If you haven’t heard of April Vokey let me give you a little background. She has dedicated her life to fly fishing. Her company, Fly Gal Ventures, is a thriving fly fishing guide business which she started in 2007 upon turning twenty-four years old. She pursues gamefish on the fly internationally and is becoming recognized as an authority on the sport.
Fly Gal Ventures
Fly Fisherman magazine
Fly Rod & Reel magazine
Fly Fusion magazine
Outdoor Channel’s Buccaneers and Bones series
60 Minutes Sports
The Steve Harvey show
Discovery Channel’s Refined
Discovery’s/OLN’s Close Up Kings
WFN’s Fly Nation TV
ShoreLines with April Vokey (written and hosted by Vokey)
FFF certified casting instructor
And a self-described “eternal student of life and love”.
Yet even with all of those credentials some still see her as a Barbie girl angler. Wrong. Absolutely wrong. April is extremely knowledgeable, with more actual fishing experience than most her age; more than many twice her age. Before she started her own Steelhead guide business Fly Gal Ventures http://www.flygal.ca/. At the ripe old age of twenty-two she was a Sturgeon guide on the famed Fraser River. She has guided, two-handed spey for steelhead, on the BC rivers for the past ten years. Furthermore after sitting in at her fly tying class I can tell you that she is an articulate, patient, intelligent, engaging instructor. As a guide and instructor I know what it takes to effectively get students to actually learn the lesson at hand. April nailed it.
April would frown if I called her a celebrity so let me put it this way, she is exactly what the fly fishing community needs. She’s the real deal to the core.
I interviewed April at International Angler, a full service fly shop in Pittsburgh. It would not have happened without Bob Phillip’s kindness to provide me with this opportunity. That is a small example how International Angler gives back to the community. I complimented him on how great the shop looked with its complete line of gear and other goodies. Bob thanked me and explained, he knows that some folks come in and look over the gear, trying out packs, casting rods only to then go and purchase them online. I know it happens too, but what they won’t get online is the wisdom these guys have. The entire staff is extremely knowledgeable. These guys have fly fished throughout the world. It only takes one conversation with them to realize that you are being provided with vast, accurate, and invaluable information.
Leo: April you’ve got a lot of projects in the hopper and if we talked about them all I would never finish my article. So today, right now, what is your highest priority project?
April: Writing my book. I started out trying to write a book about finding the root and parallels between the Atlantic salmon world & history, and the Steelhead world & history. I was hoping, ignorantly, to link everything to Haig-Brown, who was an Englishman who’d come to the west coast of Canada. I’d read that he’d brought the swinging methods with him, but then I heard about this man named John S. Benn from the 1880’s and I realized I couldn’t link this to anybody. There’s just far too many books, far too many unknowns, far too many egos, and so I can’t prove this [concept]. From there my entire concept was put on hold upon discovering John Shewey’s book, Classic Steelhead flies, as he does a great job of showcasing much of this. It might end-up being too personal. It may not even be geared for the fly fishing audience. If they want to read it, great but I’m just going to write with no audience in mind, and we’ll see what the response is.
And my podcast is really high on my list. With my TV series [Shorelines] I was really limited with time because I only have twenty-four and half minutes per episode (by the time commercials are included). I was sitting down with all of these amazing people who are basically our history books live in the flesh, and felt I owed to the world to record them — and so the podcast was started.
L: Yeah wow and you’re capturing this.
A: Yes, but I couldn’t put it all on television. So now I’m really stuck. When the series aired and I saw my two hour interviews go down to a four minute ones, I thought, you know what? I’m going to do something on my own terms. So I started a podcast. It’s uncensored. I’m sure it’s mildly offensive. It is extremely advanced. And the word is getting out that it’s an archive.
L: I caught that during your class. I thought you’re developing an archive because when you said I’m spending a lot of money.
A: It’s costing me a fortune.
L: I was like what’s driving her. What’s her idea behind this? Certainly, we all know that there’s a business aspect to this but you know you are creating an archive; that is awesome.
A: This is one thing that I can honestly say — and I will die feeling this — this is truly me giving back.
I just really want to leave a timeline behind straight from the mouths of the people who made them.
The cool thing, is when I sit down with these guys and gals the timelines merge. If we would have had this podcast in the thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, seventies we would not be so confused… about who came first… This is my way of saying, “enough! If my generation won’t read… and make no mistake, I’m trying hard. I have a reading list on my website, I push books down people’s throats. But if I can’t get you to read, I’ll get you to listen. And it’s working, the podcast right now, even though it’s brand new, it gets at least two thousand unique downloads a day.
