Guide loathing

The Skeena Fish Advisory Committee convened for its annual meeting at the Terrace Valley Golf and Country Club on the 18th of March.

The Skeena Fish Advisory Committee convened for its annual meeting at the Terrace Valley Golf and Country Club on the 18th of March. The SFAC is one of many advisory committees to government on fish and wildlife issues. It is patterned after Fishery and Ocean Canada’s Sportfish Fishing Advisory Board, and like the SFAB, it’s a multi stakeholder body whose role is to provide a broad perspective on the issues flowing from the management of fish and fisheries and give feedback  to the fisheries staff of British Columbia’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO) on initiatives the ministry is proposing to undertake.

The membership of the SFAC includes representatives from the Steelhead Society of B.C., the BC Wildlife Federation, the BC Federation of Drift Fishers, the BC Federation of Flyfishers, the Skeena Angling Guides Association, the North Coast Steelhead Alliance, a local tackle vendor, five separate rod and gun clubs, and four non-affiliated independent anglers.

For the most part, the committee deals with fishing regulations, and each representative may submit suggestions for changes to the existing fishing regulations for discussion at the meeting.

This year, Dustin Kovacvich of the Skeena Angling Guides’ Association (SAGA) introduced three proposals, the first of which urges the Ministry to impose a fly fishing only restriction on the section of the Zymoetz (Copper ) River above Kitnayakwa Creek or Zymoetz I, the part of the river designated Class One under the Classified Waters Act.

Dustin’s rationale seemed common sense to me, the Steelhead Society’s representative to the committee. He argued that the stretch of river in question contained many pools and runs that are challenging to fish with a fly, but easily – and effectively – fished with lures cast, or fished under a float. Given this situation a small number of fishermen using the latter technique greatly decrease the quality of fishing for fly fishers, who make up the majority of anglers on the Zymoetz.

Dustin, who together with Keith Douglas, are the only guides with days on Zymoetz I, bolstered his case with the contention that by making that part of the river fly fishing only, the ministry  would increase the areas of sanctuary for steelhead, particularly late in the season when those fish populate deep pools that can only be probed successfully with techniques like drift fishing and lure casting.

The form the opposition to Dustin’s proposal took  was dispiriting. The charge of elitism was levelled, as it always is at the suggestion of  fly fishing only regulations. This charge was without merit before the majority of steelhead anglers pursued their sport with fly rods and is just downright preposterous now that they do. Kids can fly fish and even prefer to when shown how. The days of gut lines, cane rods, and having to your own flies are long gone in this age when how to cast a fly (and all the arcane trappings of the sport) are a mouse click away.

Another thing made quick and easy by the internet is how to access every steelhead stream on planet earth. This goes directly to the second objection to Dustin’s proposal, which was that it isn’t necessary because Zymoetz I is so remote that few people go there. Wrong. Since John Tarantino of San Francisco and his cohort drifted it three years ago and posted their video of steelhead rising to dead drift flies fished dry on the world wide web, everybody in the global fishing community knows about the upper Zymoetz and can (and are) accessing it with handy tools like Google Earth and Google Maps.

The last objection, from the Drift Fishers rep, was the most surprising. With this and his other two proposals, Dustin and SAGA were out to run resident anglers off the rivers. This preposterous bit of paranoia is shocking. Dustin and the rest of the members of SAGA  are all residents the communities in Skeena region themselves. They have a huge vested interest in seeing that our fisheries remain strong and in my many dealings with guides, I can’t seek of a single instance where they have sought to limit resident anglers’ access to the resource.

Guides are a part of this province’s greenest and largest industry, tourism. They drop a lot of cash into the local economy and their clients do too, yet a number of local anglers remain convinced that guides have ruined the fishery for residents. Presumably this is because guides advertise and promote the fishery. Yet many of the people who slag guides for doing what all businessmen do, brag about their catches on internet sites.

A well regulated lucrative guiding industry is a boon to this region and a force that could be marshalled for environmental good, like it is in other places on earth.