ANCHORAGE - Wealthy anglers flying into Bristol Bay fishing lodges to sample its world-renowned trout and salmon fishing are often guided by men and women from the lower 48 states who venture north to work during the summer.
Imported guides may know fishing but aren't intimate with the area. They may know what fly pattern works best but possess only a rudimentary understanding of the local culture.
Luke Akelkok wants to change that.
Akelkok, a lifelong Bristol Bay resident and chairman of the Ekwok village corporation, was an instructor earlier this month at the inaugural Ekwok Lodge Fly Fishing Guide Academy.
A dozen students, mainly from the Bristol Bay area, participated in the five-day academy, aimed at boosting the number of local guides working the sport fishery. Ekwok, a Yup'ik village with a population of 108, sits on the Nushagak River about 43 miles northeast of Dillingham.
"It was excellent," said Akelkok, who operates the lodge. "The kids didn't want to go home."
Seven women and five men from such villages as Aleknagik, Manokotak and New Stuyahok participated. Most arrived with "little or no" fly-fishing experience, according to organizer Tim Troll, executive director of the Nushagak-Mulchatna/Wood-Tikchik Land Trust.
"His encouragement, endless good humor and enthusiasm for young people was boundless," Troll said of Akelkok. "Students were able to engage with an elder grounded in his local culture but who also started his own fishing lodge.
"Fly-fishing is a very popular form of sport fishing enjoyed by many visitors to the region," Troll said, "but it's the least familiar to local residents."
Instruction included tying flies, casting technique, landing salmon and preparing them for lunch. Students also learned first aid, CPR training and using local stories and traditional knowledge with clients.
Nanci Morris, who moved to Alaska in 1981, now owns Katmai Fishing Adventures in King Salmon and was the main fly-fishing instructor. Morris, originally from Washington state, has fly-fished around the world but is most familiar with Bristol Bay.
"Nanci Morris did a phenomenal job of communicating the knowledge she has as an experienced fly-fishing guide and a woman business owner," said Shelly Wade, a planner with Agnew::Beck Consulting, which helped arrange the academy.
One student, Reuben Hastings of New Stuyahok, has tentatively signed on to guide for Morris next summer.
Hastings' father, Randy, already works for Akelkok at the Ekwok Lodge.
Reuben Hastings was out preparing for a moose hunt and could not be reached for comment.
"They're fast learners," Akelkok said of the students, pointing to Hastings and Chad Shade of Anchorage as among the best. "You could tell which ones were interested."
Marc Lisac of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was one of the instructors brought in. He talked about local fish ecology and his ongoing studies of Dolly Varden and char.
"That's always been a desire of local folks to see more local residents involved (in sport fish guiding)," he said. "We go through the same thing trying to get seasonal employees (at his agency). The hope is they'll get the bug and want to pursue it as a career."
If they do, they'll face two big demands - what Troll calls "meat and dessert." The meat is putting clients amid the fish.
"That's the basic thing," Troll said. "Then there's also the dessert part. What do they know about the country? The wildlife? The river? The culture? A local person is in a much better position to provide that."