Chad Black

Chad Black

SW:  Chad, you are originally from Ontario.  When did you move here and what brought you to Northwest BC?

CB:  I moved to Terrace in January 2007 from a small town in rural southern Ontario.  I’d heard of Terrace and the fishing opportunities in the Skeena watershed long before then, and had dreamed of having the opportunity to fish and visit the region.  So, when the job opportunity came up with Nicholas Dean, it wasn’t a difficult choice.  Initially, it was meant to be a one year position aimed at starting my career in the lodge industry.  Seven years later I’m still here and still as passionate about the Skeena region as I was when I first moved here!

SW:  What do you think is our region’s greatest attribute?

CB:  That would be easy - the sheer diversity of outdoor experiences available.  Of course, I often see this through the lens of an angler first, both in terms of the vast numbers of different rivers, each with their own unique qualities, and the variety of fish species available.  The fact that you can literally fish every day of the year in one form or another and have access to some of the largest steelhead and salmon in the world is not something you can find in many other places – if at all.  There are world class opportunities for hiking, white water and ocean kayaking, rock climbing, back country and cross country skiing, rafting and many others.  If you enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle, you’d be hard pressed to find a better place to live.

SW:  In a nutshell, please describe the experience that Nicholas Dean Outdoors provides its clients.  How does Nicholas Dean attract clients?  What makes your company unique?

CB:  We strive to provide a quality guided angling experience that’s on par with the highest standards.  Access to some of the largest steelhead and salmon in the world, a wide variety of rivers and fish, pristine, old growth forests, coastal mountain vistas and knowledgeable, seasoned guides and staff who are passionate about what we do – that is all part of the Nicholas Dean experience.  

We use a variety of methods to reach our clients.  First and foremost though, we believe that repeat clients are our greatest marketing asset.  First, it shows that you have a desirable product or experience and second, repeat clients often will bring their own friends or tell colleagues about their trip.  A large proportion of our guests are repeat clientele who return year after year, often in the same weeks.  We also utilize booking agents all over the world, periodically attend trade shows, and employ a variety of media sources, including video, print magazine/e-zine articles, and social media.

One of the hallmarks of our business is that we have access to several of the best waters in the lower Skeena region, including the mainstem Skeena, Upper Copper, Lower Copper, Kalum and many others.  These are restricted waters where there are limited numbers of guiding licenses available.  This enables us to provide a quality package that ultimately provides guests with more value on their trip.

SW:  Some of our readers are not anglers. Could you explain how the BC fishing licenses work?  Can you elaborate on the rationale behind the Conservation Fee Program?

CB:  The BC fishing license system can be a complex one if you’re not familiar with it.  To fish on freshwater rivers and lakes in BC, you must first purchase a basic license.  These range from one day licenses to annual licenses and the fees vary depending on whether you’re a BC resident, non-resident of BC or non-resident of Canada.  Conservation surcharges, generally referred to as “stamps,” apply depending on where you’re fishing and what you’re fishing for.  A steelhead stamp is required if you’re fishing for steelhead (and still apply on certain rivers at certain times of the year, even if you are not targeting them directly) and a non-tidal salmon stamp is required if you wish to retain salmon.  A salmon stamp is not required if you plan to release your salmon.  Classified waters licenses are river specific and again vary with residency.  BC residents pay a set annual fee that’s inclusive of all classified waters in the province of BC.  For non-residents of BC and non-residents of Canada, classified waters licenses must be purchased on a daily basis for each particular river (or stretch of river).  The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations administers the fishing regulations in BC, and their website is a good resource for those who have questions.  Of course, if you’re ever in doubt about the regulations, make sure to ask a local vendor or consult the current Freshwater Fishing Regulations Synopsis.

The purpose of the conservation fees are to channel funds generated by licenses back into fish and wildlife programs in the province.  Specifically, a certain percentage of each fishing license sold is allocated to the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund (HCTF), whose goal is to “invest in projects that maintain and enhance the health and biological diversity of British Columbia’s fish, wildlife, and habitats so that people can use, enjoy, and benefit from these resources.”

SW:  What is the role of Nicholas Dean Outdoors and its guides regarding fish conservation and habitat protection?

CB:  In general, we are predominantly a catch and release operation and go to great lengths to ensure that fish are released safely and with minimal stress.  When our guests do keep in-season salmon periodically, we strongly encourage them to keep small to average sized fish to ensure that the prime spawners reach the spawning grounds.

We recognize just how important healthy steelhead and salmon returns are, which is why we’ve allocated a lot of time and resources to various conservation groups.   We were instrumental in setting up a conservation contribution program with Skeena Wild Conservation Trust, whereby we pay a conservation fee for each client booked in during our season, and educate our guests on Skeena related issues by having Skeena Wild staff members attend lodge dinners.  We also donate conservation contributions to the Pacific Salmon Foundation and promote their projects (such as silent auctions for artwork), as well as donating guided trips to charitable conservation causes both locally, nationally and internationally.

SW:  What changes in the watershed have you witnessed (both positive, negative, or both) since moving to the area?

