Empowerment and steelhead on the Bulkley River. Fly-fishing guide April Vokey casts away. By Amanda Follett Hosgood.
April Vokey is knee-deep in the Bulkley River. She casts her rod effortlessly as the late-day sun casts its sepia tones down the river. Her daughter, 10-month-old Adelaide, naps in her backpack, oblivious to the fishing line as it encircles them. We’re a few hundred metres upstream of what Vokey fondly refers to as “camp.” It’s 20 acres of off-grid riverfront property 15 minutes from Smithers, British Columbia, that boasts a 300-square-foot sleeping cabin, a shipping-container-turned-bathhouse, and an outdoor kitchen where Vokey cooks over an open fire. “I don’t want to feel trapped,” she says. “That’s kind of my thing.”
Vokey has successfully built a career around her aversion to confinement. She escaped her urban upbringing to fish the rivers of the Lower Mainland, and by 19, she was teaching herself the fine art of fly fishing while working for gear at a local tackle shop. She began guiding at 21 and started her business, Fly Gal Inc., in 2007 as an umbrella organization that also included repping gear, teaching, working as a sponsored fisher, and giving talks.
It was the dawn of social media, and Vokey, as a young, female fly-fishing guide, was building a substantial online fan base. At the time, she was a rare species: one of the few females fishing in the Fraser Valley. When she started guiding in 2005, you could count on one hand the number of female fishing guides across the province. While attitudes toward women on the river have improved over the past decade, she remembers it as “a confusing time,” as she struggled to find her footing in the male-dominated sport.
But in her early 20s, she connected with a posse of women fishing the rivers of northern British Columbia and then moved to the north in pursuit of her true love: the catch-and-release steelhead that haunt these waters. “That was one of the most empowering times in my life,” she says.
After nearly two decades in the industry, Vokey has amassed vast experience. Her enthusiasm for life and the outdoors is as contagious as it is magnetic. In 2015, she launched her podcast, Anchored with April Vokey. It was a game changer. “I was no longer being seen. I was being heard,” she says. The platform gave her a voice to bring awareness to the social issues that matter to her, the most important of which is conserving these sparkling waters for her daughter to enjoy.
On Anchored, she commiserates with fellow female fishers about being ignored in fishing shops in favour of men, but she can also denude Donald Trump Jr. of his edginess. In an interview with America’s first son, she coaxes out a giddy schoolboy anxious to talk about his love of fishing. “If someone could’ve told me I would end up where I am today, I would’ve thought I was dreaming,” she says.
But her visibility also made her vulnerable. Unknown men could discover her on social media and then hire her to guide them on remote rivers. “People knew who I was, they wanted to hang out with me, and I’m not going to background check everyone,” she says, remembering some sketchy situations with clients. “In my head, it was just a matter of time.” She officially gave up her guiding licence after meeting her Australian husband, Charles, at a fishing lodge in Norway five years ago. British Columbia’s regulations prevent guides from fishing recreationally with non-residents, and it was putting a crimp in their blossoming romance. She continued teaching workshops and developing her online presence until last year, when, just before her daughter was born, she landed a full-time job producing web content for MeatEater, Inc., a Montana-based outdoor lifestyle company.
Today, Vokey describes herself as a “summer chaser,” splitting her time between the posh Sydney suburb of Manly Beach, Australia, and her camp in northern British Columbia. She returns to Canada in June and leaves in the fall, when the fishing slows down in the Skeena Watershed. She spent much of this summer alone with Adelaide, fishing the river and hunting for grouse on the property. Working for MeatEater has simplified life and, with posts like “What I’ve Learned Fly Fishing with a Baby,” allowed her to blend her work with parenting. Vokey says little has changed with motherhood. While her adventures have become more constrained and she now works them around naptimes, she’s teaching her daughter to love the outdoors. It sparks in her a renewed drive to fight for the environment. “I feel even more responsible now to keep it so that she has fisheries waiting for her when she gets older,” she says. “I’m terrified that I’m going to raise this girl to love and appreciate the outdoors and she’s going to turn 25 and it won’t be there.”
With anything involving parenting, there will always be differences of opinion. Online trolls, seeing photos of her fishing with Adelaide on her back, have suggested child services take her daughter away. “People love to mommy shame that I take my baby fishing,” she says. “But she loves it. I am more comfortable up to here,” she karate chops her shin just below the knee, “in water than I am driving in a city. I trip on curbs more than I trip on rocks.”
Back in the Bulkley, a tributary of the Skeena, impressive, hard-fighting steelhead continue to beckon Vokey. Yesterday, Charles caught five at this fishing hole near their home. Today, Vokey says she’s happy to head home after catching one. The river levels are at an all-time historic low, and “it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.”
Vokey’s fishing career has taken her all over the world. She could work from anywhere. Why does she choose to call this remote river home? As if in answer to the question, her reel begins a high-pitched whine. “Because of this!” she laughs as she fights the fish on the end of her line. The impressive bull trout flashes gold in the late-day sun, and she asks me to shoot video as she gently removes the barbless hook.
Amanda Follett Hosgood writes from her straw-bale home in Smithers, British Columbia. Her current save-the-world project is raising a strong-willed four-year-old to love the earth and fight the patriarchy.