Photographing Bears in Alaska with Robert Hawthorne

Flylords caught up with Robert Hawthorne, a photographer specializing in wildlife, landscape, and action sports. He was up in Alaska this summer and took some insane photos of the local grizzly bears. Check out the interview below.

Flylords: Who is Robert Hawthorne?

A wildlife photographer from Bozeman, Montana. Photography has always been a method of sharing my most treasured memories with everyone who may never witness it for themselves.

Flylords: What makes Alaska such a unique place to shoot?

Capturing wildlife in Alaska is on another level than what is available in Montana or anywhere else for that matter. Alaska is home to the largest salmon migration in the world, and as a result, the coastal brown bears convene in numbers seen nowhere else in the world. Katmai National Park, in particular, offers an unparalleled experience for both bear photography as well as world-class fly fishing.

Flylords: What was the first thought that went through your head when you snapped the picture (above)?

At the time of this photo, I was walking across the river and happened to notice the two fishermen and their spectator. Believe it or not, seeing this was no cause for alarm or immediate action. If you spend any time on the same rivers as the bears, you will soon realize that there is no way to avoid encounters with bears in close proximity. And very rarely are these encounters threatening. The park service has done a phenomenal job of creating a respectful relationship between fishermen and photographers. It is not uncommon to see 20-30 bears in a day on a single river!

Flylords: What did the anglers say after you showed them the photos? Did they ever freak out?

I was never able to track down who the anglers were and get them this photo, but I hope through more publicity, that it will cross their path! I would love to get them a copy of the photo for their wall! So if anyone might know them, send them my way ;).

Flylords: Do you have any advice for close bear encounters or tips for shooting bears in the wild?

As far as advice for shooting bear photos, I’d encourage anyone interested in spending time with bears to educate themselves on bear behavior and especially their body language. Bears are incredibly expressive when it comes to their emotions and intentions. Especially in these protected national parks, as long as you are attentive to bears’ personal space and maintain a non-threatening composure, bears’ can be among the most cooperative wildlife photography subjects. There is rarely a need for any aggressive actions like waving your arms, shouting, throwing rocks and so on.

Nothing drives me crazier than watching a group of fishermen unnecessarily attempt to intimidate a passing bear on the river. We are in their home, and they will most likely ignore your presence and pass right by your side if you just remain composed.

When a bear approaches on his own terms, these are the best times to capture photos and observe them up close and personal. But I am by no means discrediting the need for bear safety such as pepper spray, a pistol and most importantly, ensuring you never surprise or threaten a bear.

Don’t forget that a public land bear is going to react very differently to you, then a bear who has lived its life in a protected national park. Most of all, just get out exploring and bring your camera along, and never forget we are guests in their territory! Respect that, and you will have encounters you have to see to believe!

Be sure to check out Robert on Instagram at @robert.hawthorne.photography and online at https://roberthawthornephotography.com/. Robert is also gaining interest to host an Alaskan Brown Bear Photography Workshop in 2020, so be sure to reach out if you are interested.

How to Stay Safe Fly Fishing in Bear Country

1 COMMENT

  1. My first thought of the picture of two guy fishing with a grizzly approaching them is that these two do not have their act together. I have fished grizzly territories in Montana, Idaho, Alaska and Canada for years. If you are unwilling to take responsiblitiy for paying attention to your surroundings, then you should go fish somewhere these animals do not reside! If you are that stupid of the potential situation outcomes, you will become the victim. This goes for both grizzles, kodiacs and black bear! Even a careful examination of the area with a binoculars, a stream or river thick with pines, or high scrubs, and not seeing a bear or movement will not guarantee that one is not there. The only time you know they are there is by their tracks, food deposits, their snorts and their eventual standup. This requires that you put the same energy you put into your fly fishing as to analyzing whether or not you are in an area that belongs to a particular bear or a number of them.
    While it is sad to read that a guide was attacked, it reads like he missed an important clue – a food deposit, i.e. a dead deer or bison. The Park Service tracks things like that in Yellowstone and do advice people of these deposits and potential dangers. Frankly Bear Spray may deter a nonaggressive bear, but a bear with territorial food deposits is going to get pissed off with anyone that comes within those deposits, Spray or No Spray.
    Alaskan Wilderness Fly Fishing Guides recommend that you alway and I repeat always yell out “Hey Bear”, loud and often when away from rafts or lodges. Or carry a bear gun that you actually know how to use. (Remembering that grizzles that have been shot but not killed are more deadly. A shot bear will track you down and kill you. ) Carry bear spray. And group together to create a larger group yelling “Hey Bear”.
    Read https://flylordsmag.com/how-to-stay-safe-fly-fishing-in-bear-country/.
    Maybe all that was happening in that picture is that the bear became curious and decided to check out whether of not the fisherman where catching something. On the other hand, maybe the fisherman where fishing in the bear’s hole. But the shot plainly showed that the two fisherman do not have clue that the bear is there. And there lies the problem as stated above. Enough said

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