CB:  On a broad scale – I’ve seen an increasing number of major industrial projects since I’ve been here.   Some of these projects include Shell’s coal bed methane extraction in the Skeena’s Sacred Headwaters, run of river Independent Power Projects, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, the Northwest Transmission Line, and recently, the expansion of the Liquified Natural Gas industry.   What was once a relatively quiet town/watershed, particularly in the Winter, has now become a region set for growth and the sorts of things that accompany growth – an expanding population and, increasingly, greater demands on natural resources.  In my mind, we are at juncture right now in trying to manage growth so as to not compromise our wilderness values.  After all, it’s these wilderness values and access to the outdoors that keeps so many people in the region; it was certainly what brought me here.

Inasmuch as I’m concerned about the proposed projects taking place, I have been happy to see that it’s had the effect of galvanizing the community around key conservation issues.  I see that there’s been a shift from companies moving into an area and essentially being able to do whatever they want in the past, to a point where they now have to obtain social license from the public prior to moving forward.  I personally don’t think that Enbridge would’ve expected to see the amount of opposition it’s had both regionally and provincially for the Northern Gateway project when it was first proposed.    


SW:   In 2014, we have the knowledge and resources available to build a global model of sustainability for our economies, communities and ecosystems.  In your opinion what can we focus on to ensure the long-term sustainability of our watershed?

CB:  It’s all about balance and ensuring that the ‘right’ projects are built.  The economies of the Northwest have been depressed historically for a number of years and with the natural resources available here, and in other parts of the province, I don’t think it’s reasonable to try and fight each one that comes up.  But, I think that industry has a moral and ethical responsibility to the people and other established businesses in the region to minimize environmental impacts whenever possible.  So when I say ‘right,’ I’m referring to projects that can fit in well with the existing economy and not at the complete detriment of others.  There are some projects, like Northern Gateway, that have catastrophic implications for the region if there ever were a pipeline rupture or tanker spill on the coast.  To me, there is just too much risk involved for a project like that to justify moving forward.  

A key part of any sustainable model would be to include exhaustive environmental assessments and regulatory protocols of each project by truly independent bodies.   Consequently, I found it very troubling when it was announced that the National Energy Board has recently taken over the responsibility of fish and fish habitat from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in regards to pipelines.  To me, and many others, this is clearly a conflict of interest.  Historically, there were protocols in place to evaluate the merits of a project and its environmental impacts; this is moving in completely the opposite direction.

SW:  What is your number one tip for avid anglers traveling to our region?
Credit:  Dimitri Gammer
CB:  That would be two-fold:  make sure that you do your homework well in advance of the trip and once you’re here, be flexible and willing to adapt to local conditions.  With so many different fisheries available here over the course of our angling season, you need to determine which species you want to target and the kind of experience you’re looking for.   Research when the peak run timing is, what flies or lures work best, which rivers you want to fish and where to access them.  The more prepared you are, the more successful you’ll be.  But, once you’ve made the decision to come in a certain time frame and you’re here, make the best of it!  We live in a region where rain is a major player and can significantly impact conditions.  Fish the target rivers you want to when they’re in shape and fishing well, but be open and have a back up plan when they’re not.  When some steelhead rivers are high and dirty in the Fall, for example, there are often exceptional opportunities for coho salmon and other trout species.  My preference is to spend time on the water rather than in a lodge or hotel room even if it’s not 100% what I’m looking for, but that’s just me! 

SW:  What are your recommendations for people who are just starting out and trying to break into the world of river fishing?

CB:  Number one:  try to find a mentor or someone with experience on your local waters.  Or, hire a guide to learn the basics.  Whether it’s fly fishing or conventional fishing, there are a lot of skills involved when fishing in rivers, both in terms of angling success and safety.  A mentor will shorten your learning curve and ensure that you’re aware of the different hazards you might encounter on the river.  Number two:  spend as much time on the water as you can.  There’s no greater way to improve your fishing skills than to be on the water as often as you can.  With nearly year round opportunities here in the Skeena region, anglers here are at a big advantage relative to other places in the world.  Number three: enjoy the experience.   The Skeena watershed is blessed with having some of the most incredible, breathtaking rivers and scenery arguably in the world.  Get out there and enjoy it and don’t just focus on the number of fish you’re catching – or not catching!

SW:  Who is your top fishing expert to follow?  What would you recommend as best resources / tools / web sites to check out?

CB: As an angler, we tend to evolve over the years as we learn and gain more experience on the water.  My earliest steelhead aspirations were triggered by Lani Waller in his Fly Fishing for Trophy Steelhead video.  I can still remember watching that video and thinking – “man, I have to fish the Skeena!”  So in some sense I credit Lani for instilling my desire for Skeena steelhead and ultimately living here in Terrace.  The fact that I had the chance to meet and host him on a trip several years ago was almost surreal.  His latest book, “A Steelheader’s Way” is very well written, as is Dec Hogan’s “A Passion for Steelhead.”

Candidly, I believe there’s no better substitute than learning first hand on the water, particularly with someone who knows what they’re doing.  That said, there are a number of great videos out there that can help with the theory behind certain casting styles or techniques.  RIO’s Modern Spey Casting and the Skagit Master series are great resources for learning how to fish with a spey rod.  Don’t be afraid to look at videos on You Tube, either.  In addition to being entertaining, there’s often some good lessons to be learned.