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Orvis Film Tracks Indigenous Family's Traditions in Alaska's Evolving Salmon-scape

"School of Fish" asks if the next generation can step up to defend the most prolific salmon run left on Earth.

EDITOR'S NOTE: To celebrate the release of this film, Orvis will be donating 10% of all sales to Bristol Bay Guide Academy on Giving Tuesday, November 28th. 


Indigenous people and salmon have been intertwined for thousands of years in Bristol Bay, Alaska. The knowledge of harvesting, preserving and sharing fish is as important here as any lesson in a book. Today, kids must not only learn from their elders how to fish, but also how to fight. For the last century, corporations have sought to extract the wealth of this rich region. Now Pebble Mine threatens to pollute the pristine headwaters of Bristol Bay.

Co-directored by Colin Arisman and Oliver Sutro, School of Fish follows the story of an indigenous family that has subsisted off of Bristol Bay salmon for thousands of years. The patriarch, Curyung Tribal Council Chief Robin Samuelsen, is soon retiring and handing off his commercial fishing business to his grandsons, much the same way salmon-fishing traditions were passed down to him. Twenty-three-year-old grandson Triston Chaney speaks passionately and eloquently about what salmon and fishing mean to him.

"Our ancestors have been around longer than any of us can remember," Chaney said. "And just like our ancestors I was born and raised to respect and enjoy a subsistence lifestyle. I want my family and friends down the line to be able to respect and enjoy a subsistence lifestyle."

Chaney is also a fly-fishing guide who brings a valuable historical perspective to his clients.

Three young indigenous fly anglers mugging for the camera.
Can the next generation step up to defend the most prolific salmon run left on earth? (Colin Arisman photo)

“Most of the guides here come from outside–Montana, Oregon. And I’m sure they’re all fantastic fisherman, I’m sure they appreciate the water,” Triston’s mom Robyn Chaney says in the film. “But what those native kids that become guides offer is so much more. An understanding of that fish is more than just the fish you caught but the culmination of generations of people being stewards of that land and water. So that you can catch that fish.”

“Our salmon is our gold,” added Bristol Bay Fly Fishing & Guide Academy student Cameron Andrew.

The film ultimately offers a powerful portrait of the family and its connection to the local youth who are empowered through fly fishing to protect Bristol Bay and its fish.

School of Fish has already won Best Short Film at the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival and was accepted into the Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride and DOC NYC.


Through the efforts of passionate folks like the Samuelsen and the Chaneys, the threat of Pebble Mine has largely been quashed. In January of 2023, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted so-called “404(c)” protections for Bristol Bay. Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act basically gives EPA administrators veto power on projects where it is determined that “discharge of (dredged or fill material into the navigable waters at specified disposal sites) will have an unacceptable adverse effect on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas (including spawning and breeding areas), wildlife, or recreational areas.” The prior 13 implementations of Section 404(c) have proven durable and are all still in place.

But the fight will never really be over. Can the next generation step up to defend the most prolific salmon run left on Earth?

Visit WildConfluence.com/School-of-Fish and www.SaveBristolBay.com to learn more about Bristol Bay watershed conservation.

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Movie poster for School of Fish film showing drone photo of schooling salmon.

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