BEAR-LY Aware

Guest Blogger: Jim Murphy, Neenah WI, long-time J Stockard customer and avid fly tyer

I believe it was in the spring of 1965 and one of my first attempts at fly fishing (kinda). It occurred on a small tributary of the famous Boise Brule River in northwestern Wisconsin. I say kinda because I was fishing a handcrafted Ed Norton fly rod (borrowed of course) and a Pirelli automatic reel that was spooled with 10 pound + Stren mono also borrowed. And, I was snaking a beat up Pass Lake wet fly under overhanging alders which thrusted their tangled branches toward mid-stream. As I look back I could have fished this same water with a cane pole (not to be confused with a split bamboo rod). But, I was using a fly rod, a fly reel and a fly so in my mind I was fly fishing. And, with 2 Brook trout on the stringer I was convinced I was a full-fledged fly fisher.

But I have regressed because the real story would unfold as I continued to fish.  Somewhere between the 3rd and 5th fish, I became aware of the crunching of brush as someone was working their way toward me. The occasional blue word was a dead give away that his adventure was more than a bit challenging.

Some minutes later a middle aged,  bit overweight gentleman, decked out from head to toe in the latest high end catalog gear including a Sage fly rod, burst  through a tangle of tag alders and launched himself into a small clearing just downstream and across from where I fished. As he stood there puffing heavily and  sweating profusely while trying to catch his breath and gather himself he eventually noticed me. We exchanged quick “howdy, how ya doings” before he pushed on to his honey hole somewhere upstream.

This incident alone was a bit of an eye opener as not many folks even know of this little trib let alone attempt to fish it with real fly fishing gear. I only new of this creek because it ran through my Grandmothers property.

But what was about to come was an even bigger surprise. About a half-hour had passed when I once again became bear-ly aware of more crunching of brush but this time headed my way from upstream.Thinking that it was the return of my newly met fisher friend, I simply fished on.

Well, that was until the expected litany of blue words was replaced by muffled grunts. Now my interest was peaked, and the hair on the back of my neck stood straight out. As I reeled in the line and gathered my gear, including a  stringer with nearly a full limit, the grunt became a well defined growl.  And, as I turned around I found myself staring into the eyes of a rather large brown bear who stood well above me on a high bank about 30 inches, or feet, or yards, away. I really wasn’t counting but he was definitely too close.

By then that nice stringer of trout seemed far less important than life and limb. Thinking Mr. Bruin had smelled those fish I threw them, stringer and all in his general direction. I  dropped the rod and stumbled, ran, stumbled across the creek. About the time I reached the opposite bank that bear let out an ear splitting roar followed by the unmistakable clamor of the bruin smashing his way through the heavy understory…moving….AWAY. Yes, AWAY. The last I saw of Ursus arctus was his south end disappearing into the dense undergrowth apparently as intimidated by me as I was by him. Once my knees stopped knocking and blood pressure returned to somewhere around 210/195 I returned to retrieve rod, reel and , yes, even the stringer of brookies.

Although this encounter occurred more than 50 years ago the lesson leaned still burns. Each time I slip into my waders I check off the box that reminds me to be more attentive to the world around me. As a result of becoming more than bear-ly aware I have been greatly rewarded by Mother Nature. She has shared with me many fishing companions. I have cast a line with eagles, ospreys, deer, moose, coyotes, buffalo, elk, assorted small creatures and yes even another bear. But, the story of the Griz and I will have to wait for another day.The journey from novice to competence also includes  the replacement of the stringer with a camera,  updated gear and only an occasional meal of delicately fried trout.

2 thoughts on “BEAR-LY Aware

  1. Paul Kruse

    Thanks Jim. Neat story and the Bois Brule is a really neat river! I am willing to share my fishing experiences with just about anything, besides a bear. Well and people sometimes. 😉

    Reply
  2. Michael Vorhis

    What a teller of tales you are Jim; I’m sitting here not reading a screen but standing in my waders, hearing and seeing that far too close beast, smelling the crisp morning air and my own fear, and spontaneously hefting a stringer of brookies with my throwin’ arm as I tense for the sprint of my life. Very vivid!

    Whether that bear ran because of whatever noise you were making as you took off, or because it feared any man whose fastball…er, uh, fast-fish…was as good as that, I guess doesn’t matter. You were destined to do bigger things in your life and that was not your scheduled last day. But what a memory to carry with you through the years.

    But I wonder about Mister Catalog Gear, who was still upstream in the direction that bear had headed. I wonder what his own story has been down trough his life, perhaps of seeing a crazed creature crashing through the brush straight at him, roaring at the top of its lungs. Let’s hope his tale ended as well as yours did, and got to be told at all. 🙂

    Thanks for a terrific shot of adrenaline on a Tuesday AM. Fly fishing does have a habit of serving up an unexpected moment, don’t it? : )

    – Mike

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