Directed by Colin Arisman and Oliver Sutro and supported by Orvis and Trout Unlimited, School of Fish tells the story of the real connection between Bristol Bay’s salmon runs and indigenous communities and whether the next generation can save this place. Several months ago, we sat down with Colin and Oliver to discuss this film and what they learned over its production. Since then, School of Fish went on to win Best Short Film at BANFF!

Check out this interview below and be sure to watch the full film! If you want to learn more about the fight to protect Bristol Bay–

Flylords: Tell us a little bit about yourselves and your motivations for doing a film about protecting Bristol Bay?

Colin and Oliver:

 While there have been plenty of films about protecting Bristol Bay, they largely ignored how Native Alaskan communities were involved in the sport fishing industry and the fight to protect Bristol Bay. We started filming after finding out about the Bristol Bay Guide Academy that gets natives involved in the sportfishing industry, and from there followed Triston and his family to show the full scope of life and culture that is at stake.

Flylords: In the fishing community, Bristol Bay and Pebble Mine are now pretty much household names; thousands of anglers and outdoor enthusiasts joined the fight to protect the magical Bristol Bay watershed. Can you briefly describe why Pebble Mine had to be opposed?

Colin and Oliver: Bristol Bay is a watershed that provides crucial spawning habitat for the world’s largest salmon population. Pebble Mine would be the world’s largest open pit mine right at the headwaters of all these key rivers. Open pit mines produce an exceptional amount of toxic waste water and it has to be contained. Open pit mines have a history of failing catastrophically and releasing toxins in the watershed. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why it is heavily opposed.

Flylords: Now that the EPA rejected the key permit for Pebble, what’s next in the fight to protect Bristol Bay?

Colin and Oliver: The next goal is permanently protecting the area from mining and development. We’ve seen over the years how political shifts can change the perceived value of a resource like Bristol Bay. Despite having the permit denied, Pebble has vowed to appeal the decision. While it was an amazing win, the area is still an open target for Pebble and other hard rock mining operations.

Flylords: Orvis has long engaged in conservation issues–what was their thinking for this film? And, what were your thoughts when you realized this film would become a reality?

Colin and Oliver: Orvis was a great partner on this film because they are heavily involved in sponsoring the Bristol Bay Gude Academy and Save Bristol Bay initiatives. As a filmmaker, getting the sponsorship to make a film is amazing, but the hard part is actually making it and carrying it across the finish line. This film was 3 years in the making, and the emotional relief of finishing it was a more powerful feeling than the excitement of starting it.

Flylords: In the fly fishing world, I think the bigger picture of protecting the world’s most productive commercial fishery and the cultural, sustenance value can oftentimes get lost. That being said, you guys painted the connection between the commercial/sustenance fisherman and fly/sport angler masterfully. Personally, I think the broader community that joined forces to say “NO Pebble Mine” was textbook grassroots advocacy. Any thoughts?

Colin and Oliver: A salmon population of this size supports all the other fish, bears, trees, and people in its environment. Even after spawning and dying the salmon continues to give life. It’s important to not look at this place with blinders on, the salmon are so much more than a treasured sportfish. The salmon are intertwined with everything in this area, and because people live off of them in more ways than just catch and release, it builds a far stronger bond. Our gift in return should be to protect the places that they live and spawn.

Flylords: Can you guys tell us about the film’s characters?

Colin and Oliver: Some of the best things happen behind the scenes during filming that we never get to share, or perhaps they just don’t fit into the tight storyline. The guides at the academy were amazing to spend time with. A lot of the skills they worked on were people skills, and how to deal with clients. Watching them develop from shy young kids to adults that take charge of a days fishing was amazing to watch.

While shooting with Triston, his grandpa and mom, we were fed constantly. The first day we shot with them in Dillingham, they invited us over for dinner. Being from a different culture, we didn’t want to be overbearing and have them cook for us. We quickly found out you DO NOT SAY NO TO FOOD. We ate some of the most amazing food with them from dried seal, whale blubber, eskimo ice cream, boiled salmon eggs, fried sockeye, smoked salmon, moose mac and cheese. The list goes on and on. The bonds formed by sharing food and eating together was something I will never forget. They were so generous.

We eventually found out that giving to others is a key Yupik principle. When a young boy shoots his first moose, it’s tradition to give the meat away to the community. There is a network of support and giving that forms a web through the community and assures elders that they will be taken care of. It really is a beautiful way to live, and it’s something that sticks with me.

Flylords: How can our readers continue to advocate for Bristol Bay?

Colin and Oliver: I think the best way to advocate for a place is to experience it. If you have the means, go to Alaska and experience it for yourself. Bristol Bay is one of the last truly wild places on earth, and once you experience it you’ll want to protect it.

This is an evolving issue, and trout unlimited is at the forefront of Bristol Bay advocacy. I suggest you check out for the most current information on how you can help.

Thanks for sitting down with us and sharing your work, Colin and Oliver. Again, be sure to check out the full film and their other work at Wild Confluence Media. Pictures courtesy of Colin Arisman.

Finally, Protections Realized for Bristol Bay–EPA Rejects Pebble Mine

Bristol Bay Notches Another Record Sockeye Run, Other Salmon Runs Struggling

Here We Go Again–State of Alaska Appeals Rejected Pebble Mine Permit

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Will Poston
Will Poston has been with us here at Flylords since 2017 and is now our Conservation Editor. Will focuses on high-profile conservation issues, such as Pebble Mine, the Clean Water Act rollbacks, recovering the Pacific Northwest’s salmon and steelhead, and everything in-between. Will is from Washington, DC, and you can find him fishing on the tidal Potomac River in Washington, DC or chasing striped bass and Albies up and down the East Coast—and you know, anywhere else he can find a good bite!


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