When April Vokey was a girl, her dad would sometimes take her out on a lake with a worm on a hook but he was far from an avid fisherman.
At 16, on a whim really, she decided to give salmon fishing a try. She packed up her little trout spinning rod and headed for the Chilliwack River.
It wasn’t exactly a scene from A River Runs Through It, since she broke her rod, lost the fish and went home empty-handed, but she was hooked — even if the fish wasn’t.
"It’s so romantic. If you can break away from the crowd . . . if you get away from the people and you’re alone on the river, it’s so cleansing," says Vokey, now 27 and the owner-operator of Fly Gal Ventures, a fishing school that takes her across Canada and around the world teaching fly fishing to women.
Vokey compares her hours on the river to yoga.
"You cannot believe the comparison of how much Zen and how much peace there is in fishing," she says. "You know how you get home from a hike and you just feel cleansed and refreshed and you feel at ease with yourself and at peace, because you listened and you appreciated nature all day long? It’s like that with fishing, except you actually have the excitement of getting a huge fish."
Vokey is not alone. A growing number of women are taking up fishing and a growing number of guides, suppliers and resorts are trying to reel them in.
There are pink fishing reels, pretty boots and a plenty of fishing classes for the lasses. What has traditionally been the beer-friendly domain of men is getting in touch with its feminine side.
At Whistler Flyfishing, owner Brian Niska says women now make up about 10 to 15 per cent of his clientele. He has had three female guides working at his shop and one of their classes this August, on the Skeena River in northern B.C., will combine learning to SPEY fish with yoga.
They’ve had female-specific camps for about five years.
"They’re growing in popularity," Niska says. "And I think we’re probably on the leading edge of that, just being based in Whistler where there’s a lot of outdoorsy girls and just being a younger shop."
And it’s not just British Columbia. New Brunswick was one of the first provinces to see outfitters cater specifically to women and students who learned to fish at Pond’s Resort in Ludlow, N.B., quickly dubbed the school "Broads with Rods." Ontario also has several resorts and guides who offer lessons specifically for women.
Vokey is finalizing details on a fly fishing school in Ontario in June, and she’ll be teaching classes on the Bow River in Alberta in August. In August she’ll host a three-day school at the Nicholas Dean Lodge in northern B.C., her favourite place to cast.
The B.C. Wildlife Federation is doing all it can to encourage more women to get out on the westernmost province’s lakes and ocean, and into its vast wilderness.
The conservationist group offers fly fishing, basic angling and float tube fishing as part of its popular Becoming an Outdoors-Woman retreats, to be held this year in Winfield, B.C., and Mission, B.C.
The three-day courses also include instruction in shooting, archery, canoeing, orienteering and wild game cooking, among other things.
Vokey is a "catch-and-release" fisherwoman, meaning she releases a fish back into the water alive, after she’s reeled it in. For her, it’s not about the catch but spending a peaceful day on the river.
"A man will walk right by a waterfall when fishing. He’ll look at it, but he’s fishing. A woman will reel in her line and go and check out the waterfall because it’s about appreciating it. The guys are all about ‘we’ve got to get the fish,’ whereas the women are a lot more easy going," she says.
For the two years she’s been offering courses, Vokey has taught about 200 women how to fly fish. Recently, she was in Salt Lake City, Utah, teaching and last year she was in Iceland doing the same.
She’s amazed at the number of women taking up the sport. It keeps her going in what hasn’t always been an easy career choice.
"I get a lot of grief because I’m a woman. I get picked on a lot. People think it’s smooth sailing because of being a young woman but it is not easy," she says. "There’s a lot of men who don’t like me here and there’s a lot of men who do like me here."
While Vokey admits she has a pink fly and reel, which she bought because they raised money for breast cancer, she urges women who want to take up the sport not to show up in pink hip waders — and, yes, apparently there are pink hip waders out there.
"(Marketers) think the answer to everything is if you make it pink they will come," she says with a sigh. "No. Pink waders are awful. They’ll scare away the fish."