Knowing how to avoid bear encounters before you hit the river will make the fly fishing experience much more enjoyable for you and the bears.
The sound of bark being ripped off a log sent chills down my spine. Only one animal in the woods of southwest Colorado has the ability and the desire to strip logs in search of food: a black bear. Now, I know that black bears are largely unharmful toward humans. But after the tracks I’d seen earlier – a time and a half larger than my hand – and the scat – a pile as big as my head – I felt a bit apprehensive about hanging around.
AVOID BEAR ENCOUNTERS WHEN FLY FISHING
In my life in the outdoors, I have encountered black bears numerous times; not to mention the run-ins I’ll never even know about. Each time they headed in the opposite direction, I continued about my business, and all was well. A black bear’s keen sense of everything – sight, smell, hearing – gives them the ability to detect danger long before it shows up. Which is why you really don’t see them too often.
However, there are those instances when you could surprise a bear. Fly fishing in southwest Colorado can take you through the thick woods in order to reach the river. And if the conditions are right, you could find yourself face to face with a bear. So let’s figure out how to avoid bear encounters.
Any time you’re walking through the woods with a thick undergrowth or inching your way through a thicket, make a lot of noise. Call out, “HEY BEAR!” as you move. Give them the opportunity to get out of your way.
The wind is the number one factor that would cause a bear to stay in your path. If you’re walking into a strong wind, there’s a good chance they won’t hear or smell you. So make a lot of noise. And take your time.
TAKE YOUR TIME
Fly fishing is a slow down for many of us. I often find myself in a hurry to get to the river. But once I set foot in the rushing water, a calming effect comes over me. There’s no substance on earth that can make me feel the way that fly fishing does.
You’re much more likely to cross paths with bears when you’re heading to and from the river, especially when you’re in a hurry. Way too many things can go wrong when you’re hurrying, including tying poor knots, snagging your pole in a tree limb, and yes, stumbling upon a bear. That’s why it’s so important to take your time from the moment you exit your vehicle until you return. Plus, the slow down I’m talking about is how we’re able to smell the proverbial roses. It will also help you catch more fish.
KEEP YOUR HEAD ON A SWIVEL
I get tunnel vision when I fish. I’m on a hole that I think holds fish and I’m making sure my fly drifts every inch of it until I either hook up or strike out. I have to remind myself to take a look at my surroundings from time to time. While a black bear typically won’t stalk a human as prey, we do share the country with mountain lions. Again, the chances are really slim, and they’re going to be even slimmer if you’re hyper aware of your surroundings.
ENCOUNTERING A BEAR
When you encounter a bear, and I say when because if you spend enough time outdoors, it’s going to happen, stay calm, start slowly backing away, all the while telling the bear in a firm voice that it needs to do the same. This last part sounds funny, but if a black bear needs any confirmation that you’re a human, and therefore dangerous, your voice will do it. About 99.9% of the time the bear is going to high tail it in the other direction before you have time to utter a word.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
Sometimes you can’t avoid bear encounters. The most dangerous black bears are those that have gotten used to people. By natural law, man is the apex predator, a fact that most animals acknowledge by their hard-wired instincts that tell them to run when they smell, see, or hear a human. But every so often wildlife and human life get too close and the intersection can turn pretty sour pretty quickly.
If it happens and you get attacked by a black bear… FIGHT. Playing dead is a tactic for grizzlies. Use any object you can get your hands on and swing for the tip of the nose. If you’re carrying bear spray, hopefully you have the forethought to bring it to the ready before the attack happens.
According to the North American Bear Center, black bears have killed 61 people on this continent since 1900. So your chances of death by black bear are extremely low. But I can tell you, when I heard that bark getting ripped off the fallen log, I quickly left the hole I was fishing and moved up river. That bear didn’t know I was there or didn’t care. Either way, putting distance between us felt like the best way for both of us to enjoy the rest of our days.