A group of nine young people from the Bristol Bay region gathered in the Yupik Eskimo village of Ekwok in August to learn how to be fly fishing guides. The weeklong, all-expenses-paid academy was sponsored by Trout Unlimited Alaska, along with the Nushagak-Mulchatna Wood-Tikchik Land Trust, Alaska Conservation Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Bristol Bay Native Corp. and many other generous businesses, non-profits and individual donors. The academy is designed to train local youth in the art of fly fishing so they can tap into a thriving and lucrative industry in their own backyards.
Joining the students were some of the country's top guides, including well-known fly fishing author Kirk Deeter of Field&Stream magazine. As an outdoor journalist, Deeter circles the globe in search of exceptional fishing stories. That's what drew him to Bristol Bay: he wanted to experience some of the world's top salmon fishing on the Nushagak River, Alaska's biggest Chinook salmon producing river which flows past Ekwok. Deeter also wanted to pass on some of his knowledge about fly fishing to local kids. What he found was that the young people had a lot to teach him as well.
"I was amazed by how quickly the students grabbed onto the fly fishing. They were about as 'fishy' as any people I've ever been around. You can teach anyone how to tie flies, wave a stick in the river, drive boats, and land fish. But the inherent knowledge these kids had of where fish will be, when and why...it was uncanny. It's impossible to teach the passion these students already have," Deeter said.
The students and guides stayed at Ekwok Lodge, owned by Ekwok Natives Ltd., an Alaska Native village corporation. The students received fly fishing instruction, as well as learned how to guide, how to interact with clients, how to stay safe on a river, and how to incorporate their own local knowledge of the region and river into guiding.
"They were fast learners," said Nelli Williams, special projects coordinator for Trout Unlimited Alaska and an instructor at the academy. "None of them had prior fly fishing experience but they really took to it. When the fish started striking, their eyes just lit up. Even when there was down time, they wanted to go back to the river and keep fishing. It was pretty impressive and inspiring."
Joining the academy as an instructor this summer was Reuben Hastings of New Stuyahok. Hastings completed the first academy held in 2008.
"Seeing a newbie catch their first fish is one of the most fun things of all," Hastings told the Anchorage Daily News. "You may get somebody who's never caught a fish over 20 inches, and see them catch a 30-pounder. That's a treat. I remember catching my first fish as a little munchkin and what a big deal it was for me. Their jaw kinds of drops, and there's lots hooting and hollering."
In addition to training the next generation of Bristol Bay fly fishing guides, the academy also educates the kids about the trout and salmon issues in the region, facilitates dialogue about existing and upcoming conservation challenges, and teaches them how, as anglers,
they can become conservation advocates and help keep their watershed healthy.
Watch and listen to an audio slideshow:
Read about the guide academy  in the Anchorage Daily News.
For more information on the 2011 Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy, sponsoring a student, or hiring a graduate contact email@example.com