People travel from far and wide to the Elk Valley for Fly FIshing, for which the area is renowned globally. (Image courtesy of Andres Gonzalez)

Local fly fishing guides take a hit for second year in a row

The Elk Valley’s fly fishing industry has been hurting from a lack of American dollars

The closure of the Canada-U.S. border has seen Elk Valley fly fishing businesses hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic, since many of their clients — mostly Americans — haven’t been allowed in the country.

The region is renowned globally for its fly fishing chops, with most local business relying in travellers from south of the border for their bottom line, so the border closure has been a bitter pill for those businesses.

“We got some clients but it’s still very slow,” said Andres Gonzalez, who runs Andres Fly Fishing. Gonzalez said that for now, most of his clients were Canadian, but they had not filled the void left by American tourists.

It’s the same for most fly fishing businesses in the Elk Valley – without American dollars, they’re hurting.

A quick search of rates online reveals how dependent these businesses are on American visitors – many show their prices in US dollars. The average going rate for a one day guided fly fishing trip ranges between 700 and 900 Canadian dollars, not including taxes and tip.

Paul Samycia, owner and operator of Elk River Guiding Company says the story for his business is the same.

“People come from all over North America and Europe to fish this river,” said Samycia, so a lot of operators have seen ‘drastic’ drops in the number of trips they’re doing.

Fernie Wilderness Adventures Guided Fly Fishing owner, Kim Sedrovic, says he’s suffered a lot due to the border being closed for so long.

“I’m 65 years-old and everything is gone,” said Sedrovic.

“My business is still afloat and everything, but it’s took just about everything away.”

Sedrovic said that the pandemic set his business back about 10 years.

“A little family run business, you know how long it takes to be financially secure like we were? Many many years,” he said.

“We’re going to come out even – probably, if we can get our winter.” Fernie Wildnerness Adventures runs cat skiing through the winter months.

Gonzalez said that the attraction of the Elk Valley is that it isn’t busy as many of the famed locations in the U.S. – like Montana, to the south.

“I believe that we have such a big American clientele because even though they’re in Montana, which is next door and has great fishing, it’s much more crowded,” said Gonzalez, who added that in his experience, clients are willing to travel to the Elk River to have a more ‘intimate’ experience.

Samycia says because Canadians couldn’t travel internationally, more domestic clients have approached him.

“We managed to pick up some more Canadians that don’t normally sign up for our trips, because obviously Canadians were trapped in Canada as well,” Samycia said, but added it hadn’t made up for the missed business.

Despite the planned opening of the Canada-U.S. border on August 9, all three business owners don’t expect to see a large increase in business on the horizon, but here’s to hoping.

“Definitely we’re all hoping that things pickup,” said Gonzalez.

Samycia said that planning fly fishing trips has been difficult for a lot of his clients travelling from afar and as a result, they’ve decided to defer their trips to 2022, meaning nothing is happening for the rest of 2021.

The fly fishing season usually goes from June 15 to October 15 – so from August 9, there’s only a little over two months left, or half of a regular season.

“Fly fishing, for people travelling long distance that are booking these trips, they generally plan well in advance,” said Samycia.

Sedrovic says it’s not just the border and the planning that is stopping people, but pandemic-related challenges of getting into Canada, so until those restrictions loosened, the story wasn’t changing.

He said that if American travellers had to go through the requirements of negative tests and quarantine, “they’re not coming.

“They’re going to come … when they’ve got their vaccination and they can just cross the border the way it used to be.”

Samycia says the clients who are right across the border are expected to return this year, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty due to COVID-19 requirements, river closures, and wildfires.

Samycia says his business is lucky because they have a retail shop.

“Locals have been super supportive of shopping local and trying to help out as much as they can,” said Samycia, who added he’s very thankful for the support.

As for what these businesses think about next season, it’s a mixed reaction.

Sedrovic has lost a half a million dollars of money he had in the bank just taking care of his staff and keeping his business afloat as well as a million dollars in gross revenue. “You don’t make up for what I’ve lost.”

He said that if his cat skiing business in the winter can pick up, his company will survive.

Others, like Gonzalez, are looking straight to next year.

“I’m really looking forward to 2022,” Gonzalez said.

READ MORE: Some Kootenay rivers closed to fishing due to heat, drought
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