This was my second day on Kodiak Island. The day before paid for my entire trip to the Alaska fishing lodge. Last night I barely got any sleep as I kept replaying the scenes of Kodiak bears lining the sides of a stream patiently waiting for the next salmon or two. It was just as our guide Dave promised. The bears were forty to fifty yards apart. They don’t just pick a location but move about and are constantly eating. They are happy to grab the rich grasses and stuff them into their mouths. If they are awake, it’s time to eat. I’m kind of the same way. In between mouthfuls they kept a close watch for any movement in the flowing water . . . and a closer watch on their own cousins. Actually, the bears tolerate humans more than they tolerate each other and allow us to approach within thirty to forty yards.
My eyes wandered to the surrounding hills and beautiful mountain ridges, but my head snapped around when I heard a deep Kodiak growl that seemed to vibrate in my own chest. One male had gotten a little too close to another male and they were sizing each other up and now claiming and defending the same fishing spot. They growled; they postured; they charged, but after what seemed like an hour they never even really touched. Each could feel the hot breath of the other, but neither fully committed to battle. Both stalked off winners. For me it was a dream come true. Being only yards away from a full-grown half-ton Kodiak bear was something I could share with my buddies back home in Lakewood for years to come. I was full-filled.
This day started out with a fantastic breakfast and a growing pile of coho. We had two boats side by side. On the other bank of the fast moving stream we watched a mother bear and her two cubs. I was hoping to see her teach the young ones her fishing technique. Then the wind changed a little bit. She turned her head towards me. I could see her nose wrinkle a little bit as she sniffed and tasted the air. She didn’t care what I smelled like, but she was definitely interested in our morning catch. Leaving her cubs on shore, she stepped into the stream and floated down in a sitting position about twenty yards where her feet touched bottom. She looked back at us and then away . . . and quickly disappeared into the high grass on our side of the stream bed. I stood up. We could see her back sticking up a little over the grass as she circled behind us and then re-appeared twenty yards upstream.
Freddy, the youngest guide, had already nocked an arrow in his long bow. With the bow in his left hand he raised his right hand and waved both at the bear to let mama know we knew she was there. The sight of the bow worried me on two counts. One, I didn’t want to see the bear hurt or dead . . . and leave two orphans on their own. And two, I was afraid an arrow would only enrage the mother, scare the children, and perhaps leave me with a paw upside my head . . . and missing body parts. The day before I had heard that the guides also have a supply of rubber bullets and pepper spray and have never hurt a bear or guest in over thirty years. In the excitement, that information slipped away while I was in the moment.
Mother bear waded back into the stream and crossed over to her babes. Soon the three of them were in the water and floating downstream . . . only to pause at the same place where she had crossed before. Freddy shouted again, waved and got mama’s attention. With relief the three were soon back into the deeper water and bobbing away. I could breathe, again. My heart did skip a beat when Dave explained that the arrow was blunt and has a heavy shaft. They are only used to get the a bear’s attention. I was relieved . . . and then had second and third thoughts about the whole morning adventure, but was well pleased!
The trophy-sized coho salmon were great prizes, but my memories from one and half days on Kodiak Island made the four-day trip to Alpen View Wilderness Lodge worth while, and I still had another two and half days to go. My second night, I dreamed and slept with a huge smile on my face. I was content.
This short story was based on actual events. Alpen View Wilderness Lodge is real. – alpenview.com/