Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Good Takes- April Vokey



I first became aware of April Vokey two years ago.  I was researching my dream kayaking trip- paddling with the orcas on the British Columbia coast.  Since I have gotten more and more into steelhead fishing, I thought "Why not combine the two?".  We have lots of steelhead here in MI, but who wouldn't want to chase them in their native water? Aprils website was near the top of the Google results.


My first reaction was much the same as every red-blooded guy.  Who is THAT?  Because let's face it, April is quite beautiful.  I don't think I'm breaking any new ground by saying that; no one I know of has ever seen a picture of her and said "Wow, what a nice fish".  After my heart rate returned to normal I composed a friendly email including 15-20 questions about the fishing out there. Much to my surprise she got back to me, sent me her phone number and we talked BC steelhead for about an hour.  I've tried to stay in touch since then in case I'm able to make that trip happen- I'd like her to at least be aware of who I am.


I've made it no secret that I'm an admirer.  My interest in April isn't simply that she's beautiful- there's plenty of beautiful people in this world to admire, nor is it the woman-in-waders fetishism that seems to be so rampant among fly fishermen.  I have been fascinated by steelhead since childhood, and April fishes for big wild steelhead in their native waters. She pursues them via a method that likewise fascinates me- swinging flies with spey gear.  Add in that British Columbia scenery that has always fired my imagination, and you bet I want to fish with April Vokey.


April hasn't been without her detractors ( "She's not that hot", "The only reason she get's clients is because she's hot", "She really can't cast") but hating April for being beautiful is like hating LeBron for being tall.  No one would suggest he should quit basketball because he has an advantage.  Both are using the gifts they were born with.  You really don't want to see me on those magazine covers.  Give some credit where it's due- if Kelly Galloup looked like April Vokey, we would all still be fishing Zoo Cougars.  I think in her early days there was a tendency to dismiss her as "wanting attention" or worse- a cupcake in waders.  Let's face it- if Ape didn't know her crap, she would have washed out long ago.  All of us guys like getting our picture taken with a pretty girl, but when you've spent that much money to fish for BC steelhead your guide had better get you into fish no matter who it is.  There's plenty of better ways to make a living.  We talk about living the dream, but guiding is a hard life- you trade normalcy for that dream.  If April didn't love the fish, the fishing, and the life she wouldn't be doing it still.  April has withstood all of that, continues to grow her business, and her reach in the world of fly fishing seems to grow exponentially each year.  She writes for or sits on the editorial staff of more publications than I can mention here, and she has worked with and continues to be involved with many charities and conservation issues, all while operating her outfitting and guiding business Fly Gal Ventures (http://flygal.ca/).




who do you want to see on your magazine covers?  The choice is obvious....






I spent quite a bit of time with and around April at the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo.  She very generously spent most of an evening answering my questions, and at times I wondered who was interviewing who.  April is not just nice, she's hilariously funny (just try to photograph her- she's a real cut-up) and the life of the party, and not in a party girl kind of way either. I got to witness some of the behind the scenes sophomorish behavior of the guides and others at the hotel, and while I won't say April is one of the guys, she is definitely one of the guides.  She made me play poker.  While our conversation was long and rambling, I did make her answer my prepared questions.



FR:  April- you overhauled the Fly Gal website last year.  It seems you’ve taken a lot of focus off of yourself.  Was this the result of your business maturing, or a personal shift in focus?


AV:  It’s both actually.  It is a result of my business maturing, because I am maturing as a woman, and ultimately I was/am my business.  I only put the focus on myself initially to market myself so I could have a business.  Now it’s been done, and now I can step it on back.  That was my mission from the get-go.  Not because I need people to look at me on the internet and say “Oh, what a pretty smile”, I don’t need that.  I need people to go “I know that face, I trust that she catches fish, maybe we should book with her.”  Granted, okay, maybe I was a little bit off-color when I first did this and I was 22 and didn’t need to have blond hair and fake nails, but that’s who I was.  I was the best woman I could be back then, so I have no regrets.

FR:  You were kind of young back then.

AV: 23 is young.  Those photos are like 19 and 20.. You were expecting to meet me and I was going to look really young and…..

FR:  Today?

AV:  Yeah.

FR: No.  There was a couple (of pictures) I thought (laughing) “Okay, she shouldn’t be on there.

AV:  Yeah- out of control.  A lot of people see those photos and think that’s me today.  I’ve read people on the internet who are like “What can she know, 21 years old, there’s no way..” and I’m thinking “Dude, I’m 29”…There’s a big difference between 21 and 29.

