TROUT COUNTRY’S “LEGENDS SERIES” IS A BLOG SERIES ON PROMINENT PEOPLE IN THE FLY FISHING COMMUNITY AROUND THE WORLD. WE WANT TO CELEBRATE THE SUPERSTARS IN THE INDUSTRY AND HELP CONNECT THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY OF FLY FISHING ENTHUSIASTS.
THIS WEEK WE CAUGHT UP WITH NOEL FOX, FOUNDER OF WHISTLER, BC-BASED FLY FISHING GEAR COMPANY HOOK AND VICE.
Meet Noel Fox, lifelong angler and the purveyor of some of the finest fishing gear anywhere. Noel grew up with a fishing rod in hand, which has led him to discover some of the most beautiful places in the world. His mission: “Work less, fly fish more, live the adventure, explore, respect, pack it in pack it out, tie your own flies, barbless hooks, keep secret fishing spots a secret, be a great storyteller, live the dream, vice for life.”
We got Noel to give us some insight into his fishy life.
How did you get into fishing? Does the passion run in the family?
From as early as I can remember I have always been an avid fisherman. My earliest memories of fishing were when I was 3 years old fishing for bass with my uncles in Beaver Lake just outside of Victoria on Vancouver Island where I was born. On more than a few occasions I remember having a small write up in the Times Colonist for having caught a nice one. Times were simpler back then and things like a kid catching nice fish, or a 29 hand in cribbage usually meant you were featured in the local rag.
Every summer since 1969 we have had the Fyfe Family Fishing Derby (my mom is a Fyfe, and my dad was a Fox). Every summer a different family hosts the derby at a location of their choice somewhere in BC and to this day it’s a highlight of my summer. There is a trophy for the biggest fish, a kids trophy, a cribbage trophy, a kids fishing pond, and lots of prizes for everyone. Each year there are between 30 and 40 relatives with lots of great food, playing sports, fishing and quality family time. We have a very tight family and it’s in big part thanks to everyone getting together every summer for the derby. This year is our 50th anniversary so we have designed up some special Hook And Vice tees and caps for everyone.
When I turned 3 my father passed away in a motorbike accident so my mom decided to become a hippy. We lived off the grid mostly, with no running water or electricity in places like Sombrio Beach, Coombs, the Slocan Valley and a bunch of other lesser known places. With my dad gone, my Uncle Dave, Uncle Bruce and Uncle Gordie Fyfe became my mentors. They grew up with a rod in one hand and a rifle in thee other and taught me how to catch and clean fish, field dress a deer, how to shoot a grouse without filling it full of buckshot, how to not get lost when hours into the bush, and a bunch of other valuable life lessons.
In Grade 5 our family moved to the Slocan Valley in the Kootenays. We had a big piece of land right on the Slocan River which meant I got to fish and hunt pretty much every day. It’s here that I started to focus more on fly fishing, not because I liked it better, but because I found that I was able to catch trout easier on the fly. My favourite fly as a boy was a Royal Coachman, but we lived an hour from the nearest store that sold flies and my mom wasn’t a big fan of buying fishing tackle because I lost a lot and it was expensive. So my good friend Christian and I started tying our own flies. We didn’t have YouTube, or even books on how to do it, but we did our best. We collected feathers from chickens and birds, clipped fur from deer hides, and tied them all together using our mom’s sewing materials. We hand-held the fly with no vise so it was both slow and not very pretty, but they did catch fish. This is when I realized that catching a fish on a fly that I tied myself was that much better than catching one on a store-bought fly.
“As a boy I thought that it was normal to go fishing and to catch 20 steelhead in a morning…”
My holidays were often at my grandmother’s house, and spending all my time with my uncles hunting and fishing. Eventually two of my uncles became steelhead and saltwater fishing guides. As a boy I thought that it was normal to go fishing and to catch 20 steelhead in a morning, and to limit out every time we went salmon fishing, even if we were in a canoe. It was only when I got a little older that I realized that the amount of fish we always caught was in a big part due to the skills that they had developed growing up fishing for food for the family. When it’s a matter of going hungry or not, you step up your game to a whole new level.
When I was going into grade 10 we moved to the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. This was awesome for me because two of my uncles were guides out of Campbell River and Gold River, and my other uncle lived by the Puntledge River in Courtney. Being closer to my fishing obsessed uncles meant that I got to fish all the time. I eventually moved to Vancouver to study at Emily Carr College of Art and Design which meant a little less fishing, but lots of creative learning. It’s these skills that I use when designing the graphics for Hook And Vice. I eventually started fishing the rivers in the lower mainland and then when I moved to Whistler, which is where I live now which is awesome because I get out all year around.
What does your ultimate fishing date look like?
My ultimate fishing date looks like this. My wife Josi, our dog Costa, and I pack our bags and hike up to a remote alpine lake for 3 days. Sight-fishing for big rainbows on dry flies, eating great homemade dehydrated meals, and using our cell phones only for their cameras because we have no cell reception. Being out of cell range is the best!
What is your go-to song you repeat in your head while waiting for a fish to bite?
We just got back from LA fly fishing with Chuck Ragan and then going to his concert on the weekend. His band Hot Water Music is a little more punk rock than I usually listen to for fishing, but his solo work is the perfect mix of gritty vocals and acoustic rhythm. And a lot of the time the music I’m listening to is the beat of the river, the singing birds, the wind in the trees, a big fish surfacing, and the call of the wild.
Do you fish all year round? If not, what do you do in the off-season?
Fishing all year round is key for me. I like to live where there’s always a river flowing so we can chuck a few flies. And when it gets super cold I’m a huge fan of traveling south. Argentina, Costa Rica, New Zealand are a few that spots that I have really enjoyed fly fishing.
We know conservation is a huge part of this sport… what has been your favourite conservation project you were a part of?
I have seen firsthand how messy fish farms are ,so we have partnered with Watershed Watch, who doing a lot here in BC to protect wild salmon and ban open net fish farms. 100% of the profits from this shirt goes to them which is really great.
We also sponsor the Carihi Jr. Fly Fishing team, who just competed in the Canadian National Jr. Fly Fishing Championships. Values and ethics is so important for us, both personally and in our Hook And Vice brand, so being able to support these kids in fly fishing is amazing. The competition was in April and it was so great that half of their team qualified and are now on the Canadian Youth National Fly Fishing Team.
We are also a big fan of leading by example and we attract people into our Hook And Vice community to share our mission, which is “Work less, fly fish more, live the adventure, explore, respect, pack it in pack it out, tie your own flies, barbless hooks, keep secret fishing spots a secret, be a great storyteller, live the dream, vice for life.”
We all know how steelhead crazy everyone is but… what is your favourite species to fish for on the saltwater or maybe on a river in another country?
Anything on a dry fly is my most favourite. Fishing the salt in tropical places is also awesome because you never know what you might catch.
“I’m always stoked to catch and release a beautiful fish, and for me the real joy is just being out in nature with a few good friends.”
What is your favourite part about fishing?
Using backroad maps to discover new water, cooking food over an open fire, seeing bears and elk, tying flies in the wild trying to match what you think the fish are eating, getting to see my good friends and working together toward a common goal, seeing the excitement on our dog Costa’s face, watching my wife Josi always catch a bigger fish than me being out of cell range… the list goes on and on.
What do you do when you aren’t fishing… dreaming about fishing?
When I’m not fly fishing I’m usually tying flies, surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding, playing sports or designing our next season of products for Hook & Vice!
Where is your favourite place you’ve ever fished?
Right here in BC… it’s the best of the best! The crazy number of super-fishy bodies of water you can find with no pressure whatsoever is unbeatable. It’s common that the bears will outnumber us 10 to 1, and that’s just how I like it.
What’s your bucket list fishing destination?
There are a few super remote spots in BC that are on the list. Outside of BC we have plans to go to Chile. Also Kamchatka and Jurassic Lake.
Do you tie your own flies? What’s your favourite?
I started tying my own flies as a boy and my uncle Bruce Fyfe got me into seriously tying my own flies about 18 years ago. Most of the patterns I tie are modifications of ones that have been passed onto my from oldtimers, ones that you can’t find in a store. I have a pink salmon fly called a Muppet Warrior that I invented about 15 years ago that they just can’t resist. I also love a scruffy version of a Adam’s dry fly that is killer for coastal lakes in BC. One of my favourite salmon flies is a variation of a California Neil. I use different colours for different salmon and I find them to all be super fishy. Lots of others as well, but those are a few.
What’s your favourite fishing story your friends are sick of hearing about?
People seem to be sick of me saying, “When I was a kid (1985-ish), fishing with my uncles Dave and Bruce Fyfe on Vancouver Island, I consistently caught 20+ steelhead in a single morning”. Those days are long-gone, a classic “you should have been here yesterday” story. Nobody likes to hear “You should have been here yesterday!”