The catch-and-release steelhead season opens Thursday at Spences Bridge and the community is already seeing an impact from Tuesday’s news.
Steven Rice, Thompson-Nicola Regional District director for the area, said he has rehired the five of his nine staff he gave layoff notices to last week.
“It means a heck of a lot for Spences Bridge,” he said Tuesday night.
“It’s truly amazing what happens here.”
By this weekend, there will be dozens of people out on the river to catch and release the feisty fish. Many of the anglers are repeat customers.
“We usually have 20 to 30 people from Japan fly over. We know all these Japanese fishermen, they bring gifts,” said rice.
“It really is a big family. When it’s not open, we miss our steelhead fishing family.”
A fruit and vegetable farmer who runs The Packing House coffee shop, Rice is also involved with the Spences Bridge Steelhead Advocacy Association.
He said he was disappointed that as regional director, he wasn’t notified about the fishery opening and. He found out when his brother called him. His own calls to ministry officials have not been returned.
“You can’t do government this way. It’s not transparent. It makes us all look silly. It’s been an upsetting process for me that I cannot get any answers.”
At the Inn at Spences Bridge, owner Ray Nigalis had already seen his 12-room hotel go from three construction workers as guests to Thursday night’s bookings two-thirds full.
He expected he’d be fully booked by Wednesday.
“The phones just been ringing like crazy,” he said.
He gets the anglers who can respond to the snap opening of the steelhead fishery. They come from Washington state, the Lower Mainland, Calgary.
“A lot of them are hardcore fishermen.”
What he doesn’t get, since 2004 when the fishery’s opening became uncertain until fall, is the people with lots of money who come to fish for one or two weeks. They make plans in April, so if the river is closed then, they go elsewhere, he said.
The ones who do come are willing to stand in the cold river for hours, on slippery rocks with a two-handed rod to catch a 25-pound fish that might drag them into the water, he said.
“These particular steelhead are supposed to be the largest, strongest, fiercest of all the steelhead,” he said.
“Most of the fishermen here treat these fish with so much respect. When they catch one, it never comes out of the water. They take the picture with the fisherman with the fish in the water.”
The fall boost in tourism is a boon for all the businesses in Spences Bridge that serve visitors, he said.
“For us, it’s the big fall boost. It changes the nature of the business. It’s a very short season. It’s difficult to make enough money to carry you through the year in a five-month season,” said Nigalis.
“Once the first real cold snap hits, we’re going to lose half to three-quarters of the people who come.”
Rice said he’d like to see the government put some money into the steelhead fishery so that the uncertainty around it disappears.
Despite his passion for the fish and the impact it has on his community, he’s never actually caught one.
“I love to fish, but I’m a fruit and vegetable farmer. My summers are shot and my winters are taken with taking care of the farm and the coffee shop.
“It’s on my bucket list.”