A Brooks Bear Bash

2009 Brooks River

It always amazes me that the Brooks River in Katmai National Park is so fantastic year, after year, after year. I’ve been going there for over twenty years, and it’s never disappointed me. The salmon may not always be in, and we may not always see fish jumping Brooks Falls, but the bear watching and the rainbow and grayling fishing usually make up for it.

So it was this year. There were bears everywhere around the lodge, but the sockeye were just starting to dribble into the river on the second day of our trip. We began by rainbow trout fishing in hopes of staying at a different part of the river where all the sows with cubs were, but that didn’t seem to work so well. They seemed to be everywhere. Some of the cubs were yearlings, some were 2-year olds, and some were brand new. We were thrilled with all of them. Because we had to get out of the river frequently, we had ample time to photograph them around the observation platforms.

One bear family gave us a special treat as she “treed” her two cubs in a large cottonwood tree growing right behind our cabin! That meant that we were unable to leave the cabin for more than half-an-hour, but it was worth it. That’s what we go to Brooks for, after all. We watched as she patrolled back and forth under the tree and kept telling her babies to “stay put”. We’d seen one of the yearlings limping badly and holding up one of his front paws, but he seemed to have no trouble clamoring up the tree when mom sent him there.

Besides bear watching, we also go for fish, of course. We had our fishing licenses checked almost immediately after we arrived and we were ready to fish. We rigged up the 8-wt rods and hauled out the salmon flies and headed down to the river outlet to see if we could intercept the sockeye. Despite some hook-ups, we failed to land any. Then, when one of the sows with cubs plus a single bear all came down to the river right near where we were, we retreated to the lodge.

The second morning, we went back to rainbow fishing, and really hit the jackpot! Brooks is noted for its large fish, but they are fish that didn’t get that big by being stupid. Besides, they’ve seen everything we could possibly throw at them because of the early season pressure they get. Luckily, however, the river was very low this year, so everyone could target specific fish. Using very large black streamers they all hooked up repeatedly, and everyone landed several fish! They were beauties to boot—in the high teens and low 20’s! Many had brilliant red gill plates and the characteristic reddish lateral line. Two of us even missed lunch because we weren’t willing to stop fishing in what we called the “hot spot.”

Other attempts at sockeye fishing had the same result as earlier. Fished were hooked, but not landed. Two of the gals had to leave before the run began to build. Everyone got really good at doing the “flip” cast, though. And, surprisingly, we saw only a few Arctic grayling in the river. Not enough to even break out the dry flies.

The bears were definitely the high point of the trip. They seemed to be everywhere. Only a few of the really large boars showed up on the river while we were there, but when they did all of the other bears and all of the anglers paid close attention.

One evening the gals got to see salmon at the falls, but we knew that the would be many more as time went by. We’ll be going back in 2010, of course, so it’s time to reserve your spot right now! The bears and the fish will we waiting for you, and so will I.



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