A Day of Fishing Bears

The Best for Last

On our last full day at bear camp, we spent the day at a minor confluence on the braided river. A rocky beach allowed a view straight up the river lined with thick alders leading to glaciated mountains in the distance. We had passed this spot almost daily on our hikes and remarked at the stunning scenery, “All it needs is a fishing bear!” After seeing the numbers of salmon building daily from a rare solo fish to frequent small schools to larger groups today, we found our fishing bears.

All day long, bears came through fishing as they went. Moms with cubs, big boars, and adolescents – they all have different fishing styles with varying degrees of success.

Ambush-Style Fishing

A few bears used the ambush technique. Perched on the shore, expending little energy, patiently waiting for the salmon that comes within range. Then they pounce! Pinning the fish to the creek bottom with their wide paws and long toe-knives, they duck their head under the water and grasp the fish in their mouths.

Snorkeling-Style Fishing

The snorkeling bears haven’t had much success today. They stroll along the river with their face underwater, looking (smelling?) for the fish that makes a wrong move and ends up in their jaws. It seems to me that this technique is most effective when the river is teeming with fish. Next week, as the salmon run peaks, these bears will be in their glory.

Snorkeling-Style Fishing BearChasing

The most common technique we saw today was the chase. These 600-pound-plus lumbering bears are surprisingly quick and agile, turning on a dime as they corral salmon towards the shallows where the bear has all the advantage. This is energetically costly for the bears compared to other fishing styles. They are plowing through rushing currents that would easily sweep me off my feet.

When fewer salmon are in the river, the fish are more challenging to catch. Since its early in the run, the fishing success rates today weren’t great.

This sow has three two-year-old cubs. They are still nursing but also eat whatever mom does – if she allows it.  Often these mothers will feed themselves first (“Put on your own oxygen mask first.”) and let their cubs eat parts of subsequent catches.

She didn’t share this time, even though the cubs whined and bawled. Once she finished, the cubs moved in, ate the scraps, and licked the dirt clean. Later, I walked over there, and no evidence was left behind. Not one scale.

The expressions of exasperation at a failed catch speak to the personality and sentience of these bears.

If you’re interested in purchasing or licensing any images you see here, please email me at SNewenham at exploringnaturephotos.com, and I’ll make it happen.

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2 Replies to “A Day of Fishing Bears”

  1. I finally found time to start catching up on your wonderful stories! What great fun you must have had watching and enjoying all those bears and the many various personalities. You caught and shared it all quite well. Photos are OUTSTANDING!! Thanks for letting us enjoy thru you!!

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