Fishing Bears

Fishing bears

It’s all about the timing. Life in coastal Alaska is dictated by the tides – for both human and non-human animals. On the shore of Lake Clark National Park, the annual silver salmon run has just begun.  A few days ago, there were a few fish in the rivers, but now, the salmon are coming in numbers making their runs with the tides.

High Going Low

For the salmon, it’s best to swim in with the high tide, when the surge of incoming water pushes them along, and the water is too deep for the bears to fish.  When the tide starts to recede, the salmon have to run up to a deep pool to await the next flush of tidal water or be swept back out to the ocean where they’ll assemble for the next high tide.   This is the gauntlet.  Bears will gather at the river mouth as the tide recedes, waiting for the right moment.  When the outgoing tide is still high, although they see the hoards of salmon swimming past, occasionally splashing at the surface, they know their chances of catching those fish are slim.  It takes a lot of effort to move their massive bodies through that rushing water.  I’ve struggled across fast-flowing streams in hip waders. Every time I picked up a foot in the shin-deep water, the river threatens to sweep it out from under me. It takes deliberate concentration.  I’ve then watched a bear fjord the same waterway like it was nothing but a puddle.  They push their powerful bodies through the rushing water with comparative ease, but the energy expended to try to fish in high water is not worth it. So they wait.

The Time is Right

When the time is right, every bear is fishing their own spot along the river.  There were so many bears this year (due to decreased human pressure/fewer visitors or just natural variation, I don’t know), that I didn’t know who to watch! 

Bears all around.

There were bears catching salmon all around me.  A bear affectionately called Ol’ Sow was by far the most successful, coming up with a silver after almost every attempt.  She ate four (probably 40-50 pounds of fish!) before she stopped. 

Ol’ Sow

In all, on this morning, I watched six bears (and six cubs, three sows having twins) catch and devour seventeen salmon! I’ve never seen such prolific, successful fishing.

Game On: Fishing Bears

Fishing Bears
Abrupt turn as the salmon shots off to the right

It takes a lot of skill, speed, and agility to catch a fish in the water.  You can see here how much energy is expended to chase one down.

The fishing was so hot that this bear took the fish she was eating with her to pursue the next!  Using her foot as a plate.

It’s not looking good for this salmon trying to push across the gravel to get back to the ocean. It didn’t make it into a deep pool before the tide went out. A fatal mistake.
Behind this successful bear are the buoys of a commercial salmon net (the white dotted line). Twice weekly commercial boats are permitted to set their nets at the mouths of these rivers where the salmon congregate to complete their lifecycles.

What happens when two bears go after the same fish?  Stay tuned.

Fishing bears
Fishing Dispute

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5 Replies to “Fishing Bears”

  1. Amazing, fantastic shots! What fun to watch so much massive action everywhere you must look. One of my favorite of your always wonderful adventures!

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