Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Guide Academy Excitement

The 8th class of the Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy.

By: Jenny Weis

There are a lot of things I love about my job. I love working with locals to protect the waterways they cherish and hope to one-day share with their children. I love empowering citizens to contact their elected decision makers on issues impacting clean water, recreation, and Alaskan culture. I love connecting diverse groups of people on the thing we all have in common – the love and need for wild, clean, rivers.

Of all these things however, nothing about my job is better than the work I get to do on the Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy.

The Guide Academy is a weeklong course that teaches fly-fishing, tying, customer service and guiding basics, river etiquette, leadership, conservation and fisheries management to the local youth of the Bristol Bay region of Alaska.

Getting ready for an afternoon of fishing in Bristol Bay. The Academy works with lodges throughout the region to host and donate flying hours so the students can experience fly out fishing before they bring clients along for similar trips on “client day.”

For the past nine summers, roughly a dozen students ranging in age from 14-24, have come from the small, rural communities throughout Bristol Bay to one of the many fly fishing lodges that dot their region to gain the skills, experience and confidence needed to become sportfishing guides on their world-class home rivers. Thanks to the financial support of Trout Unlimited, the local land trust and many, many other partners, the Academy is offered completely free of charge to the students.

While new job opportunities in the area are limited for young residents, guiding anglers and working at one of the many sport fishing lodges provides them an opportunity to earn a decent living and remain in their communities.

Instruction time during the 2017 Academy.

On Wednesday, I’ll load into an airplane from Anchorage to fly into the small community of King Salmon, Alaska for the tenth annual Guide Academy, this year hosted by TU Gold Level business, Bear Trail Lodge. I cannot wait to meet another eager group of young community leaders who have come to hone their skills, prepare for future careers and learn a ton. Each year, there’s always the unexpected student or two who comes in quiet and removed, but who emerges as a promising employee or who blossoms in personality throughout the week. Sure, the fishing and teaching throughout the week are great, but transformations like these are what I love most about the Academy.

Advanced Academy graduate, Natalie Romo, shows off her success on the river.

Yes, the Academy is about preparing to be a guide and earning local employment. But it’s also about showing Bristol Bay youth how much they already have to contribute. It’s showing them how thousands of anglers from around the country are intrigued by their home region and want to learn from them. And it’s about equipping them with the confidence to share what they know, whether with visitors to the region or in whatever job they may go on to pursue. It’s about shaping a healthy future for Bristol Bay – one that’s based on clean water and fishable rivers.

In honor of the tenth season, we worked with our friends at Fly Out Media to create a short film, “Hooked: Inspiring Youth, Creating Opportunity,” which allows you to hear from founders, instructors and graduates. Watch, and join us in thanking our many sponsors and looking toward the next decade of the Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy.

Jenny Weis is the Alaska communications director. She lives in Anchorage. Learn more about the Guide Academy and follow along with stories from the upcoming 2018 season at bristolbayriveracademy.org