L: No way!
A: Yes it’s at sixty thousand downloads a month and is already at four hundred thousand downloads at less than a year old.
A: I’ve got to show you something… I got this today and it totally messed with my head. A woman had bought a fly from my website. She says: “I’m sad to say I didn’t get to try this fly. It’s as pretty as the day I bought it. April I need to tell you have saved me and you don’t even know it. We had something horrible happen; a tragedy. Our sister’s death…. I can’t describe how this ripped us apart. We fell and we fell hard. What picked me up is your podcasts. For some reason this is my therapy. My worker through victim services says I owe you a thank you. She says her therapy doesn’t compare to what I get out of yours. When I feel like I just can’t do this anymore because I am consumed with sadness I listen to your podcasts. This is my everyday therapy. Every day I escape from all I feel inside while being educated, entertained, and inspired. I listen to many podcasts but these podcasts are different they make feel alive; thankful for being alive.
I love to fish, my husband has finally included me after fourteen years he’s doing his best to teach me all the different casts. My Zen my escape now more than ever. I’m forty; life has only just started. Thank you April you saved me from not allowing the death of our sister to take away from what we have to live for…”
She, of course, put me in tears. When I get something like this, it doesn’t matter that it cost me out of pocket to go and do something, or that it took time out of my day. I know if I can reach just one person like that; that’s what I’m here for.
L: What can I say… that is it. That’s what’s important. Truly moving.
A: Yes, moving isn’t it?
L: I mentioned to the young lady guide in your class tonight. The big surprise, years ago now, for me was oh yeah I’m going to step this up a bit and try to make some money by guiding. And yes it’s tough, guiding can be very tough, but you know what I never realized how much I would enjoy helping others. It’s good stuff.
A: You go home and you can sleep at night.
L: Exactly and that’s huge.
A: Sorry, I’m long winded, that was only question number one.
L: No this is good.
L: So next question. I get the impression you believe in simplicity as a way of life; I get that. Gives us an example of how you try to live your life that way.
A: We are not all perfect and I have just as many gimmicks as the next person. I certainly fall prey to consumerism at times. I think a lot of us do, but I try to be mindful of it. See when someone asks you what the definition of happiness is. What do you think happiness is? Because for me I think of it as…. excitement. After I have children my answers will be different. But for now my answer is excitement. What has always excited me from the day I could walk until now is survival (in its lightest form). I get off on that. When I was in Girl Guides (or Girl Scouts) I used to get off on pretending to stalk and survive in the wilderness. I love trying to survive in business. I love to try to survive in a foreign country. Trying to survive in the forest. growing up I lived in a crime-ridden city. [From that city] I went in the opposite direction and bought a property [in a rural area] and decided I was going to live very simply. Do I still fly, drive, travel, wear shiny stuff? Yes. But I try to balance my life with some very basic comforts as well.
At first it was very temporary. I had high hopes and dreams of putting up this big beautiful log home — and we still may one day put up a cabin — but even just what started as a trailer was very satisfying, and before long I had upgraded to a wall tent. And that was so satisfying that I didn’t want to change anything. Suddenly when you have to go down to the river to pump your water it just tastes better. When you have to make your fire, wait for your coals, and smell the experience, the food also just tastes better. We have a generator but we don’t use it, instead we use all solar lighting and candles. I really appreciate the little things like the light that my wood stove puts out where I can see Colby lying beside it. I just… every time I get to a stage in my life where I feel like I’m losing appreciation… I’m very aware of it, and so I make immediate changes. Reality is not what we are sitting in right now. This is not reality — not for me anyway. I think that in order to live our lives to the fullest, we need to appreciate who we are as human beings. As an animal… and remember, we are animals. I think sometimes we need to live animalistic. We don’t have to be barbaric… I just feel like we need to dig in to our roots… to really be… to be happy with who we are. Does that make sense?
L: I get it.
L: The element of nature. I don’t think we get… many of us…we take it for granted. We don’t appreciate it. That doesn’t mean you have to live in a rural environment.
A: No it doesn’t. I just don’t see how we are living our lives… we’re living our lives…
I’m saying that loosely… you’re not living if you’re not even realizing that you’re alive.
L: You know that’s so cool. We can use fly fishing, that’s easy for us but anything where you’re doing something that requires such focus that all of the other things fall away. Then you’re getting closer to what you’re describing.
L: My appreciation for fly fishing is like that. When I’m focused…in the moment. It’s very Zen. I know that there are meditative exercises like walking in the woods with your eyes closed and listening to the leaves crunch beneath your feet to help you try and get in to that moment.