AV:  Excuse me.  Uh, yeah, that is what you think it is.

FR:  What is that- cookies?

AV:   YEAH

FR:  Dang, I’m having cookies with April Vokey.

AV: It’s awesome.  Now I’m going to get into that salsa.

FR:  That salsa is going to melt your face.  Okay? Just so you know.

(authors note: I brought gifts for all my interviewees from American Spoon Foods, a local gourmet food manufacturer specializing in local and Michigan products.  April chose the Peach Cherry Salsa.)

FR:  It seems you have gone very quickly from being a hard driven up-and-comer to being an icon in the world of fly fishing.  Was that your goal, or was that a by-product of survival?

AV:  Has that happened?

FR:  You’re an icon, yes.

AV:   No, not yet. 

FR: No, you are.

AV:  I...

FR: No- I’m on this end of the magazine.

AV:  I still feel like an up-and-comer.  I am still- in my head.  Today was a shock to me.  I didn’t expect anyone to know who I was.  Not to that degree.  You have to understand that I don’t watch TV with myself in it, I try very hard not to Google myself, though it’s very hard not to.  People do send me links and I do read them.  My friends know that I don’t like talking about it so we don’t talk about it.  So, I’m just a girl that fishes, and I’m so busy that I just don’t notice.  I don’t believe that I deserve to be an icon figure.  In fact I will tell you that I don’t deserve to be an icon figure, not yet. 

(At this point she tries the salsa, and yes, her face melts.)

AV:  that’s not right.  I’m going to dip everything I have in here.  I’m going to eat the entire jar.

AV:  Was that my plan, to be an icon?  I don’t even know what icon means.  What the hell is an icon? 

FR:  Well, in the fly fishing world…

AV: yeah, but what is an icon in fly fishing…

FR:  Well, I think Kelly Galloup, I think Joan Wulff, I think John Gierach, I think Yvon Chouinard.

AV:  No, my goal was never to be an icon for being the best caster.

FR:   No, no, nope, I did not ask about casting or fly tying…

AV:  I want to be an icon on a do-good level.  I wanted to be able to show people that if you have a voice- do you want to know what my goal was? Can I be honest with you?

FR:  Yeah, you can be totally honest with me.

AV:  I’m so sick and tired of people telling me constantly how great they are.

FR:  (laughing) That’s why I’ve fished alone all these years.

April giving a lesson to a young fan
AV:  I’m tired of it.  I wanted to be that person that just was real.  Because I am real.  I just wanted to always be the same and just be me.  I’m not perfect at anything, but I stand behind what I believe, and what I believe in is a lot of conservation issues.  And I always promised myself way back in the day that if I ever became quote “famous”, for anything, granted I thought it would be in music, not fishing, that I would do just that.  This (fishing) is my hobby.

FR:  Music?

AV:  Yeah, I was way more into music. I thought that I would use that voice for (garbled).  When I was really young I wanted to make a lot of money.  The fame I could do without, but I wanted a lot of money, because I wanted to buy up a whole bunch of land in Africa.  And I wanted to be the next Diane Fossey.  She was my idol. 

FR:  Diane Fossey?

AV:  Absolutely!  Diane Fossey was my idol, I mean I would have done anything to be a Diane Fossey.  That’s what I wanted to be my whole life you know, twelve years old, that’s what I wanted to be.  And then it just so happened that a series of events put me to where I’m at now.  I never wanted to be that girl that everyone recognized because of her photos.  In fact it hurts a bit when people say “Oh, you’re world famous for your photos on the internet.” But I did that to myself you know.

these girls traveled three hours to meet April
AV:  Was it a plan? No.  Did I want to make a living doing what I love?  Yes.  And did I need people to know who I was?   Yes.

FR:  You’ve traveled all over the world from your home in BC to Iceland, the Seychelle’s, the Bahama’s, Belize, and all over the US- what destinations do you still dream of?

AV:  BC.  I need mountains to live.  If I don’t have mountains I’m not myself.  If I don’t have rapids and grizzly bears, that kind of grosses me out. 

FR:  What grosses you out?

AV:  It doesn’t really gross me out, but when I don’t have mountains and grizzly bears…. I need BC, it keeps me alive.  It’s the epitome of life.  Look around you.  Human beings are not made to be sitting in buildings from 9 to 5, with fluorescent lighting. 

FR:  That’s why I go fishing every night after work.

