Bristol Bay program aims to turn local youth into fishing guides

Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy student, Savannah, poses with her 'client,' Trout Unlimited VP of Western Conservation, Rob Masonis, on Client Day on the Agulawak River in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Rob Masonis.

By: Rob Masonis
Let’s face it, the news these days is often downright depressing.  Division along cultural, religious, ethnic and political lines seems to be ripping societies apart around the world.
So let me take you to a place, Bristol Bay, Alaska, where people of different ethnic and cultural roots are doing the opposite.  They are coming together and moving toward a brighter, more prosperous and sustainable future.  
Students are ready to head out on the Agulawak River in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Photo by Rich Johnson
In mid-June I had the great fortune of visiting the Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy at Mission Lodge near Dillingham. The Academy, which just wrapped up its eighth year, teaches local youth river ecology, fly-fishing, and how to work in the sport fishing industry.  While new job opportunities in the area are limited for young residents, guiding anglers and working at one of the many sport fishing lodges that draw anglers from around the globe provides them an opportunity to earn a decent living and remain in their communities.  
Roughly a dozen students ranging in age from 14-24 attended this year’s Academy, and they came from small, rural communities throughout the region. Many are Yup'ik, Alaska Native people who have lived in the area for millennia.  Others are of European heritage, whose families came to the region relatively recently, mostly to work in the commercial salmon fishing industry.   
Lead instructor, Nanci Morris Lyon (left), presents Academy student, Was (middle), with co-instructor, Mac Minard (right) on client day of the Academy. Photo by Rich Johnson
They were all impressive.  And so were the community leaders, namely Luki Akelkok, Tim Troll and Nanci Morris Lyon, who started and run the Academy, including TU’s talented and dedicated Alaska Program Director, Nelli Williams.  
I watched as the students, eager to learn, were taught how to tie flies, cast, read water, greet and converse with clients, and work the oars.  They also gobbled up lessons on river ecology, entomology and why it is important to protect the web of rivers, wetlands and lakes that sustain one of the richest coldwater fisheries in the world. By the end of the week-long Academy, the students had forged new friendships, learned valuable skills, and found mentors.
Many Academy graduates are now employed by Bristol Bay sport fishing lodges.  In fact, the assistant manager at Mission Lodge graduated from the Academy’s first class. 
The 2016 class of the Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy at Mission Lodge in Aleknagik, Alaska. Photo by Rich Johnson
But perhaps the Academy’s most notable feature is the spirit of cooperation at its core.  Elders in the Alaska Native community and leaders in the sport fishing and conservation communities have come together for the benefit of their young people and stewardship of exceptional place they live, Bristol Bay, and TU is proud to be part of it. 
That is reason for hope and optimism. 
Rob Masonis is the Vice President of Western Conservation for Trout Unlimited. He lives in Seattle.

Add Content