Community | Conservation | Featured | Responsible Recreation

Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy postponed

2019 graduate Abbey Whitcomb (center) with her client last year on the final day of the Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy.

A few months into the global pandemic, I know that I’m not the only one disappointed by postponed or cancelled plans.  

While our team pivoted our organizing and communications work so we can still advocate for coldwater fisheries in Alaska, much of our summer programming is cancelled to protect the small villages and towns in the communities we work from COVID-19. Perhaps our most disappointing but necessary cancellation is the Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy.  

Earlier this month, we should have been out at Last Cast Lodge in Igiugig, running the 12th annual week-long training program for local youth that introduces them to and prepares them to succeed in the fly fishing and guiding community.  

On Monday, we should have been standing on the banks of Iliamna Lake, practicing casting and learning to tie flies. On Tuesday, we should have been going through lessons on hospitality, small business ownership and land stewardship. On Wednesday, we would have spent the whole day fishing, taking notes from the guides at Last Cast and expert volunteer instructors.  

By Friday, students should have been having “Client Day,” where they test the culmination of their skills and have to guide a “client” from the community for a successful day of fishing. Academy students would have provided everything from the flies, to the rod and reel set up, to the perfect picture of their client with their catch of the day.  

Over the course of the past 11 years of running the Bristol Bay Guide Academy, Trout Unlimited has partnered with Bristol Bay Native Corporation and the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust to graduate over 120 students through the Academy. Many of them have gone on to be guides, pilots and managers at lodges and outfitters in the Bristol Bay region.  

While I sit here from my home office in Anchorage, thinking through the long list of “should haves” for what would have been the Academy this year, I also know that this time is a much needed pause for reflection for my role in the Academy over the past few years.

Heading to Bristol Bay for a week of world class fishing while getting to introduce young people to another potential job opportunity in their home region, is more than a privilege. The students that we engage with, as well as the partners that come together for this week, show the very best of the fly-fishing community. Open minded, ready to listen and learn, and dedicated to conserving the resource for the next generation of anglers — the Bristol Bay Guide Academy is putting Trout Unlimited’s mission in to action.  

Academy students collaborate through a river stewardship activity at the 2019 Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy.

As COVID-19 continues to move through our communities, I’m sure the Guide Academy isn’t the last thing that will be cancelled this season (and don’t get us wrong, we are already planning for the 2021 Academy at Last Cast Lodge). But what isn’t cancelled? Being open minded, ready to listen and learn, and continuing to fight for conservation in our most vulnerable communities whose future depends on the health of the fishery.  

Click here to learn more about the Bristol Bay Guide Academy and see the photo gallery of images from the 2019 Guide Academy at Mission Lodge in Aleknagik, Alaska.  

Bristol Bay is the native homelands of the Dena’ina, Yup’ik and Alutiiq peoples. With gratitude and respect, we thank the indigenous peoples of Bristol Bay for their faithful stewardship to the lands and waters of the region.  

Meghan Barker is the Bristol Bay Organizer on the Save Bristol Bay campaign. She lives and works in Anchorage.