The Sort of Bear Incident

Guest Blogger: Joe Dellaria, Woodbury MN

I had been trying to get my friend to try trout fishing for several months. To protect the innocent (or guilty, as the case may be), we will call him Harold. He was close to saying yes, but didn’t want to invest in fly fishing equipment and felt like fly casting was too complex. So, I suggested he could spin cast and watch me fly fish while we alternated fishing up the river. Harold thought this sounded reasonable and agreed to go.

A couple of days later I picked him up at his house. We had barely made it out of his driveway when he started asking me if there were any bear on the river.

I was surprised and asked, “Why are you asking?”

Harold, “We have had several bear sightings in our neighborhood over the past couple of months.”

I replied, “No kidding, I never knew there were bear in this area!”

He proceeded to show me pictures on his phone of “bears” that had been on his property and his neighbors’ property. They were reminiscent of the Lock Ness Monster pictures – hazy and poorly defined. It mostly looked like someone was shaking the camera while taking a picture of someone’s eyes in the dark. I of course seized the opportunity to razz him mercilessly.

Undeterred he peppered me with questions.

Harold, “You ever see a bear on the river?”

Me, “Nope.”

Harold, “You sure?

Me, “Pretty sure, they are kind of hard to miss you know.”

Harold, “You ever hear of a bear on the river.”

Me, “Nope.”

Harold, “Ever?”

Me, “Nope.”

This continued for another five or ten minutes. Eventually the discussion turned to how we would fish and we arrived at the river. Harold was clearly “on guard” as we started fishing, but eventually began to relax and enjoy the fishing.

A couple of hours later he was completely relaxed and joking around as we alternated taking casts. He hooked and landed a couple of fish which got him more focused on fishing. He had not fished a lot, so many of his casts ended up in trees and rocks near the shore. We were probably three or four hours into the outing when we arrived at one of my favorite holes. I gave him the downstream section as it was open and held some nice fish. After instructing him how to navigate the river, I went to shore, walked around his section, and got in at the upstream riffle at the head of the hole.

Our timing was perfect. We hit the stretch just as the sun was going below the tree line. There was plenty of light so you can see where you are casting, but there was no direct light on the river. This is what I like to call “magic time” as it seems there is always a flurry of action just before dark. Sure enough, Harold got a couple of fish and was getting pretty excited. As he fired off the next cast, he got his lure stuck on the first branch of a big oak tree. Totally understandable, except the first branch was 30 feet up!

He yelled up to me, “Hey, Joe, I got my lure stuck in a tree,” as he jostled his rod so I could see where the lure was stuck.

I answered, “Harold, I don’t think there are too many trout in trees. How about if you try the river?” (I like to encourage my fishing partners)

Harold, “I can’t get it free.”

Me, “Bummer, you’ll have to break the line and tie on another swivel.”

I proceeded to explain how to break the line off as it was one of the synthetic braided lines. If you pull with your hand, the line slices down the line of your finger print. It hurts when you do and for at least a week afterwards.

Harold shortly confirmed he had broken the lure off and started tying on the new swivel. It took him 10-15 minutes to tie on the new swivel and choose his next sacrificial lure. By now it was getting darker. I could barely see him at the end of the run.

Harold yelled out at the top of his voice, “It’s all good, I am ready to fish again!” About half way through the sentence it sounded like a herd of water buffalo were coming down the steep bank where Harold was standing. It was dark enough that I couldn’t tell what was happening.

Harold began screaming, “Help, help, it’s a bear!”

In a few more seconds, it became clear what had transpired. All of a sudden there was a loud splash as the beaver hit the river. This was followed by four or five tail whacks as the beaver swam away from Harold.

Apparently, the beaver had been further in the woods as Harold and I worked our way through the hole and came to the top of the hill just as Harold had finished tying on his new lure. When Harold yelled to let me know he was going to start fishing again, he scared the beaver who made a bee line for the river. Admittedly, the beaver made a pretty impressive sound as he rushed down the hill. Harold still had bear on his mind and assumed the beaver was a bear preparing to attack him. Once I heard the tail whacking, I knew it was a beaver, and all was good. However, by now Harold was a bundle of nerves.

I worked my way over to him as quickly as I could. For some odd reason Harold failed share in my amusement, actually all out laughter, as I was explaining what happened.

