A surge in the number of new sport-fishing anglers in B.C. is paying off for the South Cariboo’s Fishing Highway.
The Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC said resident angler licence sales have risen 14 percent in B.C. this year over 2019 while sales to 16 to 24-year-old anglers have surged 55 percent as people seek options to get outside during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Irene Meili, Chair of the Fishing Highway 24 Tourist Association said she has seen a huge jump in the number of people trying out sport fishing in the Interlakes this summer – many of them for the first time.
“I was a little surprised,” said Meili, owner of Fawn Lake Resort. “I thought many people were too apprehensive about COVID and they didn’t want to risk going so far but they did. We’ve seen a lot of families during the summer who are spending time in the Cariboo for the first time ever. They would bring their kids to the resort and rent rods and boats and even asked us if we could teach them how to fish.”
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As a result of the growing interest in the sport, the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC has invested in key infrastructure to support the anglers and the economies they support, particularly in the Interlakes area. Fishing docks were recently installed at Phinetta and Hathaway lakes along Highway 24, which has been dubbed ‘The Fishing Highway.’ A third dock will be installed at Irish Lake later this month and improvements are also being made to the boat launch on the northwest end of Horse Lake.
The improvements are part of a three-year collaborative recreational tourism initiative. The Fishing Highway Access Improvement projects are funded through a grant administered by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.
“Improving infrastructure is fundamental to building fishing tourism in rural communities and dispersing angler effort around the province,” said Matt Jennings, Executive Director of the BC Fishing Tourism Association. “More and more, visitors will be attracted to the area when they know they can enjoy fishing in a variety of locations and that experience is supported by clearly marked signage and amenities.”
Meili maintains the renewed interest has resulted in one of the summers in terms of tourism in the Interlakes area. While many of her guests wanted to learn how to fish, she said, which takes “a lot of knowledge,” others were looking for new things to do outdoors. Many visitors cited 99 Mile’s bike trails, the new beach in 100 Mile and the 108 Heritage site and trails as great amenities, but “there’s nothing like that on Highway 24.”
“Honestly, I think it was a good year for tourism in our region,” she said. “We also listened to what people were saying about the area and what we’re missing. There are issues along Highway 24 we have to tackle. We have to get into trail building for people who don’t just like to fish or sit around a campfire.”
The association will meet next month after the season ends to discuss plans for the winter as well as what they can do next year to bring more tourism to the region.
“I hope they are hooked. I really appreciate their support,” Meili added. “It’s about sticking in B.C. and shopping local. We have to find what we have to do to better meet their needs.”