I’d consumed far too much coffee, so I put down my fishing pole and walked over the hill to find a convenient tree. Instead, I found the neighborhood bear. He was dashing around in a small pool of water on the other side of the road doing what Kodiak Bears do best: chase salmon. He was far too occupied to have seen me so I slipped away. I didn’t want to surprise him. Bears don’t like surprises.
When I first came to Alaska in the 80s, many backpackers and hikers wore bells to let bears know they were in the area. My thinking was that cows wore bells and bears liked to eat cattle. I talked and sang a lot. “Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall” was a favorite. One rendition gets you through a lot of bear country. Peggy and I still sing it when we come on a pile of fresh, steaming bear poop in the woods. The bigger the pile, the louder we sing.
This time I walked backed to where Tony was fishing and quietly gave him the news. I didn’t want to alarm the boys. More to the point, if the boys knew the bear was nearby, they would immediately want to go see him.
Tony came loaded for bear. He carried an air horn and pepper spray as his first line of defense. You are supposed to stand tall and make lots of noise if a bear finds you interesting. Tony is 6’2”. The air horn would supply the noise. When it comes time to use the pepper spray, the situation has deteriorated considerably. If all else fails, you are supposed to play dead… or shoot the bear. Tony is a nationally ranked pistol marksman. If push came to shove, my money would be on him.
Fortunately, the bear headed upstream. We were left on our own to catch salmon.
The natural setting on the end of the Chiniak Peninsula on Kodiak Island is beautiful and this was our second time there. The first time we had been quite successful and we were eager to for a repeat performance. It wasn’t to be.
There was an extreme low tide. Pink salmon in the hundreds lay just off the shore, eager for the high tide to send them swimming on their way up the Chiniak River to perform their age-old ritual of laying eggs and then passing on to salmon heaven, where I assume salmon food is plentiful and bears aren’t.
Our challenge was in catching, not snagging the salmon. They were so thick we kept hooking them before they went for our lures. I even brought a couple in by their tails. It was all fun, at least for us. We dutifully released the snagged salmon as required and watched them swim back into the bay. After we had caught and released 16 or so we decided it was time to pack it in and head home.
We’d go out to dinner. Grilled salmon could wait for another night.
NEXT BLOG: The Coast Guard on Kodiak