AV:  Yeah.  We're made to survive.  This is why I’m so fortunate.  Everybody is trying to be happy in life.  Think about it. What makes you happy?  I know what makes me happy.  Excitement.  There are a lot of things that makes me happy, but one of them is excitement.  And what excites me?  Survival.  I looove surviving.  I love surviving!  And I have to kind of play make-believe really when it comes down to it because, unfortunately every time I turn around there’s a car going by, and another building I have to look at.  So the only way for me to be able to live my life the way that human beings were supposed to be living, is to take myself to the river and get lost in it, do what I’m supposed to be doing.  This isn’t natural.

FR:  Do you have any fish still on your wish list?

AV:  A permit.  Oh my god, they’re making me go crazy!  Or go broke.

FR:  (laughing loudly) You haven’t gotten a permit yet?  I thought you had.

AV:  Two eats.  I’ve gone everywhere for them, I’ve – oh my God, I cannot get one to hook up.  Permit.  Permit is on the list.  Until I get a permit I’m not even going to (garbled)  I won’t even entertain another fish.   It wasn’t that recently that I had a trip that messed me up- the Seychelle’s.  I did it for the permit. For me, that was it. 

FR:  There’s permit in the Seychelle’s?

AV:  Oh my god, I must have had a hundred shots.

FR:  I did not know that.  I knew that there was bonefish and other things

AV:  I could not get one to hook up.

FR:  It’s like that one fish that eludes you huh?

AV:  I’ve fished for permit before, but always with a guide.  I love guides; I am a guide.  But, I need to have my own space.  That’s why I fish, is to be alone.  So I'm in the Seychelle's annd I’m with my buddy James and I’m fishing with (him) and he’s big- 6’4”.  We’re on the coral, and he’s too loud.  I’m 5’5” with little size seven feet, so it was like alright, just do it, you’re on your own.  There were these three huuge permit, and Seychelle’s permit are huge, over twenty pounds.  When we see these big, huge fork tails and he leaves me and I go away for the next half hour and it’s just me and these three huge fork-tails and- this is going to sound really sappy, but just bear with me here.  The sun was coming down and it was literally like gold was just lighting up, it was like arrows of gold pointing…

FR:  “HERE IS YOUR FISH..”

AV:  They’re the love of my life.  They were circling me, feeding around me, and it was truly like waltzing.  I say that because I was so concentrated on the positioning of my feet, because of the coral, I felt like I was dancing with them, and literally playing an instrument, because every time I would dance and waltz with my feet, I would play my instrument with my hands, casting to them.  It was truly like playing the violin and dancing with these fish.  It messed me up for half an hour waltzing with them.

FR:  It would.

AV:  And I, I fell in love, I totally completely fell in love with these things.  And that was it.  James was… at one point we were casting at these fish, and there was a 90 lb. GT(Grand Trevally).  It was seriously close to a world record GT that came right in front of us.  He almost fell over.  I couldn’t even, I didn’t care.  I didn’t care.  I didn’t even take my eyes off of the forktails.  And that’s how he knew we needed to go for permit.  We spent all week fishing for permit. 

FR:  I read a recent quote by Yvon Chouinard in which he referred to the dying fly fishing industry.  Is the industry dying or is the sport dying?

AV:  That’s a really good question.  Good question.  I don’t know. 

FR:  I mean, he has a company, and so he has stats that he can track. I mean, he’s looking at his wader sales and saying “Why am I still doing this?”.  I mean, to say that out loud- right?

AV:  Yep.

FR:  So is he talking about his own business, or is he talking about the sport?

AV:  It’s hard because I don’t know what it was like once.  I think that it’s just changing.  What does that mean?  Break that down.  You mean less sales?  Less people fishing?

FR:  I don’t know, I’m just… it’s his quote. 

AV:  I hear that from a lot of people.  I’d have to know what it was like back then.  I only know what it’s like now.  I think that it has definitely changed.  A lot of people are trying so hard to break the mold, that statistically it has to look different on paper, so naturally it’s going to look different. 

FR:  Are we relying on a business metric instead of what’s actually happening out there?

AV:  I think so actually. 

FR:  We’re going by wader sales rather than what’s going on out there?

AV:  I do believe that, yeah.  I believe that we’re not taking into consideration that now it’s grunge and cool to patch your waders and have glue all over you.  It’s different now, it’s not as....

FR:  “I’m a working class fly fisherman”

AV: Yes!  Exactly, it’s become affordable, and it is working class, which is what it always should have been. 

