As it has for the past seven years, the Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy will host 15 Bristol Bay area youth next month, aiming to give them skills and knowledge that could translate into a career as a sport fishing guide in their backyard.
Nearly a dozen graduates have found work at Bristol Bay fishing lodges or as independent guides, according to Tim Troll, director of the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust and co-founder of the academy. Eight of them are working today.
"But we are really aiming to do much more," Troll said. "We want to open up doors to fish-based jobs for young people and keep more of Bristol Bay's tourism revenue in local communities."
The week-long course, offered free of charge to the selected students in the region, teaches fly fishing, fly tying, guiding basics, etiquette, conservation, fisheries management and more.
"At first, we really struggled to get local kids there," said Nelli Williams of Trout Unlimited, one of the program sponsors. "Fly fishing, with anglers flying in for a couple of days, was seen by many locals as playing with the fish. It's just so different. Most of our students have never fly fished before. Some have never recreationally fished.
"The opportunity might have been there, but it wasn't embraced. That's starting to change. ... We've built a lot of momentum and community support over the years."
Thirty-four students ages 14-24 applied for the spots, said Williams. She added that the number of applicants has increased steadily over the years. Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust, Bristol Bay Native Corporation, Trout Unlimited and the Bureau of Land Management are program sponsors.
About 75 sport fishing lodges operate in Bristol Bay, Williams estimated, employing a couple hundred guides,. Many are expert trout anglers flown in from the Lower 48. What they lack is local knowledge of the terrain and culture.
"The academy has cultivated a number of passionate guides who are informed about local life and river issues," said Nanci Morris Lyon, lead instructor for the academy and owner of Alaska Sportsman's Bear Trail Lodge in Naknek. "At the end of the week, graduates are well on their way to becoming guides, have gained confidence and leadership skills, and they get to take home a (free) fishing rod."
Instruction June 10-17 is based at Mission Lodge in Aleknagik. June 16 is designated Mock Client Day, during students use their new skills to take members of the community and press out for a day on the water to test what they've learned.
A video on the program is here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mY0VGW4uCRY).