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Some people work in cubicles, others work in kitchens, but perhaps the most intriguing workplace of all is the coast. Meet the people heading to the ocean instead of the office in our Coastal Jobs series.
Triston Chaney draws inspiration from a lifelong connection to the landscape in his work as a fly fishing guide at Bear Trail Lodge and an instructor at Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy near Dillingham, Alaska.
I grew up fishing in and around the Nushagak and Wood rivers, which flow into the Bering Sea at Bristol Bay, with my grandfather and father. My heritage is Yup’ik, Aleut and Athabascan, and both sides of my family have lived in the area for I don’t know how many thousands of years. I grew up hunting moose, bear, salmon, anything that crawls, walks or swims.
At our camp, after a day of moose hunting, I used to stand on the back of our skiff and catch grayling with an artificial “dry fly”. There is nothing prettier than a shadow rising from the water. They have a big old sail and a purple sheen on it. They don’t fight as hard as rainbow trout, but they are spirited and a pleasure to catch. In the summer, my best friend and I would stay fishing until one or two in the morning when it was dark. Because why stop fishing if it’s still daylight?
After catching grayling I started to get more interested in fly fishing. It looks awkward if you’ve never done it before, throwing the line in the water with a bead or a weird feather on the end. But I love all there is to learn, like what flies to use and where and when to use them. During the summer months, when salmon spawn, trout like Glo bugs—flies tied with thread to imitate salmon eggs. I am always looking for new spots to fish the most salmon or the biggest trout. And the cast is so graceful. It’s like meditating.
I went through the Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy, which aims to attract locals into the recreational fishing industry, one of the bay’s biggest moneymakers, after commercial fishing. Bristol Bay is one of the best places in the world to catch and release trout and stock up on salmon. Shortly after my training, I started guiding at the Bear Trail Lodge.
Most customers come for the rainbow trout. They can be 30 inches [76 centimeters] long and heavy. And they fight hard, which is what fly fishermen want. One guy fought one for about 15 minutes this year.
My job is to make sure guests have a great time walking through tundra brush, wading through streams and catching fish. If you accidentally forget your bead box or lose their grip, you need to stay calm. I sometimes take clients near Brooks Falls, a famous spot where tourists watch bears catch fish while jumping from the waterfall. In September, the salmon start dying and those bears get hungrier. That’s when the encounters happen. The bears don’t want you, they just want your fish.
Once I was guiding a husband and wife and they both caught rainbows. I caught his fish and stopped to take a photo of the couple, when a troublesome bear saw the fish splashing in the net and started running towards us. I shouted, “Go into the creek! So we waded, just to get away from the bear. I pulled the hook off the woman’s fish, let it go, and yelled, “Hey, bear,” with the patrons behind me. The bear was looking straight at me, only about six feet [two meters] a way. He wasn’t very tall – probably two or three years old – but big enough to tear me apart. Once the fish swam away, it lost interest and ran away.
In a place like Bristol Bay, it’s easy to catch fish. We just had a record year for sockeye salmon returns. I try not to take it for granted. We are extremely lucky to have a healthy ecosystem. I tell my customers that the salmon is the reason everything is so good here. Without salmon, trout fishing wouldn’t be as good, as trout depend on salmon eggs to fatten up for the winter. And the bears would be much hungrier.