Written by Jen Finn
Sunday, July 29, 2007 — Every season as the colossal run of Bristol Bay sockeye salmon surge up the rivers, bears come to feast on the salmon us gillnetters missed. Brooks Falls, which is a part of Katmai National Park, is a great place to watch the bears stalk salmon as they fight their way up a bit of rapids and a small waterfall (the falls). The National Park Service has accommodated human lookie-loos with a great bear-proof viewing platform. It is from this platform where photographers take the picture of a bear chomping a salmon out of mid-air as it is jumping up the falls.
On Sunday, July 29, in the leisurely post-season days of stripping nets and scrubbing the boat, we had the opportunity to head up to Brooks Lodge with Mike, the winter watchman's son. All of my crew, including Bruce and Madeline, and Crosby and his crew, and Mike's two young sons as well, all piled in my car and Mike's truck, which was towing Mike's setnet skiff, and headed for the boat ramp in King Salmon.
From there Mike would launch his skiff then run 40 minutes to the world-renowned Brooks Lodge — a $1,000 trip just for the cost of fines. Just as we were pulling out we were joined by a last-minute addition — Derrick, who fished with Murray for part of the season. There was room for one more so we welcomed him along.
On the way to the boat ramp, we stopped for snacks — mainly chips and beer by my observation, but I also observed Derrick buy a bottle of whiskey. I neglected to bring any spirits along, probably because I stopped drinking booze on nature walks not long after I graduated from high school, but nonetheless I thought a pull or two off the bottle might be nice on this high-spirited journey.
The skiff launching procedure was old hat to Mike, and he knew the run to Brooks like the back of his hand — he has snowmobiled with his buddies around here since he was a kid. In less than an hour we were standing on the shores of Brooks Camp, with pumice lapping the lakeside shoreline and petrified wood decorating the neighboring woods (they say this is the land where rocks float and wood sinks).
Before we were allowed to enter the trails, we had to go through bear school, so we knew how NOT to be mauled by a bear. The friendly park ranger told us the basics: Make noise, stay on the trails, don't get between the mother bear and her cubs, and if confronted by a bear, don't show aggression.
After bear school we headed out on the trail toward the viewing platform, but we were held up at the floating footbridge because there were a couple of bears on the other side. As we waited for the go-ahead to cross, I saw Derrick take the bottle from his back pocket and draw a healthy pull off his fifth of whiskey. I was surprised to see the bottle was over half consumed. He never offered me or anyone else a slug, so he must be working at a pretty fast gait if he had slurped down all that booze himself.
After we cleared the footbridge we had another bear delay as we trekked to the viewing platform, but it was a brief stop and we never actually saw the bear. At the platform we had the full show: bears hunting, bears catching fish, bears eating fish, bears looking at bears, bears looking at other bears eating, tourists looking at bears, tourists looking at tourists, etc.
If you've seen one bear (or tourist), you've seen 'em all, and bears in Naknek are like stray dogs anywhere else. We stayed at the platform for about 20 minutes then headed back to the skiff; I think this trip was really all about the ride. It wasn't until we were walking down the beach with the skiff in sight when somebody asked the question, "Has anybody seen Derrick?"
TO BE CONTINUED...
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