Sport increasing in popularity, though the number of dedicated fishing resorts in decline
At this time last year, Wally Tywoniuk, owner of Fast Action Fishing Adventures based in Sun Peaks, was staring down the same set of unique challenges facing so many other B.C. tourism providers who traditionally rely in part on international tourism.
With border restrictions in place, he waited for the summer season to kick off.
Ultimately, things worked themselves out—he was busy.
“I didn’t really notice a difference, other than no international people,” he explained. “That [segment of the market] kind of got gobbled up by just the local [visitors]. ”
Experts say fishing is seeing a bump in popularity in B.C.as people search for a safe, outdoor hobby. And the Kamloops region, with its wealth of trout-filled lakes, is well-positioned to benefit.
Within an hour drive from the city centre, there are over a hundred lakes to take part in the sport.
“The amount of lakes within any direction is pretty special and rivalled only by the Cariboo region,” said Matt Jennings, executive director of the BC Fishing Resorts and Outfitters Association. “I think what sets the Thompson [region] apart is just the quality of fish size and the number of lakes.”
Fly fishing has a long history in B.C., having first been introduced by early British settlers to the region.
Early on, the Kamloops region was recognized as a great place to engage in the sport, according to a post on the British Columbia Federation of Fly Fishers website.
“One fishery that made British Columbia famous and attracted anglers from many places on the globe was the lake fly fishing of the Interior around Kamloops,” reads the post.
“Fish Lake, later renamed Lac Le Jeune in honour of Father Le Jeune, a missionary who worked with the Shuswap native people [Secwepemc peoples] around the turn of the century, gave up a catch of 1,500 trout to Dr. T.W. Lambert and his companion in 1897.”
While some lakes boast indigenous fish populations, many benefit from man-made intervention.
License fees for fishing across B.C. go directly to adding fish to lakes, which is carried out by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC (FFSBC).
The FFSBC operates six fish hatcheries, nine egg collection stations as well as a trout distribution centre in Prince George. Every year, it raises and releases around six million fish into around 800 lakes around the province.
Jennings said the species of fish Kamloops area lakes are typically stocked with—-the Pennask strain of Rainbow trout—-are special to fish.
The insect-eating strain is perfect for fly fishing.
“It’s very well known for fighting and its aerobatics,” said Jennings. “It likes to jump a lot.”
The Kamloops region is also home to many well known fishing resort destinations that speak to its rich fishing history, including Knouff Lake WIlderness Resort, Tunkwa Lake Resort, Roche Lake Resort, Douglas Lake Ranch and Corbett Lake Lodge.
Yet despite the growing popularity of the sport, the number of fishing resorts in the region has actually declined in recent years, something Jennings attributed to the cost of lakefront property and a trend that’s seen former public resorts turn private.
Jenning said the government has done a number of things to support the industry during this difficult period, including forgiving Crown tenure fees. But he said what is needed is steady and consistent investment in infrastructure.
“We need steady sustainable investment in both [boat] launches, day-use infrastructure and access points and campsites,” he said. “There hasn’t been an investment in that in a long time.”
WIth summer season not far off, the area’s fishing guide industry is in a similar position to last year, as it’s unclear how much travel will be permitted and when (or if) current travel restrictions will be lifted.
For his part, Tywoniuk said a fly fishing experience is a good fit for anyone. He added he is happy to take out beginners and share the basics.
“It’s about getting people out and having a great experience,” said Tywoniuk, who often takes guests out on his 19-foot pontoon boat on Heffley Lake. “So many people just love being out on the water and and spending the time with the family out there, that fishing becomes a secondary thing sometimes.”
You can learn more about Fast Action Fishing Adventures here. Local company Elevated Fishing Adventures also offers a range of ice fishing options, including group and individual lessons. You can learn more about it here.
Joel Barde is a reporter hired with funding from the Local Journalism Initiative, a federal program created to support “original civic journalism that covers the diverse needs of underserved communities across Canada.” His writing is focused on the tourism industry in the Thompson Okanagan from the resident perspective.