Fly fishing and guide academy brings local touch to sport fishing industry

Jun 25, 2019

In its 11th year, the Bristol Bay Fly Fishing & Guide Academy is putting the area's young people in a variety of jobs at Bristol Bay lodges.

An instructor at the guide academy shows a student how to tie a fly on June 8, 2019.
Credit Alex Hager / KDLG

Bristol Bay’s world class sport fishing draws visitors from thousands of miles away. It’s not only fishing that brings people to the area’s rivers and lakes – many come from far away to work in the industry. 

But some of those staffing area lodges have been fishing these rivers their whole lives.

Triston Chaney is from Dillingham, and he’s about to start work as a fly fishing guide at Bear Trail Lodge in King Salmon. 

“Where else in the world can you go out in one day and catch 10 different species of fish,” Chaney said.

He’s been going fly fishing since he was in elementary school, when his dad introduced him to the sport. But now he’s embarking on a career as a guide after two summers at the Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy – an annual program that teaches local young adults every part of working at a lodge.

“All the stuff that goes on,” Chaney said. “The housekeeping, boating, getting all the gear ready for the season, all that. It shows all aspects, the whole range of what has to go on.”

But the guide academy does more than just teach the hard skills, it also connects its students with lodges that are looking to hire – which is exactly how Chaney got his job. 

Meghan Barker is a community organizer with Trout Unlimited, a non-profit that promotes the conservation of rivers and other sportfishing waters. She says guides from Bristol Bay can bring something special to the places they work. 

“This industry generally has a lot of people coming up from the lower 48,” Barker said. “While we have awesome guides and awesome resources who are coming up, I think a lot of times at overshadows a lot of the incredible local knowledge that is here already – and that has been here for so many years.”

The academy is now in its 11th year, and it’s had a number of success stories – from Chaney getting hired this year to an alumna that’s worked her way up to assistant manager at Mission Lodge. Barker says the academy’s reputation has grown over the past decade, making it more appealing to employers and potential students.

“A lot of it comes from name recognition,” Barker said. “A lot of it comes from being passed down. These are small communities, and word spreads fast”

After his two summers at the academy, Chaney says he’s excited to turn fly fishing into a career, and he considers himself lucky to have a job in a place as special as Bristol Bay.

“There's mountains in one spot,” Chaney said. “Clear running streams and another vast miles of open tons where you can go to so many different animals you can see in one day. It's just not something you see pretty much anywhere else in the world.”

After a week of learning everything from tying flies to working in the lodge’s kitchen, the students at guide academy had a “client day,” where they got to put their skills to the test in a real world setting. And for some, that real world starts in just a few weeks.