Triston Chaney, 2018 academy graduate and fly fishing guide at Bear Track Lodge in Bristol Bay, teaches fly fishing to a new batch of academy participants in 2023.

The Bristol Bay Guide Academy, which was recently featured in the short film School of Fish produced by Trout Unlimited, Orvis, and others, connects local youth to jobs in guided sport fishing. For Alaska Native youth especially, the work entwines traditional connections with salmon and today’s lucrative tourism industry.

“The idea for the academy came from Luki Akelkok, traditional chief of Ekwok, and Tim Troll of the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust,” says Nelli Williams, Alaska director of Trout Unlimited, which helps sponsor the academy.

Williams explains that many Bristol Bay residents work in commercial fishing but that the guides at local fishing lodges are often hired from outside the area. One barrier to hiring residents has been a lack of experience with fly fishing, which is popular among lodge clientele.

The academy, which started in 2008, teaches fly fishing skills but also shares what Williams calls “guest services 101,” where participants learn about the hospitality industry and fishing lodge operations and clients. Students also learn from expert speakers on salmon biology, habitat, and conservation, which helps them develop their skills as educators for lodge clients. The week-long academy rotates annually between several Bristol Bay lodges and accepts 12-15 students each year. Through mentorship, it also helps place academy graduates with lodges that are hiring guides or other positions, connecting residents with careers in sustainable salmon fishing.

Williams says hiring local guides enhances the experiences of lodge guests, who travel thousands of miles to discover authentic Alaska. Guests paired with local guides get to learn first-hand about Indigenous culture and the connections that have existed here between people and fish for millennia. The academy is sponsored by Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust, Bristol Bay Native Corporation, Orvis, and others. Learn more at bristolbayriveracademy.org.


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