Dustin Kovacvich sat on the West Working Group of the Quality Waters process as a representative of the local guiding industry. As a member of the Skeena Angling Guides Association, an experienced guide, a member of the Terrace Rod and Gun Club, the CEO of Nicholas Dean Guiding, and an excellent angler, he certainly deserved a prominent place in that process.
When I first met Dustin, he was kid, – a young man, actually – fresh out of forestry school, with a passion for fish and fishing he’d acquired growing up in the Kootenays. He and his friend, Tim Lepp, the fanatical fishing son of a local orthodontist, formed a partnership and began making rough hewn but delightful videos of their wilderness angling outings that would have made excellent reality TV. Dustin and Tim’s videos didn’t have the tension and drama of, say, the series that shows hard bitten Alaskan crab fishers risking life and limb on the vicious seas of the North Pacific to make their boat payments, but they featured a kind of ingenuous delight in the outdoors that appealed to the fisher kid in all of us.
After his foray into show biz, Dustin acquired Noel Gyger’s guiding operation, hired an executive assistant, two of the best salmon guides you’ll find anywhere, and today he runs a top notch guiding outfit.
Dustin provides employment, pays good wages, buys his gas, provisions, tackle, and everything else needed to maintain his operation, locally. Dustin and his family and employees live in this community as do. So, he asks, why am I and other Skeena guides vilified by so many local anglers.
He doesn’t have a persecution complex. For years I have heard guides vilified by local anglers. More than once I’ve had local fishers tell me that guides “have ruined our fishing.”
I simply don’t understand this perception. The fishing I have had in the last few years is the best I’ve had in my life, and though I’m a more knowledgeable angler now, that experience is more than offset by a diminution of my agility and drive.
In almost 45 years of fishing the rivers of Skeena, I can truthfully say there has not been a single instance when a guide has in any way compromised my fishing. I have been low-holed by tourists and crowded out by unguided foreigners, however. I have yet to see a registered guide tear apart the wilderness with ATVs, or leave refuse in the bush like local fishers do. I’m willing to concede that there may be examples of this, but I suspect they are rare.
Dustin, like all the registered guides in the Skeena drainage, is granted tenures to exploit a public resource in the same way forest and mining companies are. Unlike loggers and miners, guides leave no acid rock or gaping clear cuts behind. Their foot print is faint.
Guides are tightly controlled in terms of space and time. They are allocated rod days for which they pay and have been given territories based on historic use. If Wall Street had been as tightly controlled as the guiding industry in Skeena, we wouldn’t be groaning under the weight of the current global financial crisis.
During the Quality Waters process it was obvious that the part of the Skeena from the Terrace to Kitwanga (Skeena 4) was largely unexploited by guides and therefore offered an opportunity for growth in the industry. The burning question was how many days should be allocated without compromising the quality of the angling for all users.
To determine this fairly, the committee needed to know the carrying capacity of that part of the river, that is, just how many anglers could fish the river before it became crowded. Since the ministry hadn’t determined this benchmark prior to the process – as they had before enjoying a similar process in the Kootenays – no one on the committee had a clear idea of what crowding on Skeena 4 looked like. Complicating the deliberations was the fact that what constitutes a crowd varies according to context. Three anglers on a small pool in the upper Copper fishing over holding fish is a crowd. The same three fishers on half a kilometre of bar fishing over migrating salmon isn’t.
In the absence of data, Dustin prowled Skeena 4 at the height of the season in his jet boat, identifying promising fishing sites and taking pictures of them. He created a database and came armed to the committee, which in the end agreed to far fewer days than he proposed as viable. In retrospect, I feel Dustin’s proposals were fair and would in no way have diminished the angling quality on the part of the Skeena drainage I have fished as much as anyone over the last 35 years.