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Day One: You can be great guides.

“I would love to have somebody from this Academy on my guide staff.”

Pete Raynor, manager of Kulik Lodge laid out a challenge to the incoming class of the Bristol Bay River & Guide Academy. As the students settled into the lodge, instructors explained the rules and expectations for the week.

“You’re here because you have key knowledge that will make you excellent sport fishing guides on your home waters,” they were told. But they were also forewarned: being well-versed in many components of guiding and the industry are needed before making that a reality.

As students introduced themselves, they explained why they are here. Many shared their aspirations for life beyond the Academy. Others said they were interested in working at a family lodge, learning to tie and sell flies, or being hired as a guide or support staff at a lodge near their home. One or two mentioned wanting to open a lodge of their own someday.

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They came with the understanding that this would not come without hard work, as many are new to the sport of fly fishing. The instructors agreed, but also made sure the students understand their value. They know what Alaska is like in the winters. They know how to read their local rivers and can share the fishing spots they have used since childhood to hook into a big fish. They have stories of growing up in a region that many consider a once-in-a-lifetime angling destination, and can answer questions about life in rural Alaska.

Then, with the newly-instilled confidence that they can be great guides despite inexperience with fly fishing, they set out on day one to cover the basics: key equipment, how to handle gear, fishing lingo, how to cast.

As an instructor, it is exciting to see them listening intently to even simple and maybe otherwise boring classroom materials – the components of a fly rod, differentiating different types of line, how to select the correct rod for the river. It’s entertaining to watch them casting for the first time, and inspiring to see how fast they improve. It’s amazing to see how driven they are to succeed.

But nothing is better than hearing their stories.

One student shared a time when he took visiting teachers from the Lower 48 out fishing, and helped them land the biggest rainbow of their lives. Another told about helping around his Dad’s lodge on the Naknek and how he wanted to guide there one day. Others described going out hunting in one of the many roadless areas at a young age, and the hard work that it entails. Another told about the six-hour boat ride required to get to the perfect hunting spot their family has used for generations.

From hearing bits and pieces of their lives, it became clear how each student is so driven and earnestly excited to learn. And how good at this they could all be one day.

As you can imagine, day one left us exhausted, but very excited for the week ahead.

Well, the instructors were exhausted. The students, maybe not so much…

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