Client day 2016!
Grayling on the Agulapak River. From left to right, Academy Student and Guide, Savannah Sage, with “clients” Trout Unlimited Vice President of Western Conservation, Rob Masonis, and Alaska Program Communications Specialist and Academy co-coordinator, Jenny Weis. Photo by Nanci Morris Lyon
Client Day of the Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy is here. Today, the local youth of this rural region of Southwest Alaska will show off the new skills they’ve learned throughout the week. This year, we’re at Mission Lodge on Lake Aleknagik in the heart of Bristol Bay’s world-class salmon country.
Our 13 teenage students somehow all made it on time for 7:30 breakfast even though I know they were up beyond curfew tying dolly lamas and mayflies to have ready for their incoming clients. After eating, they anxiously asked the instructors last minute questions about what to do if their client didn’t have a fishing license or what time their planes were leaving.
Slowly at first and then in a wave, the clients arrived, the students introduced themselves and found them waders, and I could see their nerves relax once they realized how friendly all the clients are. Everyone accounted for; we loaded into six floatplanes and began our day. Though an instructor the rest of the week, I was lucky enough to get to be a ‘client’ and headed out with the group.
The mouth of the Agulapak River at Lake Aleknagik from the float plane. Photo by Rich Johnson
Client Day is the “final exam,” where students are expected to apply the new skills they’ve learned throughout the week at the Academy on fishing, guiding, safety, customer service, reading a river (and more!), to guide an unfamiliar member of the community through a day on the water. And hopefully, have some fun doing it. The goal of the Academy is to prepare local youth of Bristol Bay for guiding jobs in one of the many lodges throughout the region.
Along with many of the other successes of this week, the weather was stunning once again, as if mirroring the mood of our group. The nearby peaks were brightly lit by the sunshine and the water was a deep, shimmering blue. As we sat in the plane, the other “clients” and I relaxed with the low buzz of the plane and took in the scenery all around us.
After our floatplane landed at the mouth of the Agulapak River, my guide, Savannah, directed us toward our boat and we were off. She picked a spot to get started and we got out to set up our rods. Savannah tied a fly (that she’d tied herself) on my leader and gave me a few pointers for catching grayling and rainbows, which were rising all around us.
Student/Guide Sam preps his boat for his clients. Photo by Rich Johnson
Throughout the afternoon, Savannah showed us where to cast, gave us pointers, changed our leaders, and most importantly, netted a LOT of fish for us. She offered us lunch, water and changed out our flies when the action got slow. She did everything right. It was fun… the fish were biting, the weather was cooperating and our guide was awesome. Couldn’t ask for anything more.
Back at the lodge in the evening, we learned that most clients had a similarly enjoyable time. The group was happy, full of stories, a sense of accomplishment and utterly exhausted from so much fresh air and sunshine.
After an excellent dinner prepared by Mission Lodge, the clients stood up to share about their day. The stories and pride for the students’ accomplishments were amazing as ever.
Lead instructor Nanci Morris Lyon (left) onlooks as ‘client’ Ben Ellis shares how his ‘guide,’ Travis did during their fishing trip. Photo by Rich Johnson
There are many aspects of the Guide Academy that are beneficial in the long-term to the students, local lodges and the region. Arming the next generation of leaders with conservation knowledge in “salmon country;” keeping jobs within the local, sustainable tourism economy; providing youth with new ideas for healthy recreation activities; bringing in members of the local communities who can share stories about the places that the tourists from the lower 48 are so curious about, and more. I could go on and on about all the benefits to this weeklong course.
But it’s always on client day that the immediate benefits to the students come into clearer focus than the many long-term goals. By that evening, the group has gained confidence and transformed from shy teenagers to well-equipped leaders. They’ve made new friends and they’re prepared for one of many jobs in the local fishing industry. The quiet ones have come out of their shells, and instead of asking “why,” they’re all asking, “what’s next?”
The 2016 class of the Bristol Bay Fly Fishing & Guide Academy passed their “final exam” with flying colors, and I can’t wait to see where they go (and what they’ll catch) from here.
The 2016 class of the Bristol Bay Fly Fishing & Guide Academy. Photo by Rich Johnson
Learn more about the Guide Academy online at http://www.bristolbayriveracademy.org or on our Facebook page.
The 2016 sponsors of the Bristol Bay Fly Fishing & Guide Academy include: Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust, Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Program, Bristol Bay Native Corporation, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, Bureau of Land Management, UAF- Bristol Bay Campus, Orvis, Alaska Sportsman’s Bear Trail Lodge, Mission Lodge, Alaska Fly Fishers and Mossy’s Fly Shop and Southwest Alaska Salmon Habitat Partnership (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service).