How to Stay Safe Fly Fishing in Bear Country

Bear Photo
I’m by no means a bear expert, but I’ve had quite a number of run-ins with bears while working the last 12 summers in the most productive spawning grounds for wild sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay’s watersheds. It is important that anyone enjoying themselves and/or working in remote bear country be mindful that we share the land with some magnificent and powerful creatures that deserve our respect.
It is intimidating roaming around in bear country, but with the right knowledge, equipment, and practices you can enjoy what you do out there with a little more confidence. Below is some tips about staying safe in remote locations with bears that have worked out for our crew.

Guidelines to Help Eliminate Negative Interactions with Bears:

Don’t Suprise Them – The number one way we prevent negative bear interactions is by not surprising them. As we work in loud, brushy streams it can be easy to catch a bear off guard, especially when it’s concentrating on catching its share of salmon. Our number one goal is to try to give the bears as much notification that we’re coming as we can by yelling “HEY BEAR!” about every 30 seconds whether we see one or not. Usually, if there is a bear within 50 yards they get the message and start running away long before we get to them.

Don’t Spread Out – If you’re in a group or even if it’s just you and your buddy, it’s important to not spread out too much when covering ground. Sometimes a bear can get chased off by people in one spot, only to be forced toward other folks in another spot and that can certainly lead to a dangerous situation.

Photo: @flygyde

Bear Spray – It’s a good idea to carry some sort of bear protection when hiking in areas with a lot of bear activity. Everyone in our outfit carries bear spray into the field which has been shown to be an effective means of deterring troublesome bears. The important thing to keep in mind is that it will only be useful if you can get to it, or if a bear happens to bite and puncture it. The point is don’t bury your bear deterrent deep inside of your pack, keep it on your wader belt or on an outside backpack loop where it can be accessed easily and quickly. Also as a side note, never ever take your bear spray aboard any planes for obvious reasons. If you’re flying into areas on small bush planes some pilots can stow them away in cargo areas outside of the cabin which is pretty handy.
Recommended Bear Spray:

Bear Photo

Be Prepared – Working in remote locations it’s really important for us to have the means to address injuries and call for help if problems including bear attacks occur. In the field, we carry a first aid kit, a handheld VHF radio if there are other folks in the area, satellite phone, and PLB. As the saying goes: it’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

Be Mindful – Plain and simple, always be mindful and aware when you’re in bear territory. For the most part, bears don’t want anything to do with people and a lot of negative confrontations can be avoided if we are just respectful. Be loud, give them space and time, and sometimes the best thing to do is to find another route or to go home to avoid confronting a bold bear.

Article and photos from Jason Ching, a research scientist for the Alaska Salmon Program through the University of Washington. You can reach Jason at @jasonching or on his website

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Spawning Sockeyes


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