Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
TOGIAK:Row, Row, Row Your Boat: The 2016 Float Camp
Alaska Region, December 9, 2016
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Life on a river in a raft - just about as good as it gets.
Life on a river in a raft - just about as good as it gets. - Photo Credit: Photo credit: Togiak Refuge staff

On August 8th six area middle and high school aged students, along with 2 Togiak Refuge staff members and an adult volunteer left Dillingham bound for Pungokepuk Lake, located just to the east of the Togiak River, which runs through the middle of the refuge. Pungo Lake was to serve as the starting point for a float trip down the river of the same name, which served as this year’s destination for the annual Summer Outdoor Skills and River Ecology Float Camp which started on a Monday and concluded the following Friday. This year’s campers included three students from Dillingham and two from Manokotak. A sixth student was chosen and scheduled to attend but dropped out an hour before flights to camp were to leave, which didn’t allow for time to secure a replacement.


As mentioned, the camp started out at Pungo Lake and was met with harsh weather. Frequent heavy showers and extremely strong winds (a pole to a screen room “classroom” snapped and had to be repaired) kept students and activities somewhat subdued at the beginning of camp and the first two nights were spent at the lake waiting for the weather to subside. Some very good discussions took place during bouts of particularly bad weather, including Leave No Trace camping practices, river rafting principles, subsistence and sport fish uses of the refuge, bear safety and river ecosystems. Some close to camp activities included setting up the rafts, rowing practice on the lake during lulls in the wind, setting minnow traps, fishing and berry picking.

Over the course of the entire trip students were able to participate in a variety of activities. Much of the trip involved the experience of floating on a river using a non-motorized inflatable raft. Various rowing styles were introduced as well as how to read a river. There were different sizes and styles of rafts used during the camp (including a new extremely lightweight two person pack raft) and all students had many opportunities to put into practice what they learned with all raft types. Some other activities and topics included juvenile salmonid identification, wilderness survival skills and priorities, land stewardship, bird identification and careers with the USFWS.

Sportfishing is a big part of this camp. This year’s students learned how to fish using a number of tackle types including spincast, spinning and fly fishing gear. The Pungo has large numbers of rainbow trout, grayling and Dolly Varden, as well as kings and sockeyes, and is an excellent location for new anglers to experience success – as evidenced by the large numbers of fish of all species caught by this year’s students. In addition to tackle types, students also were taught proper Catch and Release Angling principals.

This camp is certainly an important outreach tool for Togiak Refuge. It exposes area students to the many levels of importance refuge river resources offer to a number of different user groups. Also these students are tomorrow’s leaders. This camp is able to provide a positive connection for them to draw upon as they continue their growth and education. It also is a chance for them to form a positive connection to the Service and the Refuge System as a whole.

While all of the above is true and the previously mentioned topics and activities were addressed and practiced during the course of this camp, the overarching theme was and always will be much more basic: to help these kids have fun outdoors and come away with a deeper sense of appreciation and stewardship for Togiak's outdoor resources. Experiences and laughter were both in abundance this year and not even frequently uncooperative weather was able to dampen the spirits of the participants.

One final note: there is tangible evidence of the impact this camp is having on area students. A number of past participants have gone on to work for Togiak Refuge as seasonal employees in the following years, including UAF student Connor Ito who served as an intern working for Fisheries Biologist and UAF student Charlie Roberts who worked on the Kanektok River as a river ranger.

Contact Info: Terry Fuller, 907-842-1063 ext. 8419, terry_fuller@fws.gov
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