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Beware of Bears!

a brown bear swimming in a body of water

Imagine you’ve planned the trip of a lifetime: a salmon-fishing excursion in Alaska. You’ve spent months putting together an itinerary, accumulating top-notch equipment and roping a couple friends into coming, and now the time has come. When you finally arrive, you’re ready to have the fishing experience of your wildest imagination. Your first day on the river, you hook a 20-pound salmon and life couldn’t be better.

And then you realize you’re not the only one excited about your catch.

Fishing trips to Alaska aren’t just about the fish—they’re about the wilderness, the closeness to nature and the sense that anything can happen. But you hadn’t counted on this.

Spotting a bear can be one of the highlights of your trip, but it’s best if this happens from a safe distance. Unfortunately, when you’re on a fishing trip, you and the bear have the same thing on your minds: that prized catch. Thankfully, there are some things you can do to reduce your chances of an unpleasant meeting with a bear.

Pay attention to your surroundings

You don’t want to be surprised by a bear, so it’s important to pick your fishing spots wisely. Since you’ll have more time to react—without panicking—if you’re able to see a bear approaching from a distance, look for fishing locations that are open and provide you with a good range of vision. And while you may find yourself enjoying the peace and quiet, don’t let it dull your senses. Keep an eye out for bears. Maybe you’ll be lucky and spot one—from a safe distance.

Keep your food and your fish well protected

Since you and the bears have a similar appetite, you don’t want to leave your freshly caught salmon out where its scent might attract a bear. A bear-proof container should be on your packing list. Besides, you’ll need a place to store your lunch while you’re catching your dinner.

Let bears have their space

It’s best not to test the theory that a bear is more afraid of you than you are of it. If a bear decides to pay you a visit by wandering into the area in which you’re fishing, let it have its space. If it’s happy at a distance, just keep an eye on it. If it seems to want to come closer, it might be best to pack your things, back away and let the bear do its thing.

Clean up after yourself

Being a tidy outdoorsman isn’t just a way to be a good steward of the environment—it can also help keep you safe. Burn your garbage rather than bury it, as bears have powerful senses of smell and can find anything you think you’ve hidden. Get rid of your fish carcasses too, either by keeping them in a bear-proof container or by tossing them into fast-moving water and letting the river take them away.

Bad bear encounters can put a serious damper on fishing trips to Alaska, but remember that you’re a guest on the bears’ land. Be on alert, remember to practice good habits to avoid attracting bears, enjoy them if you see them at a distance, and don’t panic—give yourself a story to tell when you get home.