April Vokey, British Columbia steelhead guide, comes to town
April Vokey, 28, of British Columbia, guides for steelhead and salmon, like this chinook, which came from the Dean River in British Columbia, where Vokey guides for part of the year. (Courtesy photo)
That fascination stuck with Vokey as she grew up -- a lucky thing, she said, since her hometown, Surrey, near Vancouver, was known for being rough.
Her family was "cozy," she said, but the school she went to was anything but, and most of the people surrounding her reflected the roughness of her town.
"They would go party every night, and I would go fishing," said Vokey, who headed to the river the moment she turned 16 and earned her driver license. "A lot of those people I was friends with are no longer here anymore."
Her parents thought the same thing would happen to their daughter, but they weren't worried about drugs or alcohol: they were worried she would put herself in a dangerous situation on the river, come across some shady character, or even spend her life trying to chase a career in fishing rather than voice, in which she is classically trained for jazz.
But she couldn't stay away from the river. She cultivated a group of older fishermen friends while fishing conventionally (using spinning gear) for sturgeon.
"I would time the sturgeon for high slack tide and oftentimes, that would be 3 o'clock in the morning," said Vokey. "I fished really late at night, and would be stuck in the middle of a run and have to wade back in the dark -- stupid things like that on a big river."
Eventually, Vokey would begin to fish with a man, named Dave, who in his 60s and who would become a family friend. Then, Vokey fished using conventional gear: spinning rods, spoons, bait -- whatever she could use to learn the water.
But one day, she caught sight of a fly angler.
"My dad always tells this story, that one day, I came home from fishing and I had this blank, vacant stare on my face. I said, 'I saw this man fly fishing today, and I just know there's a way to make a living doing this,'" said Vokey.
All of the older fishing friends she had accrued, Dave principle of them, came together and gave her an old eight-weight, fiberglass Shakespeare rod.
"None of them knew how to cast it, but they gave me this rod, they all pieced together their old scraps of chenille and mallard (for fly tying), and put it in a box," she said. "It was my birthday gift."
Six years after picking up a fly rod, she started her own business, Fly Gal Ventures -- but not before a drunk driver nearly took her life.
In May of 2008, Vokey and a friend were headed out for a night of fishing. Driving in the opposite direction was a driver coming from a party. The driver passed out, crossed the line and slammed into Vokey's truck head on.
The driver's truck went through the front of Vokey's -- her boat and trailer came through the back of her own truck.
Vokey nearly lost her foot. Every part of her body was injured in the accident.
She was told she'd never fish again. Instead, she put her energy into launching Fly Gal.
After a few rocky early years, and after a tumultuous entree into the fly fishing industry thanks to the novelty of her gender, Vokey's guiding service, based in Northern British Columbia, Canada, has taken off.
Two half-time guides work for her, and she guides seven days a week during the winter steelheading season from February to April in Terrace, British Columbia's lower mainland. From the end of June to the end of August, Vokey is on the Dean River, guiding for steelhead and salmon, then all of September and October, she's back in Terrace.
During the off season, and on occasional jaunts like this one, Vokey travels around the United States and Canada, teaching fly-tying workshops.
And, in addition to leading fly-tying classes, Vokey works hard to involve women in the sport.
"I've never understood how it's a sport for men," said Vokey. "It requires no power or strength. It requires patience and finesse. It requires a drive for excitement, which women have. ... It just plucks at our strings. (Fishing) is just made for us, but to be fair, it's totally gender neutral."
Just as long as everyone avoids bad polar bear fur, and picks up their blue heron only after it's dead, Vokey will be happy.
For more information, visit Vokey's website at www.flygal.ca.
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