Feeling the Pull – COVID Update from British Columbia Steelhead Country

Bulkley River Lodge

Introducing the Staying Afloat Series, where we take an inside look into the lives of many different fly fishing guides, shops, brands, and lodges across the world in hopes of finding out how the COVID is affecting them, what they are doing to help, and how we can do our part to help them. For this feature, guest contributor John Cochran caught up with Dave “Whitey” Evans, owner of the Bulkley River Lodge in Smithers, British Columbia.

Dave “Whitey” Evans standing out front of the Bulkley River Lodge in Smithers BC.

Fall has once again descended on the Rockies and the air hangs cool, wet and thick. For many, Fall is the prized possession of the year. Comes only once a year and holds a value greater than any other days in the year from the outdoor lifestyle point of view. Of course, the anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays are not to be overlooked but there is just something about the Fall that overwhelms those of us who hunt and fish. Or, if you are like my wife, she nearly cries aloud at the sight of the first changing grasses or shrubs on the hillside in late August.

Recently, I was able to connect and discuss with Dave “Whitey” Evans his perspective on how the steelhead guides and lodge owners in northern B.C are doing during these strange times. Dave owns the Bulkley River Lodge in Smithers, BC.  This is his 21st year at the lodge and has been guiding for Steelhead specifically on the Bulkley River for over 30 years.

Abel Spey Reel patiently waiting to be put to the test.

How has COVID impacted the Bulkley River Lodge?

With over 99% non-Canadians as clients, they have been forced to not open for the 2020 season.  “We kept waiting for the border crossing rules to be lifted and then make a decision, but that day never came” Evans stated.

The Bulkley River Lodge will be very quiet this year with the Canadian borders closed to US tourists.

The government made the decision for us.”  When asked about the reaction from his clients regarding COVID-19, Whitey said, “It has been a real mix of responses. Some are very cautious, and others think the whole thing is a hoax.” After making the decision to not open at all, Dave and his staff reflected additionally on the potential scenarios revolving a partial opening and decided to just let it go. “What if one of the guides got COVID during the season,” Dave said. “That would be the end for us anyway. It’s not like we have extra guides that can just step in and take over. In addition, we are all in very close contact with each other every day. Guests, guides, lodge staff, and the kitchen crew”.  “We would all have to quarantine”.

As for the River?

When I asked what’s happening out there?  What are you seeing? Whitey replied, “Not much.  I thought I would see an influx of Canadians coming to the river, but it never happened”.  He went on to emphasize how influential social media has become on fishing in general. “The fishing has not been the best this season anyway.  When people are not posting photos, fewer people will show up. The same is true the other way” Dave said.  After our conversation, he decided he was getting ready to winterize his jet boat but then changed his mind decided to go for one more session. Typical and predictable.

A native Bulkley River Steelhead.

Recently, Dave and the crew had a small gathering at the lodge to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving with the traditional bonfire and heavy cocktails with a few of the guides and staff from the lodge.  “It has been just weird up here this year. The lodge is quiet, no lights on, no hustle and bustle.  Most of all no people around.”  Whitey reflected. “It’s the people in our lives that make the magic places magical.  The loss of connection, after running over 30 consecutive seasons is a real thing. Catching a great fish alone is a different experience. Not one that I really enjoy much.  It’s just not the same”.

Bulkley River Steelhead Candy.

Dave wanted to give a shout out to his crew and clients and thank them all for the support they have offered during this crazy time.  “I’m hoping for a 2021 season, but we will have to see what happens.  That is a long way from today”.

Hooked up on the Bulkey River.

Wherever you head this Fall, take a moment to reflect on the special places and surreal surroundings that make up the beautiful places where the creatures we pursue live.  Whatever your passion, remember that it is the people, the places, and the pursuit that make the lasting impressions on our souls. Feel the pull and go as hard and as long as you can! You won’t ever regret it.

As of 10/16/20, the border is to remain closed indefinitely. You can find more information about the border closure in this article, Justin Trudeau: Canada-US border will stay closed until America gets COVID-19 under control.

If you want to get in touch with Dave or you have any questions, feel free to reach out.  Contact Information is, Dave “Whitey” Evans, Box 2005, Smithers, BC V0J2N0 whitey@steelheadbc.com and check out the Bulkley River Lodge on Instagram at @bulkleyriverlodge

Article and photos from John Cochran, an outdoor recreation consultant that specializes in the fly fishing industry. For more information about John’s business Outdoor Recreation Strategies be sure to check it out online or get in touch with John at  info@outdoorrecreationstrategies.com.

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