Although the fishing wasn't up to par this year, the number of bears really made up for it. In my 30+ years of visiting the Brooks River I can't remember a trip that had as many bears as we saw this time. The water was pretty low, and while that made for easier wading for us, it certainly did affect the trout fishing. Coupled with the fact that they had just been hammered since opening day in early June, they just didn't like the shallow water, the new channel that had formed in the river, and the almost constant changes in atmospheric pressure, which usually puts them down.
All of the difficulties didn't stop us from fishing, it just make things tougher. When rainbow fishing we'd get some hits we didn't set hard enough on, and some follows and refusals that had us changing flies regularly. There were also Arctic grayling in the river this year, but, even they were pretty finicky about what flies they would even look at.
Time after time we had to back out of the river to avoid an on-coming bear, which also affected the fishing. But, since it was bears that we come to see on the trip, we didn't complain. Early one morning when all was quiet on the river I get the gals set up in one of my favorite spots and they were finding the fish interested in smolt patterns as the baby salmon made their way to the sea. But just when we'd found the most effective fly, a Park Service Ranger hollered that there was a bear walking right toward us. He had just emerged from underneath the observation platform where no one could see him. We quickly backed up into a marshy area nearby to let him pass along the trail, and he did so not twenty feet away.
We also fished the mouth of the river for sockeye salmon, but they were few and far between. The run just wasn't happening yet and the fish freezer at the lodge was empty. Once we saw a school of fish that appeared to be entering the river from the lake, but, much to our dismay, they changed their mind and returned to the lake were we couldn't get at them.
In different spots along the river, everyone worked on mastering their nymphing skills as well as taking some time to try-out dry-fly fishing, which none of them had had a chance to experience. From time to time the grayling were rising to dry flies, and then everyone had to work on keeping just the right amount of slack on the water for both the drift and the hook set. Occasionally the splashy rise of a large rainbow for a helpless little salmon smolt made us change flies to smolt patterns, and one of the gals got lots of hits standing in the perfect spot along the current where the bait-balls seemed to occur the most frequently. It wasn't until we removed the eyes from one of the other flies that someone else found interested fish.
In spite of the poor fishing this year the bears at Brooks Falls definitely kept us entertained. Bears were fighting over choice fishing spots on top of the falls, males aggressively pursued females ready to breed, cubs of various ages were learning from their mothers how to fish this special place, and entertaining "teenagers" recently kicked out by their mothers, were trying to survive on their own. No matter when we hiked to the falls this year the bears were there.
Bears also wander along the river searching out the fish, just as we do. They, however, have no hesitation to just jump in the water hoping to be able to pounce on a sockeye swimming by. With so few fish in the water, there were lots of hungry bears around, and we watched a huge bear eating grass underneath one of the platforms we were standing on. He had been courting his lady-love in and out of the water that afternoon but there were no fish for either of them. The big boars often follow a female that is fishing and have no hesitation in grabbing any fish that she might catch.
We had our usual cozy cabin and the food was fabulous (as usual), with two entrées at both lunch and dinner, two different home-made soups at lunch, and cinnamon buns dripping with frosting for breakfast. We gathered around the fireplace in the morning with a cup of coffee, and then again before dinner with a glass of wine. We also were delighted to be serenaded by a bag-pipe player who is a member of a group called "The Order of the Hairy Dogs," who often are fishing at Brooks at the same time as we are. We sure do enjoy fishing alongside of them!
While in the dining room we frequently saw bears wandering the beach right out in front of the lodge, and one sow was even nursing her little one there while the Park Rangers were convincing her that she shouldn't go farther along the beach because the lodge was loading a float plane with departing passengers.
We were all disappointed that we didn't catch any sockeye salmon, but it was hard to complain with the proliferation of bear activity all day, every day. I love Brooks, and we'll be back for more in 2015. Join us!!