A: But see we use the word Zen because we are so far disconnected from what we are as animals — it’s bloody life! It should be an every day used term, not just what we seek at a yoga retreat.
L: So it’s just natural
A: Yeah, that is just what it is supposed to be. It is so…such a luxury today for people to have Zen. People go on vacations to get a week of Zen.
L: It’s ridiculous.
A: Unbelievable! That is why hunting and fishing are so…I just got my first bow and I’m finally going for it.
L: I read that on Instagram. Someone just gave you an archery bow.
A: Captain Lacey is a badass. She is my idol when it comes to this stuff… hunting and going for it. You know hunting and fishing is one of the last activities we can partake in where we are truly being who we are supposed to be? I just don’t think we should ignore it. You don’t have to do it. I just think you have to be aware of it. Maybe you are on the other side of things. Remember when women would sit and, I don’t know, braid bark, tend to meals, or raise babies in the indian villages? So maybe you don’t have the hunting and fishing instinct or genealogy; that’s fair, that’s totally cool. Then go into the woods, sit there quietly and eat a piece of fresh Salmon and braid a piece of bark or make pottery. I don’t know… just do something we as humans used to do! I get that they didn’t live very long and I understand all of the arguments people have, but at the end of the day we can’t deny that we are animals and we are going to operate better and healthier if we do what are bodies are supposed to be doing.
L: As with any endeavor that has real value a lot of effort goes in to it. We see April Vokey fly fishing celebrity but help us understand what it takes to make that all work.
A: Yeah, I think it’s hilarious. Couple things… being called a celebrity, because fame and being a celebrity just… I mean the true celebrities…the people who deserve to be celebrities are the ones you often never even hear about. Haig-Brown was a celebrity — I could only hope to one day have even a fraction of the influence that Haig-Brown. But sure, there’s a lot of criticism… moving forward, what the public sees is so far [from] what I am and it’s a shame. It kind of relates to a conversation I had with [Greg] Senyo the other day and he was kind of harsh. He said, “you create a false image. We all do and social media does”. I asked “how so? I think I’m pretty straight-up”. He said “no, you post, for example, of your wall tent” (which I think is me being pretty straight-up, showing nothing fancy). To which he replied, “you don’t realize what you didn’t write in that post. That you slaved away for over thirty years, have been broke, have starved, have suffered… [You] haven’t put any of that in your post.” And, he’s right, I haven’t. What they don’t know about my career is that I don’t sleep. I work endlessly. I am always thinking about what else I can do. But my number one secret that some people can’t seem to figure out yet, is that I give back. Give back…just take a chance on it and give back… but they don’t listen to me.
The day I decided I was going to give back… my entire life changed.
I give back more to this industry and our fisheries than anyone will ever know. The amount of time that I give. And silently too. It will take until I’m dead for some of this stuff to come out — and that’s alright. I go to sleep at night chuckling at the nay-sayers and the uninformed – aka ignorant- knowing that I’m a good person. I really am doing my best and the universe pays attention to that.
L: Amen to that.
A: Sigh… so that’s where I’m at.
L: So your upbringing?
A: Quick timeline. As a kid my dad would tell us bedtime stories about the water [but] no one in my family really fishes. I was obsessed. So my dad would take my sister and I… we would go trolling with worms on the lake and I would get really excited. My dad would take me once a year to [the] Army-Navy surplus… and he would let me choose my two favorite lures… so eventually I collected enough gear that my dad brought me home an old, used Plano tackle box and every few months I would organize all of my gear in my tackle box. I used to empty it just to reorganize it… My mom is a business woman and so I always had an entrepreneurial mind… so I was the little girl who was always trying to sell something in the cul-de-sac. Not lemonade, no, no, I would do things like try to extract liquid out of shrubs to try to make perfume cause it hadn’t been done, or taking paper and taping it into a skirt and then gluing pennies to it in an attempt it to make clothing…just stupid stuff.
L: Creative, entrepreneurial.
A: Cause I wanted to be like my mom. I wanted to be a business woman too. So my parents saw they had a workhorse, and so I got an allowance and I liked that… so I started to get some money… I would save-up all my allowance… and we would go to the mall… I would walk across the street [to the fishing shop] and I’d buy Powerbait marshmallows, and Anise eggs… all of that stuff. I would then sit there and organize my Plano box — again. I kept telling everybody “when I can drive, I’m gone”, and sure enough when I was sixteen and driving I was gone [fishing] every couple days. The rule was that if was on the A honor role, which I was, then I … I could go fishing. When I got my license I got a 1983 Buick Skylark and that was that.
L: There you go on your way.
A: I had just got my first cell phone. Mom and Dad hated that I was fishing but I did what I said I would…
L: Got your good grades.
A: Yep, so when I was about… seventeen I met a guy on the river… and he was my first real fishing buddy. So my mom and dad… were just thankful. You have to understand, I would sneak out… and take my sister and we would sneak out all the way down to the river on Surrey’s River Road… to fish for Sturgeon. We were foolish, I mean we could have gotten killed… fishing at night, fishing in industrial, hooker-laced Surrey. So anyway I met Dave and suddenly I’m hanging with all of the old guys… and it kind of went from there. They didn’t fly fish but they helped me understand how to read water… and they took me under their wings. So those were my buddies and soon I started fly fishing. I realized…I just had to find a way to make a living at this. Sure enough I made the decision that I was going to be a guide… so I decided if I going to do this I had to be good. So I decided to put all of my time on that river.
Eventually I met a guy on the river who owned a Sturgeon guide company. He asked if I wanted to guide for him and so I guided for him for a few years. It was miserable, but I did it, and I learned a lot. It was definitely a crash and burn thing… they threw me into the fire with no training on a jet boat. And I was a shitty Sturgeon guide, really shitty, so I started packing a really great kitchen in my boat and soon the guides were complaining because now they looked bad when the fishing was slow. The Salmon fly fishing stuff I did fine with… but the Sturgeon stuff I had to shine to make up for my less than fantastic skill… when I realized they were complaining about me going one step above and beyond, I thought I’m going to start my own company so that can I provide a true experience. So when I was twenty-three going on twenty-four I started my own guiding company. And here we are now.
A: Woo, that’s my life! Long winded, huh?
L: Well that’s very cool. You’ve done a lot for your age.
L: They don’t understand how much work… anything. We’re fly fishing but it could be anything.
A: My time on the water even [when] guiding… that is my time off. When I get home, that’s when I start working.
L: Best fly fishing experience 2015?
A: For sure! I did a do it yourself trip on the Dean river.
A: I guided on the Dean for years and I would think to myself, when I don’t have to do this for work anymore, I’m going to do it differently — so two of my buddies and myself took a helicopter in way, way up as far as we could go up. We did a forty-three kilometer drift in nine days. Camped out every night…same thing, you know, pumping our own water dehydrated food… When I was lucky… opened a can of Tuna.
L: And in the middle of nowhere.
A: Yeah! Colby flew in as one of the people. [He] was our bear dog. You know… just hanging in the hammock and sleeping… just enjoying the little things.
L: Quality time.
A: Yeah a cup of coffee was a huge deal. So that for me was it… do it yourself float trip.
L: Very cool, I had no idea what you were going to tell me.
L: Favorite species?
L: I kind of figured that.
A: You know when you’re a kid or teen you think a little differently. I would always think, they’re wild and free and I’m wild and free! I think it’s born into a lot of BC’ers.
L: Yeah you identified with those bad boys!
A: Bad girls.
L: I am the Steelhead!
A: Steelhead, always. Will always be Steelhead for me.
L: Advice to beginners?
A: What kind of beginners?
L: I knew you were going to ask me that. Let’s stay in the fly fishing realm.
A: Like casting beginners?
L: Someone that has an inkling of interest so let’s say less than a year or less than a dozen times out on the water.
A: Getting into fly fishing?
A: My advice to beginners is to enjoy this stage the most. Because this stage here… every single thing that you learn is a whole new world. And to try not to learn it all too fast, because it won’t set in right away… so you may as well take your time and enjoy learning it at your own pace. Don’t ever let anybody intimidate you — whether that be a shop, a guide, a friend, a family member. If that person intimidates you, you should probably think about maybe putting some distance between you and them when it comes to fishing. Because this is your own path and your own speed… and that’s part of the whole beauty of it. You can enjoy how slow or how fast it takes you.
L: I like that. This [fly fishing] isn’t supposed to be work.
L: I catch people… I haven’t been to the shop for a while but people can get real technical.
A: And I’m technical.
L: This supposed to be about fun.
L: No don’t get me wrong I can get real technical. Believe me I get real technical. Like you know you needed six more inches on that tippet and everything would have been fine but don’t forget that this is fun.
A: Yeah I totally agree. Enjoy being totally overwhelmed right now. Because this is one of the best parts.
L: Alright that’s a wrap. Thanks April!