Skip to content

Beaches of Camano: Historic Sunset Beach Resort

“Looking out on the water nothing has changed.”

mike-4

Camano’s Beaches have changed over the years. But the water in front of them remains the same. This is true of Sunset Beach. Back in the heyday of fishing there were three fishing resorts next to each other: Sunset Beach Resort, Madrona Beach Resort, and Camp Lagoon, run by Dee Blackburn. Mike Little and his brother Jim ran Sunset Beach resort in the late 60’s and early 70’s and he lives there today.

mike-1

Mike’s Aunt had a place at Maple Grove, so Mike and his family was familiar with Camano. When Sunset Beach Resort owners Ray Gerhman and his wife put the resort up for sale in 1967/1968, well known Camano Island realtor Theresa Hagstrom got Mike’s mom involved. Four people bought Ray German out, Mike’s parents, being one of them. Mike, his wife, and his brother, leased the resort for a year and ran it. After that initial year lease, Mike bought in and became a half owner. He was 23 at the time.

“My brother and I were pretty young, more energetic. We really had to hustle.” “It was a 24/7 operation” Mike says. The season started in March and ran through September. Mike and his brother woke up with the first person to get their boat there, at, 4:00 or 5:00am in the morning, when it was still dark. They ran the restaurant that was in the northeast corner of the store, cooking pancakes and eggs for breakfast, fish and chips and hamburgers on the grill for lunch for the fisherman who sat at the bar with eight stools. They ran the store, selling groceries, fishing gear, and renting boats and cabins.

mike-7

They launched boats, and based on the tides, the fishing and the weather there would be anywhere from 10-40 boats launching each day. The real hard core fishermen would be out at the crack of dawn and back by 10:00am or at the latest noon. Most nights they would seine for herring, putting them in the live bait tanks.

Mike says “I was an avid fisherman. What I didn’t realize was that when you ran a resort you couldn’t go fishing.” There best days were when it was stormy and fishermen weren’t going out. Then Mike and his brother would finally get a chance to fish.

Mike says that he was also unrealistic about the business side of things. His daughter was born in May 1969, after Mike and his brother launched as the Resort Owners. After running the resort for a couple of years, Mike ended up leasing or renting it out to others who tried their hand at it, all too various degrees of success. Sunset Beach no longer is a resort. Mike has kept the old building that house the grocery and restaurant as well as living space in similar condition that it was back in the day. Fishing isn’t as good as those years in the 60’s and 70’s. It was exceptionally good, Mike remembers, the year that he started running the resort.The best fishing was on the west side of Camano from Onamac to Maple Grove. One day in 1969 we had two 33 lbs Kings come into the resort.

The biggest Mike could remember was a 41 pound King, caught just off the launch. He remembers when Polnell Point was the hot spot on Puget Sound.This was in the mid 1950’s. Mike has changed too. He’s 70 now. He still lives on that property on Sunset Beach, his sister Maryanne and her husband Arlyn next to him in their parent’s home. But when Mike looks out on the water, nothing has changed. Just the other day he looked out into the water in front of his home and saw a seal, and was sure there was salmon below.

mike-9

Beaches of Camano: Painting Madrona and Sunset Beaches

Madrona Beach is just north of Sunset Beach, practically next door, with maybe a house squeezed in between. Like Sunset Beach it was once a fishing resort with a boat launch, boat shed, and cabins for rent.  They are not only great beaches to fish at, but also to paint at.

Sunset and Madrona beach were a paradise for artists. And my dad, trying to eek out a living as a full-time artist in the 1970’s and now as a retiree has painted those two beaches at least nine times.

dad-1

dad-2

Here is the story of dad painting Sunset and Madrona Beaches.

Dad was painting for a one man (or solo) art show at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle in 1972. One day he was at Sunset Beach sitting on his stool and sketching the storage shed with boats in it when a man came up behind him and said “I’ll buy that.” It was Mike Little who  had grown up on Sunset Beach. That watercolor painting with the blue and white boats never made it to the show at the Frye; it hangs in Mike Little’s home on Sunset Beach.

A few years  later, Mike, knowing that they were soon going to be torn down, commissioned dad to paint the bait shack and storage shed for his parents Tom and Phyllis Little. That large painting with intricate detail captured a piece of history and hangs in their home on Sunset Beach.  It was thrilling for me to be invited this summer (2016) to take a look at that painting dad painted so many years ago.

In the third painting the storage shelter was predominant with the old bait shack behind. Dad finally got the bright sky at sunset just the way he wanted it, and sold it many years later to David and MaryAnn Keiser during a Mother’s Day Studio Tour.  The fourth painting was of the boathouse at Madrona.  It was sold a long time ago and dad says,  “It was really nice, really a neat scene”.

Dad was at Madrona Beach one day in the 1970’s. Some people had half a barrel full of live crab that they were cooking. Dad quickly sketched the crab in the barrel. Some time in the 1990’s he pulled that old sketch out and painted it and sold it at the Mother’s Day tour to Jane and Joe McGeehans. interesting enough, Joe used to be principal at Arsenal Tech high school in Indianapolis, the school that three of our children attended).

So when it came time to assign family members to paint Camano’s Beaches it made sense that dad chose Madrona and Sunset Beach. He painted a fisherman in a Sunset Beach rental boat …

sunset-beach-fisherman-jack-dorsey

and a painting of historic Sunset from photographs that Mike Little gave him.

sunset-beach-boat-launch-jack-dorsey

He painted the Madrona Boat House roof with the Union 76 sign and also a view of Sunset Beach looking through and under the old dock at Madrona from old photographs he had taken in the 70’s.

I’m thankful that I grew up in a family of artists, with a paintbrush in my hands. And I am sure that after God calls dad home, many other aspiring artists and retired artists like him will paint the beaches of Camano like he did.

%d bloggers like this: