For Brenna Baker of Cranbrook, British Columbia, fishing is a way of life.
“I fish every chance I get. Fly fishing is my yoga. It’s the only thing I can do to turn off my brain. I’ve tried yoga and am not very good at it,” says Brenna.
Her favourite activity is fishing in local rivers.
“My passion is river fishing. The Bull River is one of my favourites, and I like the smaller streams like the Skookumchuk and the Lussier. I could fish any of the rivers every single day, all day long, if I didn’t have to work a real job.”
Brenna is a small-town person to the core.
“I’ve been in Cranbrook for thirty years. I moved here when I was twenty-four. I grew up in Alberta but left there when I was 18 to go to BC, and I’ve never gone back.”
Growing up in Cluny, AB, Brenna’s dad owned the general store, and her mom was a teacher and stay-at-home mom before passing away, sadly, when Brenna was sixteen.
“It’s a small rural farming community,” says Brenna. “We were right on the Bow River. My mom and dad both loved fishing. That’s what we did as a family all the time.”
She moved to Cranbrook for her former husband’s job. Now she is hooked on Cranbrook (pun intended).
“I’ll never leave because we have the best rivers in the world. I’ve fished all over the world, and I love coming home. I feel so blessed to be here. I can go to a different place every weekend that I’ve never fished. Wow, we’re lucky.”
Brenna is the Executive Director of the East Kootenay Foundation for Health.
“It’s a really big day job. It’s an awesome job but not as awesome as fishing.”
Before starting her non-profit career, Brenna was a travel agent for sixteen years.
“I was lucky enough to travel. I try to fish every time I get away.”
Brenna’s final of her four children just left home, but her nest isn’t quite empty.
“My ninety-five-year-old dad is my new roomie. I’m an almost empty nester. He’s awesome. He doesn’t get out too much anymore but still loves fishing.”
Fishing was a significant part of her life when she raised her kids.
“We fished a ton. My youngest is an excellent fly-fisher and loves it. It took me four kids to have one with the same passion as I do. The other ones say, ‘you made us fish too much,’” Brenna says.
Fishing on the Fly
Brenna says she was not always a confident fly fisher.
“I found it hard to learn how to fly fish. I went lots, but I didn’t have my casting down. I was mostly not catching fish.”
A few years before Covid, Brenna hired a guide for a day and improved her casting. Soon, she was invited to join the local fly fishing club.
“I felt quite intimidated because it was all men, but I met some good people, and I decided I needed to teach women the basics of fly fishing so they could get out on the water and appreciate it like I do.”
Brenna invited eight women friends to join her for a trial fly fishing class, making it fun with drinks and appetizers after. Ended up teaching fifty women that year.
Fast forward to this summer, Brenna’s success has only grown.
“It took off like wildfire. I put through over eighty people this year,” says Brenna.
Her home backs onto a greenbelt, a designated city green space with no development potential, so she runs the first few lessons from her backyard.
“I teach basic stuff like how to put your gear together, tie a fly on, different types of flies, and casting. The third class is on the river, practicing casting and reeling.”
Running a business, like fishing, is in her blood.
“It’s my side business. I love teaching. If I could make a living, I’d love to do that full-time. I want to do more, and I’ve had many requests from other communities too. I need a life coach,” she laughs. “It’s been awesome; I love it.”
Brenna couldn’t be happier with the response.
“The response has been amazing. I hear stories from my students when they catch their first fish and it turns into an addiction. I feel so happy because people always say, ‘Oh, I learned so much.’ We laugh lots. You need to enjoy it; it’s not a stressful thing.”
In the last several years, Brenna has noticed declines in her area’s fish populations.
“It’s upsetting when you’re not catching a lot of fish. And you wonder, is it you or the fishery?”
She says she doesn’t fish at one of the area’s prime fishing destinations because the fishing is bad.
“At Premier Lake, there’s hardly any fish anymore. It’s sad. Whereas before, you could catch so many. I used to fish in that lake a lot.”
She knows many other anglers who share her concern for the fish.
“It’s sad to hear from other people who have fished those lakes for a long time that they’ve gone from top fishing down to very minimal fishing. I don’t know if it’s nature or humans messing with nature.”
As President of Cranbrook’s Rocky Mountain Fly Fishing Club, Brenna stays informed about river and lake health. This year she attended a club meeting where guest speakers from a local trout hatchery and the government addressed concerns about low fish populations.
“There are some fish at Premier Lake, but it’s definitely not as good, and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources doesn’t know why,” says Brenna.
Brenna tries to understand the complex issue and worries that the government isn’t doing enough to protect fish habitats.
“I like to hear other people’s opinions on what’s going on with the fish populations, not just the ministry, because sometimes I don’t think they made great decisions in the past, and I don’t know if it’s getting better.”
One thing Brenna is sure about is that she noticed a fish fallout since the 2021 record-breaking heat dome.
“There’s been slower fishing since the heat dome, not as many fish, from my experience. I haven’t caught as many as I had in the previous year,” says Brenna. “The rivers were closed at certain hours because of the heat. You couldn’t fish during the peak heat times because it’s too hard on the fish for catch and release.”
To add insult to injury, this past summer’s drought in BC led to the death of thousands of salmon, as BC experienced little rainfall this summer and well into the fall. Several regions reached Drought Level 4 on the province’s five-level scale.
Brenna didn’t come across any dead fish, but she heard reports from her fishing friends that dead kokanee appeared on Kootenay Lake, a lake she loves.
“Temperature affects fishing, for sure. But it’s not just drought; it’s flooding and dams going in. Fishing is not like it used to be, that’s for sure,” says Brenna.
Fishing Together Forever
While the situation with fish in her area worries her, Brenna hopes that people will come together to change the problem before it’s too lake (again, pun intended). She has recently been in conversation with a fishing friend about starting a women’s outdoor club that could get involved in protecting the places they fish and play.
She is part of an extensive network of people who love and want to protect the outdoors. From Rocky Mountain Fly Fishing Club members to another group she’s a member of, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, her network is engaged in advocating for the protection of wild spaces, lakes and rivers.
“I know people would come together to take action to preserve our fisheries, definitely,” says Brenna. “The people who take my course would be interested in getting involved because we want to keep our fisheries healthy.”
Brenna says if she understood more about how to make her fishing community resilient to climate change, she would be on board.
“With climate change, if we were educated on it and there was something we could do to help advocate, for sure.”
Brenna believes her friends and neighbours truly care about what she cares about most.
“People that use the outdoors and the waterways are huge advocates anyways, but if there was an organized activity or rally, as long as we were educated on what we need to stand behind, I could bring a group of people for sure and help out together. If there’s work to do on the rivers and the water, for sure, we’d have a great group of people to help.”
Brenda thinks even her business could be involved in the effort.
“I am a huge believer in getting women out on the water. I dream one day I will create a retreat centre on a river where women can escape and learn the art of fly fishing, re-energize, reset, refocus and make the world a better place.”
For now, Brenna will keep doing what she loves most: fishing.
“I want to continue to fish forever.”