Community Youth

The student becomes the master

The 2021 Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy. Photo by Rich Johnson.

The Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy is one of Trout Unlimited’s pride-and-joy programs in Alaska. Together with the Bristol Bay Native Corp. and the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust, and a slew of local lodge owners, retired fisheries biologists and fly-fishing experts from the region, we’ve hosted the weeklong program that prepares local youth for employment in the Bristol Bay fly fishing tourism industry for the past 12 years.

After pausing in 2020 due to COVID-19, the Academy resumed in early August at Last Cast Lodge in Igiugig, Alaska. Seated at the mouth of Lake Iliamna where it feeds in to the Kvichak River, we couldn’t have asked for a better place to fish for silver salmon and rainbow trout during the day, and to discuss principles of conservation, customer service and lodge hospitality in the evenings.

Our nine students this year showed up eager to learn and left with the skills needed to enter the fly-fishing and guiding world in Bristol Bay. We have no doubt they will follow in the footsteps of over 100 Academy graduates that came before them, many of whom went on to become guides, lodge managers, housekeepers and pilots in their home communities.

Damian Gust with his silver salmon on the Kvichak River.

One of those student-turned-guides is Triston Chaney, from Dillingham, Alaska. Triston attended the Guide Academy in 2018 and 2019, and stood out immediately for his passion for the sport and commitment to conservation (he’s even come to Washington, D.C., to lobby against the Pebble Mine). Triston was scooped up and hired by Bear Trail Lodge, where he has guided for the last two years.

Triston represents the opportunity of the Bristol Bay fishery. Triston captained his grandfather’s boat during the commercial fishing season in a year that broke the all-time record with 65 million fish returning to the Bay. In July, he hopped over to Bear Trail Lodge, where he will guide until October. We were also incredibly lucky that Triston came over and served as an instructor during the Guide Academy.

“It was super interesting to get to see students grow by the end of the week. All of the students enjoyed the activities and lessons and most of all were excited about the sport of fly fishing, just as I was when I left the Academy.”

-Triston Chaney, Guide Academy graduate and current fly fishing guide

Triston stepped in and provided support at every part of the Academy. From fly tying, to educating others on guiding etiquette, to helping some of the students land their first rainbow trout on the fly, Triston showed that the student had truly become the master.

Triston Chaney teaching proper fish handling in the classroom before heading out to the river.

Additionally, another student-turned-local-expert Tatyana (Taty) Zackar from Igiugig assisted the Guide Academy throughout the week. Taty attended the Academy as a student in 2015 and 2018, and now works for the Igiugig Village Council. Taty has been employed at the nearby Alaska Sportsman’s Lodge and is a local source of information for fly fishing on the Kvichak River.

With another Academy in the books, we are so grateful for Triston and Taty in their willingness to come back and share with the next group of students what they learned.

Monica Christopher holding a sockeye salmon she caught on the Kvichak River.

We hope that with every year, more students will seek opportunity in the fishing, tourism and hospitality industry that is growing in Bristol Bay. We hope that they will add fly fishing to the long list of ways they interact with the resource that is bountiful and defines their communities.

Trout Unlimited would like to thank partners and sponsors including Bristol Bay Native Corporation, Last Cast Lodge, Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust, Bear Trail Lodge, the Village of Igiugig, Orvis, Bass Pro Shops and Mossy’s Fly Shop for their contributions to the 2021 Guide Academy.

Bristol Bay is the traditional homelands of the Dena’ina, Yup’ik and Alutiiq peoples, who are still here. We express immense gratitude for being able to recreate and visit their lands and waters, and for the stewardship they’ve carried out for the last 15,000 years over the fishery.

By Meghan Barker.