It took a couple of years before Harold could laugh at the incident. I teased him for several years about “attack beavers.” Eight years later, I have still have not seen a bear on the river. This spring my wife was at the dentist making small talk as he poked at her teeth. Somehow, she mentioned I did stream trout fishing. He proceeded to recount watching a bear for an hour while fishing about three miles downstream of Harold’s encounter.

As soon as I found this out, I called Harold and asked, “Hey Harold, I just heard of a new hot-spot on the river. You want to try it out?”

Harold, “How do you know it’s a hot-spot?”

Me, “Our dentist just told Karen he watched a bear there for over an hour last weekend. He must have been fishing. What do you say, want to give it a shot?”

Harold, “No!”

10 thoughts on “The Sort of Bear Incident

  1. Michael Vorhis

    Hilarious story Joe! Loved it. I have friends like that–one colleague can’t understand why I’d ever go fishing alone. Like every Hollywood city slicker ever to write a script that has a woods in it, he pictures bears surrounding our cities pretty much shoulder to shoulder, and imagines them living their lives as one big nonstop rampage, going berserk here and there and everywhere, mouths frothing, eyes glowing red, burning calories 24/7 for the pure joy of killing stuff. He assumes anyone taking a step beyond municipal lines risks dying a swift and grisly death and never being seen again.

    I think I’ll send him your story. Yes, I’m a trouble-maker, I admit it. : )

    – Mike

    Reply
    1. Joe Dellaria

      Hi Mike,
      Let me know what your friend thinks of the story. I just e-mailed it to “Harold”. I can’t wait to hear his response. He may never fish with me again.
      All the best, Joe

      Reply
    1. Joe Dellaria

      Hi Jim,
      Glad you enjoyed the story. I just e-mailed “Harold” the story. That could be the end of him ever fishing with me. However, I thought he should see the story.
      All the best, Joe

      Reply
  2. Gary Moss

    Such a funny story. Several years ago, I walked down the road near my favorite stretch in order to fish back up, and saw a moose calf down on the stream. There are always a lot of dead willow branches in this area and visibility on stream is poor, as well as limited casting opportunity unless one slogs up the stream. I had been fishing for quite a while when I heard a LOUD rustling in the dead brush. I stopped and the rustling stopped. I started fishing again, and the rustling started again. I eased out of the water and up to the road and walked past the area, never seeing the moose. Back into the water upstream, I continued my fishing. Better a beaver than a bear,or moose.

    Reply
    1. Joe Dellaria

      Hi Gary,
      Glad you enjoyed the story.
      It was a good choice to avoid an encounter of the close kind with a cow moose and her calf. It can get pretty ugly when a wild animal is protecting their offspring.
      All the best, Joe

      Reply
  3. Chuck Stine

    I loved the story. I have a buddy that I used to scuba dive with. One day swimming back to the beach, a young female sea lion swam up underneath us, checking us out. If my buddy could have walked on water, he would have run all the way back to the beach. This guy was an engineering officer in the Marines in Viet Nam. Who knew? Well, bears, sea lions, animals in the wild really freak some people out. Semper Fi:

    Reply
    1. Joe Dellaria

      Hi Chuck,
      Glad you liked the story.
      Unexpected surprises like that can really be unsettling. If I had been with your friend and had the same thing happen to me, we could have raced to shore together!
      All the best, Joe

      Reply
  4. Joe Stephens

    While fishing the Copper River in Alaska a couple of years ago, we frequently found ourselves sharing the water with bears. Fortunately they were more interested in the fish they were catching and eating than in bothering us. One day, however, as we had pulled our inflatable raft up on the bank and were fishing the river, a bear walked up to the yellow raft and looked it over. Afraid he would puncture the wall and disable it with his large claws, we began clapping our hands and shouting “Hey, bear!!! Hey, bear!!!” He looked over at us for a long moment and then turned and made his way back into the trees. We returned to the raft and moved further downstream!

    Reply
    1. Joe Dellaria

      Hi Joe (good name by the way!),
      We are definitely in their territory when we are in the wild. Glad this worked out for you. Good choice to move upstream. No sense in provoking an interaction you are likely to lose!
      All the best, Joe

      Reply

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