Five Rivers Odyssey: Ten minutes in bear country

Libby and I eagerly headed down to fish the Russian river after a day spent repairing fences and learning about bear safety with the U.S. Forest Service. We walked for quite a while hoping to get away from the crowds chasing the sockeye salmon on their journey upstream.

Eventually, we reached the end of our path and we were greeted by a canyon. Libby and I separated for a bit, and I dead drifted my streamer through an eddy. Almost immediately I felt a fish smash my streamer. I set the hook and brought in a feisty 12-inch bow. I released the fish, hungry for more.

I spotted a nice-looking pool on the other side of the river and crossed through the swift current with hopes of hooking into another bow. Once I reached the other side of the river I looked around and saw what looked to me like perfect bear territory. I made some noise so that a bear would know that I was in the area, but I was still terrified that I was going to run into a bear. I took a few casts, swinging my streamer through the good pool and slowly twitching it back up to where I stood. It was hard for me to focus on fishing with images of bears flashing through my mind after the USFS bear training.

I looked around on my side of the river after every cast, but I continued to fish due to the lack of a bear sighting. I scanned the river for promising holes and that’s when I saw it… the bear! It was a young black bear trotting down the opposite bank. Almost immediately I thought about Libby. I said “Hey bear…whoah bear…” in a low voice and he looked up at me. The bear put his head back down and continued trotting.

Libby was downstream and on the other side of the river and had no visual of the bear. I scooted back and told her that a bear was upstream of her. Looking back on it, she must’ve been terrified. She had no clue how far away the bear was or what it was doing. She began to wade across the river to my side, and right on cue, the bear disappeared into the brush that lined the canyon walls.

Libby made it across and we decided to stick a little closer together and switch off fishing holes. I tossed my streamer in the water and gave it a few twitches while we were talking. Not really paying attention, I was very surprised to feel a huge pull at the end of my line. A nice rainbow was furiously hooked on the end of my line, jumping and running for any brush pile in sight. We managed to land it, and it was a fish unlike any I had caught before, covered in spots from nose to tail. I was ecstatic to look at my first leopard rainbow.

I quickly unhooked the fish and released it. I took a deep breath and sat down on a rock.

Wow, what a crazy few minutes!

—Anthony Ortiz

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