A Fed Bear

A fed Bear

A guest post by Rob

I went out fishing during our most recent stay in Alaska at Silver Salmon Creek Lodge in Lake Clark National Park. One afternoon I went out with a guide and another couple to fish. We fished a bend in the creek a short ATV ride from the lodge. We parked the ATV and waded across to the inner bend. As always, near the Alaskan coast, we need to be mindful of the tides. High tide will raise the creek to an impassable level, and we could get stuck for a few hours on the opposite side from the ATV and lodge if we lose track of time.

The Fishing Spot

We fished from the shore near an exposed gravel bar. The far side of this bend has a high, steep bank where the water is eroding into the earth. At low tide, the salmon seek refuge in deep pools to wait for rising tides to propel them upstream. Our location was not great as it did not afford much access to a deep pool. There was one pool on the far bank’s outer edge, and three men on the opposite shore were fishing it. The area was pretty open and free of downed trees or other snags.

A fed bear
This is the group I was fishing with. Our fish box was unfortunately, empty.
A fed bear
The bears like to fish here, too. They have the right of way.

The three older men who were fishing from the high bank were staying at a nearby lodge. That lodge did not formally open this season due to COVID. However, these guys had been annual guests, so the owner allowed them to come to the lodge for a few days for their regular fishing trip. They did not have a guide with them as the lodge owner had not hired any for the season, so he just dropped them off at the creek. The lodge owner had asked at our lodge if there were any guides to spare, but extra labor is not a luxury in such remote places.

A fed bear
You can see the three fishermen across the river with their fish box unattended behind them.

The men had spread out along the high bank to fish. They’d caught one salmon, which they’d placed into their fish box. A fish box is an aluminum container designed to keep fish and bears apart and is built to withstand a bear’s efforts to open it. The US Forest Service provides the following criteria: (a) resist a direct force of 200-pounds; and (b) contain no cracks, external hinges, gaps, etc., by which a bear can force the container open using claws or teeth.

A fed Bear
Boar

A Boar Joins the Party

Soon a boar (an adult male bear) that we’d seen in the area before approached our fishing area.  Since bears are always patrolling the creeks looking for an easy meal, it is important to keep an eye out for them whenever fishing in bear country.  Bears are hardwired to react to the splashing of a fish in distress. Every hooked fish needs to be reeled in quickly to avoid catching the interest of a nearby bear. If a bear comes by, you usually have to quit fishing and give it space to pass. The bear will often walk on by.

A fed Bear
Checking out the fish action.

There is a well-worn path through some trees along the bank from where the men were fishing. People and bears use the path.  And this is the route the boar chose. Each fisherman had a bear spray canister on their person. They pulled in their lines and backed away from the path to allow the bear space to pass. However, they left their fish box unattended near the bank along the path.  All of my group members pulled our lines in, too, as we watched with concern from the opposite shore.

Path
The well-worn path

The bear saw the fish box and walked right over to it. The fish smell caught the bear’s attention, and they are naturally curious about new objects. The bear approached the box. Fish boxes have locks so that they will not open if a bear starts tossing them around. Regrettably, this box was not locked.  None of the responsible parties attempted to haze the bear away or spray him with bear spray (a capsaicin based aerosol). The bear investigated the box, nosing it thoroughly before pawing at it and lifting it. He rolled it a couple of times, and the lid came off. He stuck his head and voila! a silver salmon.

Lessons Learned

It is vital to bears survival not to learn to associate human activity with food. “A fed bear is a dead bear” is a common phrase used by wildlife managers. Bears that learn to obtain food from humans quickly become problem bears. A little bear spray is a small annoyance for their long term survival. After rolling the box over, the bear sauntered away with the fish back down the path the way he came. Bears will usually seek a quiet place, not too far, to eat their catch in peace.

The guys just stood by, unconcerned that a bear had successfully got a food reward from their fish box. Their laissez-faire attitude is troubling. Their behavior is likely to cost that bear his life. The next day, I heard the bear went after another fish box belonging to a different fishing party, unaware of the previous day’s troubles. You’d think after as many trips as these guys have made up here that they’d be more knowledgeable about fishing with bears.

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3 Replies to “A Fed Bear”

  1. Many good things to learn about fishing and also near bears. Hope your story is shared and passed along and finds the ears of others who could have been careless also otherwise.

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