Like all pursuits, there are risks associated with your endeavors. I served five years as an infantryman/paratrooper in The Canadian Airborne Regiment, a nonstop adrenaline rush. When I turned 25, I decided that I was no longer invincible and left the army, taking my P.T.S.D., physical damage from over 100 parachute jumps, and an immense sense of situational awareness with me. Since then, my days are spent pursuing more gentle activities, namely fly fishing and bird hunting. The adrenaline rush is toned down, but situational awareness is usually there.
Spending a great deal of time with a fly rod in hand in and around the Rocky Mountains, my biggest fear is getting mauled, and perhaps eaten, by a grizzly bear. Where Alberta, Montana and British Columbia all come together, there are plenty of bears, as this country is home to the largest population of grizzlies in the Lower 48. Spend enough time here and sooner or later an encounter or sighting is going to happen. It’s always on my mind when I’m fishing in remote areas.
A few years back, I was fishing on British Columbia’s Elk River. I had waded across the river and was walking through the heavy bankside brush when I came almost face-to- face with what was probably a two-year-old grizzly bear. The bear looked at me. Of course, I was looking at him, and we both abruptly parted ways. He headed into the brush, and I ran into, then across, the river back to my truck.
Since then, I have been more ‘bear aware’ while in the backcountry. The approach I take is letting potential bears know that I am in the area, by periodically blowing a whistle, yelling “Yo, bear” and making other noises that anyone listening would perhaps find amusing.
The idea is to give a bear enough intel that perhaps they should vacate the area. In case they don’t, my trusty can of bear spray is always close at hand. If I’m charged, my hopes are that the wind is blowing in the right direction, so the spray does not come back at me.
Here in Montana a lot of backcountry enthusiasts have taken to carrying 10mm handguns, as they are lighter than a heavy and cumbersome 44 magnum revolver. The logic is you can get off 15 shots as opposed to six. Some of my British Columbia guides carry Remington 870 12-gauge shotguns loaded with slugs and buckshot when roaming the back country with skittish clients in tow. Of course, the guide’s bear stories en route to the fishing venue may add to the skittish feelings, perhaps intentionally.
Lately I have been scouting out the fishing potential on a ranch in north central Montana. The river that flows through it is a well-known grizzly corridor that runs east out of the Rocky Mountain Front Range. My time is spent walking and fishing the river. The potential for encountering a grizzly is always in the back of my mind.
On one occasion, after rigging my fly rod up, I began walking downriver, going through my bear protocol of blowing my whistle, yelling, and pulling out my bear spray while walking through thick brush.
The fishing was good, so I began to put thoughts of bears on the back burner. A hard fighting rainbow trout readily ate my grasshopper pattern fly and I tussled with a nice brown trout. After releasing him, I noticed a large grey-brown animal moving along on the far bank. “Oh, [expletive]” and “I’m dead” came to mind, until what I thought was a bear turned out to be a massive Anatolian sheepdog, who swam over to greet me. His collar tag indicated that ‘Brutus’ was appropriately named. I texted the ranch manager asking if the dog was his, which he was.
As I began the hike back to the truck with Brutus by my side, I laughed at myself. Perhaps I was being a little too paranoid. Then I thought of the fishing guide that three years ago stepped into the bankside willows only to be mauled by a sow grizzly with cubs. That was only seven miles upstream from my Brutus encounter. Maybe being paranoid is not so bad after all.
Dave Brown can be contacted at email@example.com