Fishing in Bear Country by John McPherson

June 12, 2017

Fishing in Bear Country by John McPherson

 With the number of bears we now have in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem you are almost always fishing in bear country. This past Satuday I had an encounter with a very large Grizzly on the Gallatin River inside Yellowstone Park. Fortunately I was using one of the ways to avoid a bad bear encounter.

 I was on the upper end of the Gallatin near the Fawn Pass trailhead, definately bear country! The area I was fishing is thick with willow brush. I remembered my training from when I lived inside Yellowstone Park and was around bears on a daily basis. I used my voice. Using your voice is the best way to avoid startling a bear if one is nearby. When a bear is startled it may charge and attack. Every so often I was yelling "Hey Bear" as I fished. This will let any bear in your vacinity know you are there before you might walk around a corner and are face to face. At about 30 yards distance, luckily with the river separating us, a large male Grizzly walked out of the willows. I held my ground and didn't run. This is very hard to do but very important! If you run the bear will treat you like prey, only prey animals run from bears. I continued to use my voice and talk to the bear to let him know I was human. After what seemed like an hour, but really only about 30 seconds, the bear began to move off upstream. This is when I started to slowly back away and leave the area, never turning my back on him and keeping an eye on what he was doing.

 I did have may bear spray with me but this is a last resort tool if a bear does charge you. Remember that your voice is the best way to let bears know you are in the area. Another thing that can alert a bear to your presence at a distance is your body odor. They have a nose that can smell things miles away. If the wind is blowing in the direction you are traveling they will usually smell your scent long before they hear you coming. The wind doesn't always blow in the right direction, that is why it is best to use your voice. If you know you are heading into bear country skip taking a shower that morning. It will give you a stronger scent for them to smell plus you won't have any fragrent odors on you from soap or shampoo that could attract them.

 This bear decided not to do anyrhing to me and slowly start moving upstream toward the treeline. This is when you use this opportunity to slowly back away and leave the area. You want to keep an eye on the bear to make sure he doesn't double back on you. I have had a bear do this once before. When the bear and I were about 150 yards apart I felt safe enough to turn my back to him and hike to my rig.

 Another way to stay safe while fishing in bear country is to hike and fish in groups of three or more. The more people in your group the less likely you are to have an encounter. There is actually only two bears on record to have attacked large groups of people and both of these bears were sick. One had a brain tumor and the other was dying of starvation.

 Don't let this story keep you from fishing in bear country. If you play it safe you will probably never have a run-in with a bear. I happen to to do a lot of solo hiking and camping trips and I seem to be a bear magnet.

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