Monday, October 12, 2009

Black Bears and Browns! Oh My!

A few weeks back, about the middle of September, my good friend Brad and I went out on Belt Creek for an afternoon of fishing. Brad, a Montana native, who now lives in the fast paced city of Las Vegas, was glad to be back in Montana for a weekend and to experience a relaxing day on the water, which he so seldom gets the chance to do. He told me he wanted me to show him the way of the fly rod, I was more than obliged to do so. It was a hot September day with the sun sitting high in the sky, not a single cloud, but a breeze that made the stickiness in the air dissipate just enough to make it a bit more comfortable. I decided I would take Brad to my favorite run in hopes he would hook up on a nice trout. I had never been to this spot on an early afternoon with the sun so high and bright, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I had a feeling with the sun as high as it was and the water being as shallow as it was, I figured it might be best to get a nymph down low as I assumed the fish would be spooky. The silence of the surface confirmed my predictions as we got to the spot and fished it for a good half hour. I set Brad up on a large hopper pattern so he could see his fly and get a good feel of the rod. Brad had only fly fished a time or two prior to this, so I knew he would be able to independently cast on his own without too much of my advisement. I had on an Stalcups Hopper with a bead head dropper of sorts, hoping to feel out the top and bottom. Surprisingly enough, I was able to get a few strikes on the top. A couple looks came off the side of the riffle I normally cast to, and the other came mid-stream in the presence of the shadows across the surface. Too small I assumed as the strikes were just little flicks of water. I decided that we would go downstream to a nice little hole on the backside of a boulder. After multiple casts I finally hooked up on a whitefish on a bead head flashback PT. He wasn't of great length, but I was happy to have caught one. I decided to let Brad take the wheel of my rod and work the same little run.

A dozen or so casts later a large strike came at the Orange Stimulator. Brad pulled back, which was a nice hook set, had the fish on for a few seconds, but with his inexperience, he made another hard pull back and ripped the hook out from the trouts lip. We were both pretty bummed as I wanted so much for him to land that fish. It looked like a nice 15 inches. He pressed on and casted to the same spot over and over with no results. Overall, Brad and I had a blast out on the water, drank a few beers and mostly just enjoyed being out there. Even though Brad didn't hook into any fish, he seemed to enjoy the time out and I was glad to have the company in my most familiar setting.

Walking back on the trail I've walked many times, light and dark, Brad and I were noticing large piles a dung full of chokecherry seeds. Brad mentioned that it looked liked bear poo to him, but I couldn't be for sure. I had never heard of bears being in the area, although I hadn't really ever fished the area much prior to this year. I didn't think much about it until the following week when I decided I was going to go out and fish again, like I normally do on any given weeknight. I thought about going to Scheels Sports to pick up a can of bear mace, but I figured I was being over analytical about the situation and just decided to get outta town so I had enough daylight to fish. It was a perfect evening, sunny and clear. I wasn't 3 minutes into my walk on the trail when I heard some rustling just down off the slope of the trail in the bushes. Instinct set in and I immediately began clapping and whistling only to expect a buck or a doe to hop off into the distance. Rule #1, don't ever expect rustling in the bushes to be just a deer! Two seconds after my timid claps, whistles and whoops came crawling out of the bushes a good sized black bear! My heart stopped, and I froze. I was standing less than 30 yards from a 200 pound black bear. My instincts told me to run, but I knew better so I just stood there, frozen in fear. To my surprise, the bear just languidly trodden towards the creek foliage. As he gained distance from me, I pulled out my camera, and began snapping a few picks. It was at this point I heard some rustling just another 20 yards to my right. Again, CLAP, CLAP, WHOOP WHOOP I went, and not kidding you, an even bigger, 300 pound black bear climbs outta the bushes and rushes towards the creek along with his buddy. I had to check my boxer shorts to be sure I hadn't shit myself. This was the first time I had ever been put in this situation, and what a relief it was to see the bears just as afraid of me as I was of them. So after my heart dropped from its 180 beats per minute to a relatively calmer thumping, I was brought back to reality and without any rational thinking, began walking the trail as if I were going to make my way to my fishing spot. After taking about 10 steps, I realized I was walking in the wrong direction. I asked out loud to myself "Are you nuts! What the hell are you doing?" There was no way I was going any further down that trail, only to walk it back in pitch black and get eaten alive by a massive black bear. Not smart. I quickly turned around and got the hell back to my car where I would decide my next move.

After relaxing a moment, I decided that I wasn't going to let the exciting events of the night ruin an appealing night on the water. I decided to fish downstream from the Riceville Bridge, in uncharted territory for me. After walking down about 100 yards from the bridge I dropped in a Batman nymph with a Stimulator on top. Only after a few short steps of walking along side my drifting flies, I got a nice tug on the nymph. I immediately saw a golden brown flash in the shin high riffle. I let the brown run downstream as he wanted, only to put the brakes on him and get him close enough to put him in the net. It was a stunning 17.5 - 18 inch brown.

I released the beauty as I noticed a smaller fish feeding on some passing morsels near the opposite undercut bank. The cast was tight near an overhanging limb, but after three of them I managed to thread the needle. I watched as the small rainbow darted a few inches to the right for my fly. A quick fight and I had the 12 inch rainbow in my grips. I let him go and moved a few more feet downstream covering as much of the tight water as possible. It wasn't more than 5 minutes when I saw a riser 20 yards down alongside the bank. I slowly crept downstream below him and cast up to him. The first few casts rendered zero interest to the dry fly. On the next cast I felt a nice tug on the Batman nymph. Another brute of a fish. This one really took off downstream as he made a break for a fast riffle out of the slower moving water. I quickly realized I might lose him so I tightened the drag and stopped him in his wake. He obeyed and soon I had another solid brown just over 17 inches in my grips. He looked quite similar to the same brown I had caught only 10 minutes before.

Another one down and I still had a good 45 minutes of twilight left. I worked that stretch for a short time before moving down even further into the unknown. I ran into some classic riffles along side the outside bends of the banks. No hits, but the water was perfect and figured it was about the time the water should come alive. I ended up snagging my tandem flies in the top of an aspen tree behind me, wasting precious light retying the setup again. By the time I was at another run downstream it was dark and figured it was time to make my way back. The thought of a couple hungry bears were hanging in the recent still frames of my mind. I quickly walked back in the midst of swooping bats and hooting barn owls in the trees above me. Like many other nights out on this creek, the night was over in the blink of an eye. The only thing different about this night is that I had the adrenaline rush of unfamiliarity. The bears will be remembered for some time to come and I will learn to use caution while fishing in the area, or any other for that matter. In a way I feel that the encounter was a blessing in disguise. I was able to break out of my comfort zone and fish some new water with successful results. It's funny how things work out sometimes. I was amazed that just an hour or so ago I had escaped becoming dinner for two black bears, and had come to grips with two awesome brown trout. Nature has an amusing way of writing some interesting scripts.