FR:  That’s actually kind of the point of my site.

April ties it up at the Expo
AV:  Good.  But that’s a good thing.  Maybe it’s not so bad.   I think that, to sum up your question properly, I will tell you that the outdoor industry as a whole is going to be running into problems, because of the internet, because of TV shows, and because of people not wanting to leave the house.   I take it seriously when I run into people, even in my own age group and I say “what’s your hobby?”  They don’t have one.  “Well, how can you not have a hobby?”  I don’t understand.  When I was a little girl we all played outside.  I don’t see kids playing outside like they used to.  The world is changing,  I think that we’re giving the fly fishing world too much credit and not looking at the rest of the world. Everything has changed...

FR:  You make a good point there.  So are women the future of fly fishing?

AV:  No.  Are they…

FR:  Is that a false hope by the industry?  That they’ll find that demographic that’s gonna ….

AV:  It’s not women.  It is and it isn’t.  They’re not the future.  Are they in the future? Yes.  To imply that they were the future, means that men are not going to be in the future.  Are they going to be equal in this sport, so that it’s almost matched one to one?  I’m going to predict that yes, in the next twenty years this is going to be, for every man that you see, or for every two men that you see fishing, there is going to be one woman.  I’m going to say that with confidence actually. 

FR:  Yeah.  Do you acknowledge the fact that I have not asked you one question about your sex appeal?

AV:  I’m thankful for it- thank you.

FR:  So what’s next- are you in a happy place, or do you still have more of this world to conquer?

AV:  I’m in a very happy place.  If I died tomorrow I’d be happy.  Do I have more of this world to see and experience?  Hell yeah.  I’m going down fighting. 

FR:  The Pacific Northwest including your beloved BC is faced with a barrage of challenges from farmed salmon, energy development in in your beloved headwaters, the Pebble mine, and a proposed oil pipeline from the tar sands to the coast- what keeps you awake at night?

AV:   Right now my big battle is the big Shell battle. 

FR:  And that’s the headwaters issue? 

AV:   Yes, the Sacred Headwaters.  The Enbridge issue- I don’t like to conquer too many issues at once. 

FR:   Is Enbridge the one that wants to build the pipeline across..

AV:   Yes.  After we get through with the sacred headwaters, that will be the top of my list.  I just simply can't challenge too many issues at one time. If I cannot be the best that I am, that I can be… I’d rather give it all I’ve got. 

FR:  Dilution of force..

AV:  Absolutely.  So we’ll work on one, and after we get through that one we’ll find out soon, probably within this year, and then we’ll move on to Enbridge.

FR:  Do you kind of wish that they would have built the pipeline through Nebraska so you wouldn’t face this issue?

AV:  I guess that’s technically not my backyard.  But it’s painful to watch either way.

FR:  Enbridge is the same people that, you know, their pipeline broke on the Kalamazoo river last year and spilled a ton of oil.

AV:  I don’t know a whole lot of what happens there..

FR:  Yeah, it’s too far away.

AV:  I know that by us with that Skeena issue (regulation change) now where Americans cannot fish on weekends, all of a sudden we’re starting to lose the support of the Americans with these issues and we need them right now.  And that’s hard for me to watch.  It’s painful to watch all of us slowly fall apart because of politics. It just makes me want to go fish more. 

FR:  Yeah, I’m the same way.  We’re in an election year, it’s painful.

 I want to thank April for spending some time and granting such a great interview.  I hope you enjoyed it.  You can keep up with April at her website which includes her blog at
http://flygal.ca/


Make sure you visit her Flies for Fins Website through which she raises funds for conservation efforts.  Shop for flies and gear, or make a donation and help April preserve our rivers. Check it out at
http://www.flies4fins.com/


29 comments:

  1. Spectacular interview. It's hard to swallow that someone that accomplished is my age, but inspiring at the same time.

    It's good to see yet another person from the beginning of "Gen Y" living life outdoors.

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    1. Thanks OBIF. All I can say is that she is a driven woman and certainly an inspiration to me.

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  2. Awesome interview brother! I count myself lucky to have been able to hang out with April a handful of times, and everytime she makes me feel as though we have been friends forever. She has an amazing talent for teaching, and an unrivalled passion for the sport and issues surrounding it. It was really cool to see her working with kids for much of that weekend, and to take the time with each of them despite the daunting schedule thrown at her. Looking forward to catching up with her next time she comes through and, like many, will continue to dream about swinging up some chrome with her on the Dean. Some day...

