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How a reality TV star found his true calling on Alberta's pristine rivers

Author: Stephen Hunt

Stephen loves to get out of town and explore the communities, festivals, landscape and adventures Alberta has to offer. The bonus is discovering a province full of dynamic personalities, where he feels the provincial motto has always been: why not?

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Andy Nicols

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Adriano Lafauci possesses qualities that are uniquely Canadian: he’s a tough and rugged mountain man, but a decidedly mild-mannered one. If you cut open one of his arteries, Berland River freshwater might gush out of him, alongside an Athabasca rainbow trout or two. 

Lafauci is the owner-operator of Upstream Drift Co., a guide company that offers fly fishing trips aboard a vintage-style handmade, wooden McKenzie drift boat up the Berland River near Whitecourt in northern Alberta. 

It may be the most beautiful setting in the world to find yourself stumbling across a reality television star, but Lafauci is that, too. 

He was once the star of Real Canadian Joes, an adventure program that aired on Canadian network Wild TV for five years. It featured Lafauci and various guests on hunting trips in the eastern slopes of the Rockies around the Berland River. Think hunting, fly fishing, beers, blue skies, breathtaking landscapes -- and reality TV.  

“It literally is as Canadian as it gets,” says Lafauci, who is as easygoing, funny and accommodating as he is a passionate defender of the Berland River habitat. 

At the same time, his postcard life doesn’t seem very extraordinary to Lafauci. 

“It’s just everyday life for me,” he says. 

A Friendly Bet Led to TV stardom 

Lafauci’s career as the host of an adventure reality show started when a former boss more or less told him there was no possible way he could launch a reality television show. Six years later, the two men encountered each other at a sportsman's show after Real Canadian Joes had been picked up by Wild TV. 

“He shook my hand and said, of all the shows on Wild TV, yours is top five,” recalls Lafauci. 

This man is not only a fishing guide. He’s a riverkeeper as concerned with the preservation of the river as he is with finding fish for clients.  

If you watched the Oscar-winning filmed-in-Alberta movie The Revenant and wanted to climb inside the screen to travel back in time to a wilder, more authentic, more connected natural world, Lafauci is the perfect guide to take you there. 

And don’t worry if you’re only half-interested in the fish. 

“Ninety per cent of this trip is enjoying the scenery,” he says, “and the 10 per cent that’s fishing is epic. So add that to the amazing drift (up the river), and you’ve got a world-class trip.” 

Inspired by his Grandfather 

If it all sounds a little mythical, that’s how fly fishing came into Lafauci’s life too. One night, he was having a beer with his grandfather, a successful businessman from Vancouver Island, on the occasion of his grandfather’s 60th wedding anniversary. 

It turned out that, decades earlier, his grandad had been a fly fisherman himself – in southern Alberta on the Livingston River. He'd just never mentioned it. 

Grandad  was fond of smoking a pipe filled with distinctive-smelling Erinmore pipe tobacco. In tribute, Lafauci named one of his drift boats the Erinmore. 

Turns out the most real Canadian Joe of them all goes to work every morning with a sense of wonder and gratitude. 

“I’m overwhelmed with stuff these days,” he says. “For me, it’s about living a dream.” 

 

THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT UPSTREAM DRIFT CO.  

Whitecourt is the nearest community to Upstream Drift Co., located:  

  • 177 km (110 mi) northwest of Edmonton   
  • 467 km (290 mi) from Calgary   
  • 279 km (173 mi) southeast of Grande Prairie   
  • at the junction of Highway 43 and Highway 32.  

Whitecourt has a population of roughly 9,000 at an elevation of about 700 m (2,297 ft) above sea level.  

Whitecourt attractions include:  

  •  Eagle River Casino   
  • Hard Luck Canyon   
  • Forest Interpretive Centre   
  • Carson-Pegasus Provincial Park

The Berland River, home base of Upstream Drift Co., features a number of fish species:  

  • Athabasca rainbow trout  
  • bull trout   
  • whitefish  
  • Arctic grayling  
  • walleye   
  • pike   

The fish in the Berland River can grow big. Upstream Drift guide Adriano Lafauci says a friend once used a fly called a No. 8 Golden Stone Emerger to land an 18-inch Athabasca rainbow trout. “That’s a huge fly,” Lafauci says. “And I say, huge flies get huge fish.”  

Athabasca rainbow trout can be trophy fish, even if they're not often considered so. “They haven't been given enough regard as trophy fish,” Lafauci says. “We proved by catching them that they can survive and thrive in our waters up here.”  

Arctic grayling are not only the secret of fly fishing on the Berland River, they’re also quite good-looking. Lafauci thinks  they’re the prettiest fish because of the dorsal fin and all their the different colours.  

Upstream Drift Co. offers visitors the opportunity to experience Alberta wilderness and wildlife with a company that practices sustainable guiding. The only footprint you leave when you travel with Upstream Drift is a muddy one.  

Guests can camp or stay at the Lafauci's B&B. Plans are underway to turn it into an actual lodge, complete with cabins over the next few years.

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