Does a bear?

Everything I need to know about life I learned from my Teddy Bear

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The following note from a fellow fly-fisher brought to mind an experience I hadn't thought about in a long time.

"The Department of Fish and Wildlife is advising fishermen to take extra precautions and be on the alert for bears They advise fishermen to wear noise-producing devices such as little bells on their clothing to alert, but not startle the bears unexpectedly. They also advise you to carry pepper spray in case of an encounter with a bear. Fishermen should be able to recognize the difference between black bear and grizzly bear droppings. Black bear droppings are smaller and contain berries and possibly squirrel fur. Grizzly bear droppings have bells in them and smell like pepper spray."

I once told Ernie that there were times in the woods when I was afraid of coming across a bear. Ernie asked if I'd ever seen a bear. My answer was no. "Well, there ya go," he said, "and you never likely will. They'll smell you coming from two miles away and hightail it out of there. They're more afraid of you than you are of them." I was inclined to believe Ernie; he'd most probably spent a quarter of his life in the woods and another quarter of his life telling stories about it. Ernie fished, trapped, and hunted (with both rifle and bow) until age slowed him down and he gave up on the fishing and trapping.

My fear dissipated, although I did once mistake a very large porcupine for a bear cub, and I blithely walked through the woods with not a care in the world. Until.

Until that fateful September day. Prior to that particular day I'd had a pretty successful trip to a quite remote spot. It was a long hike and the fishing was limited in such a way that I'd only visit it once a year, just to see if anything had changed. It was a small pond, not much more than an acre in size, but it was fed by a small brook from a large lake and was a spawning ground for some very nice brookies. Tucked away in a hollow of birch-covered hills it was the kind of place where the rest of the world does not exist. A fire had gone through the area in the 30's and the lower parts of the hills surrounding the pond were covered in blueberry bushes and lambkill. My 82 year-old friend Noble can recall going there as a teenager with an ox-and-cart and hauling out boxes and boxes of berries. There's also a rumour that one of the local lads got lost in the area and his bones are buried in the bog.

I'd come home at peace with the world that day until I opened my rod case and found that the top section of my rod was missing, there was a slight gap at the end of the zipper where it had fallen through. I was not at all disappointed and only saw it as a chance to retrace my steps and fish the pond again.
I set off early the next morning on a beautiful, calm day, with just enough clouds in the sky that the trout wouldn't be spooked. I'd be carefully scanning each side of the trail for the lost rod section so I knew it might take a little longer than usual to reach the pond. The first part of the trail was an easy, undulating walk, followed by wetting my waders in crossing a short section of river between two lakes. Then up a long steep hill, sheltered by a narrow corridor of spruce and pine. At the top I passed an out-of-place oak that would take two people to encircle. Not far past the oak the trail disappeared and was lost amongst a dense growth of small birch. I followed the notches on the trees that marked the route, ducking under branches and tripping over roots. The trees ended where the fire had gone through and I followed a one-man trail through the lambkill. From the top of a small ridge I could see the pond and this is where I found my rod tip. It was lying on top of the lambkill, waiting for me. I carefully placed it in the case and zippered up tightly. I began my trek down the ridge and was at the bottom, watching where I was placing my feet, when I halted in mid-stride, frozen stiff with one leg in the air.

There, smack-dab in the middle of the trail was a huge pile of blueberry filled poop. And it was still steaming! My heart hit my throat and my stomach hit my feet. I wasn't even sure which planet I was on. I stepped back, even though my legs felt like they were floating in air. A bear had been here very recently, maybe only five minutes ago. Ernie may have been right but what he'd neglected to tell me was that you had to be upwind of the bear and obviously I wasn't. Nor, I suspected, was the bear two miles away. Ahead of me lay the pond but in-between me and the pond was a small stand of stubby birch and brush that the trail wound through. Just the sort of place where a bear would find shelter. I did some panic-attack breathing and tried to figure out what to do, especially since I couldn't find the bears trail. Should I retrace my steps, go through the trees or make my way around them? The pond beckoned. I couldn't go back, not with that water in sight (no fisherman can refuse the lure of water). I couldn't go around the trees; the lambkill was waist high and impenetrable.

There was only one thing for it, make lots of noise and whistle. My favourite whistling tune is "I've Been Working on the Railroad" - it has gotten me through some scary places before but I wasn't sure how a bear would feel about it. I rattled my fly-boxes, started whistling and stomped forward. I beat the bushes with my rod case, stopping now and then to listen and look behind me. When I'm in the woods I've often had the feeling that something is following me, usually it's the echo of my own footsteps but this time I expected the worst.

I made it through and only lambkill and low gorse lay between the pond and me. The fishing was not much fun though, my head was continually swiveling, and I didn't stay for long. All I could think of was that I was going to have to go through those woods again. I plucked up courage and managed to whistle my way out safely but made a promise to myself that the next time I went there I wasn't going alone.

So, does a bear? You're darn right he does.

James Babb, in his book Fly-Fishin' Fool, had a similar concern regarding bears...
"Don't worry", Jim-Bob said..."Bears generally won't bother you if they know you're around...All you need to do is whistle every so often."
And I said, "I can't whistle."

Tales Casting contest I Tangier River I Boyhood memories I Newfie salmon I Muddler's memories I Does a bear? I First ever salmon I The Tickmobile
U-Fish I 4 a.m. I Lyin seasun I Anecdotes I Fishgirl salmon I A natural fly I Main Event I Honeymoon I Vernon I Leslie I Coyote? I Newfie trout I Fantasy

Pat Donoghue, Canada, ©1997