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    1. I'm trying to figure out how to finagle a day on the water with her. She had a pretty ridiculous schedule at the show, and I couldn't believe she spent a whole evening with me. Make sure you let me know when you're coming up to fish.

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  3. Great interview, Jason and April! She's doing so much good for conservation, and in every interview I read/hear with her, her common sense strikes me. Hope to meet her someday. And I have actually looked at a photo of April and thought, "nice fish!" ;)

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    1. You always are the exception to the rule Erin. I was happy to give April one more outlet to talk about those issues. Thanks Erin, it means a lot.

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  4. Great interview... one of the best April interviews I've seen or heard. Good work Jason.

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    1. Thank you very much Ethan. I wanted to be sure we talked about the nitty gritty of the business and the sport.

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  5. I hope she and other win that fight against Enbridge, here is the link to wikipedia that outlines what happened here in Michigan.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enbridge_oil_spill

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    1. Thank your for the link- I'll take a look when I get the chance. My heart sank when I first heard about that spill.

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    1. Thank you Tom, and thanks for reading it.

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  7. Nice write up. I think it's unfortunate that what makes April stand out is her looks instead of her fly fishing ability and knowledge. I'm sure sometimes she uses her looks to her advantage but it dosn't seem like that's all that she's about. I listened to a podcast interview with her and she seemed very down to earth. I never knew about her car accident.

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    1. Being good looking can be a two-edged sword. I wanted the interview to be exactly about her fishing. I chose to address the subject of her looks in my intro as a means of defusing that issue so we could move on in the interview and talk substance.

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    2. Unfortunately in our society it's the sex appeal that draws our interest, especially us men. April has been blessed enough to be good looking, but not in a barbie doll way at all. It is to her advantage that her looks get her recognized and she can accomplish her goals with her talents and ambitions. I really enjoyed this interview because it shows the brains behind the beauty. Although I have never had the privilege of meeting her I have heard many good things from people who have. She seems very down to earth :)

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  8. Good stuff man ! Liked the questions and the home feeling photos..That's how we think of April, a true to life down to earth fly fishing fanatic who will genuinely engage in conversation and loves our life style !

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    1. April is the real deal. We all just wish we could fish like her. Thanks for commenting.

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  9. I only know April from what I saw at the Expo, but from what I saw she is a force. I tried to watch her tie flies but she was distractingly saucey. I felt differently after another one of her talks. She showed video of her wading and casting for steelhead with a speyrod and I was impressed. She was pushing through current, setting herself, casting and landing fish like Lee Wulff.

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  10. The interview turned out great! Glad that you had the opportunity to meet and chat for awhile. April is definitely one that knows her steelies!! Hope you can get out to BC someday and join up with her on the Dean or wherever! That would be an amazing experience.

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    1. In the meantime I'll keep chasing them here. Not as big or dramatic, but just as fun.

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  11. Good job my friend and I liked the photos as well.

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  12. Wow, what a great interview! Thanks for sharing. I was able to put one of my daughters on her 1st rainbow on the fly last weekend and while I watched her fish, I wondered if she would one day be another Fly Gal some day. April sets a great example for young ladies like my daughter. While I realize that is not her goal, she is still doing a great job. I too hope to hit the Dean with her in the future, but I have a whole bunch of work to do with my spey casting before I could even suppose I could swing up a wild steelhead with her.

    Good stuff. Keep up the good work.

    Patrick

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    1. Thank you. Train up that daughter and you'll always have a fishing companion.

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  13. Jim from Grand RapidsApril 8, 2012 at 5:12 AM

    Great interview and even better pics! Especially the ones with April and my daughters! April has been in constant contact with my oldest daughter (who is 9) since November and continues to be encouraging to my girl's drive to learn fly fishing. From my emails and personally meeting April, I have come to understand that she is what everyone means when they say that someone is "real". She's an open book and probably the most easygoing person I've ever met. She truly inspires my daughter and even my youngest (who is 3) has started asking when April is going to visit us again! Come back soon, April...and keep doing what your doing!

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    1. Hey- it was nice to meet you there, and I'm glad your daughters enjoyed their lesson. Good for you for getting them into fishing.

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  14. I'm nowhere near the fisherman as the others commenting on your interview, have never heard of April before the expo, but found her demonstrations very informative. Thank you so much for doing this interview so I could discover so much more about this amazing young lady.

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    1. It was my pleasure Fred. Some of this I've never heard before, such as about Diane Fossey being her hero, so I felt like we learned some new things about her.

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