was presented to his family in his honour following his nomination.
Selkirk catfish fishing has retained its allure for over 30 years. The publicity brought an economic boom for Selkirk and the surrounding areas. Anglers still travel across the continent for a chance at a spectacular fishing experience.
Information provided by Susan Sprong (Norquay), Kristie-Ann Norquay, Kyle Norquay, Scott Norquay, Wes Gilbart, and Terry and Kenny Waterman