I’m sure you Lower 48 guys and gals [especially those who haven’t fished in Alaska before] have never had to worry about something grabbing a hold of your ass while you’re making that cast or landing that fish. Nothing makes you crap a brick faster than having a sow grizzly stumble out of the woods 20 feet away from you with 2 cubs in tow.
Sooner or later, while fishing in Alaska, you are bound to run into a bear or two [or three]. Fish in any water that has salmon in it and you better be on your toes unless you don’t mind having a bear treat you like a chew toy. One minute you’re throwing tight loops to a fishy looking cutbank, the next minute you’re seriously contemplating if that flimsy ass fly rod is enough to fend off Mrs. Grizzly. Hmmm…don’t think so.
Bear spray is a good idea but is really only effective at close range [the closer the better]. Sounds comforting huh? A firearm works too but you have to carry something that can drop a charging bear and be carried easily. A shotgun is tops but tough to lug around. A Smith & Wesson Model 500 would do the trick. Your other option is to travel in groups and make a lot of noise. I personally opt for the bear spray and group travel. I have on many, many, many occasions fished solo with nothing but a fly rod. Let me tell you nothing gets the old heart pumping like bushwacking through bear infested country alone and unarmed. When you gotta fish…you gotta fish.
Here are a few tips for those thinking about trekking out into bear country.
- Bears are cute on Animal Planet…not up close and personal. Alaska isn’t a big zoo and they aren’t pets. Use your zoom lens.
- Bears move very fast. 50 feet away may seem safe to you. Bears can cover that from a dead stop in a few seconds.
- Bells are annoying only to the company you are travelling with. Bears have grown accustomed to associating bells with food. Why else do you find them in bear scat.
- Pick your fishing partner carefully. Make sure he or she cannot run faster then you. Bring a sacrificial newbie if need be.
- Feel free to pack along a firearm. A .22 will work just fine. I know I know. Won’t stop a bear. It’s not for the bear. See the bullet above. A well placed shot to the leg and suddenly you are the fastest one in the group. Doesn’t work all the time. Predators sometimes hone in on things moving quickly away from them. Use this tip sparingly unless you have a large pool of friends.
- When travelling down the trail or through thick wooded areas make a lot of noise. “Hey bear” is acceptable however a little respect goes a long way. “Hey Mr. or Mrs. bear” works a little better.
- Don’t…I repeat don’t…test the bear spray on another person unless you really don’t like them.
- Test fire your spray before you head out into the woods. Equipment failure isn’t an option. Just ask your wife or girlfriend.
- Practice whipping it out [gun or spray]. No need for foreplay…the bear doesn’t care if you are warmed up. When it counts, you don’t get a do over.
- Bear spray has a safety.
- Bear spray is not like bug spray. It’s for the bear not you.
- Whipping out a can of smoked oysters while nestled in the brush is not a good idea. [T. can tell you all about that]. Same goes for smoked salmon and lachs.
- Using the river or stream as a barrier is not a good idea. Mr. Griz will part that faster than Moses did the Red Sea.
- Most importantly, bears are active early in the morning and late at night. Best to restrict your fishing between noon and 1pm.
Yours truly making a hasty retreat after the griz on the left came sauntering down the steps just outside of the shot. That’s me on the far right. About where that seagull is taking flight is where I initially was before my friends brought the griz to my attention. I’m actually playing a fish. | Photo by K. Fujimoto
Fortunately for me I’ve never been in an incident where the bear acted aggressively toward me. I have been within 20 feet of them [not my choice mind you]. For the most part I try and play it safe and give Mr. and Mrs. Griz all the space they need. I never forget that I’m just visiting…it’s their neighborhood.