Our last trip to the Brooks River was in 2009, and it was wonderful to be back! Some things had changed around the camp, but not enough to alter the character of this fabulous place, thank goodness.
We arrived in cold, rainy, windy weather, so a good part of our first afternoon we spent walking up to the Brooks Falls to scout for bears while the wind roared. Luckily, it died down later and we headed out to the river. There were no sockeye salmon in the river as we had hoped, so we fished for the trophy rainbows of Brooks while we waited for them.
After dinner the first night we managed to hook up several rainbows and eagerly looked forward to the next morning. We were up early and headed out to the river for a full morning of fishing in a couple of different spots where more rainbows awaited us.
That afternoon, we hiked out to the river mouth and got all excited to see a large school of sockeye moving up the lake toward the river with fish jumping for excitement too. We quickly rigged the 8-wt rods and were lined up along the current at the river mouth soon after casting away.
Sockeye are an elusive salmon, and can be hard to hook unless you're casting to a large number of fish. Nevertheless, the gals persisted and hooked several, but weren't quick enough to set the hook a second or third time as a salmon's hard mouth requires. We hoped for better luck on the next school as these first arrivers headed straight up-river without stopping to rest as late arrivals usually do.
No more salmon appeared so the afternoon saw us casting dry flies, nymphs, as well as large, black streamers to the gorgeous rainbows that were very visible right in front of us. We certainly were delighted to have them to fish for while we waited for more salmon to arrive.
Our last day proved to be very frustrating. It was raining hard again, and the water was high and dirty. While we did see another approaching school of sockeye, they decided to stay out in the lake and leave us salmonless. All day we kept checking the river to see if the salmon had arrived. Even though we couldn't keep a fish caught above the floating bridge, we decided to head up there and see if any salmon were resting in the infamous "meat-hole" on their way to the Brooks Falls and their spawning grounds. It was heartening to see a few fish right out in front of us, but again, they streaked on by ignoring our flies. Back to trout fishing we went and were happy to have them
We did have better luck with our bear watching, however. A four-year-old bear appeared over and over again near the lodge, the river, and the trail, once, even taking a nap on the beach right in front of our cabin. Another time she even laid down in the sand to scratch her back with all four paws waiving in the air. Late one afternoon we watched as a very large male bear approached the same spot where she was exploring. We waited breathlessly for the encounter, but they headed off into the woods where we couldn't see them. It is spring, after all.
A bear that had already learned that people meant fish, approached a small group of anglers and sent them scurrying one afternoon. Another day at lunch a bear ran right through camp just outside the dining room, causing everyone to abandon eating and run for their cameras. We never know where they'll turn up next.
The phenomena of fish and bears that is Brooks isn't always this slow to develop, but the bears don't usually appear in any numbers until there are lots of salmon clogging the rivers where they are easier to catch. Usually the party is in full swing when we arrive but this year's cold spring and high water were thought by biologists to put a damper on things. Even so, we enjoyed coffee in the morning by the huge fireplace in the lodge, fun cocktail hours with our fishing friends the "The Order of the Hairy Dogs," and meeting people from around the world who were also enjoying this special place. Besides, the chance to fish for trophy rainbow trout in this gorgeous little river makes it all worthwhile as does the constant excitement of seeing bears in the wild.