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Bear Safety When Fishing

I have decided to write this article as my son Joshua and one of his friends have had close encounters with bears recently. I also have had encounters with bears but the bears have always been a fair distance away. My son who last weekend was hiking down a short trail that leads to a lake encountered the small black bear pictured in this article. My son paused and took these photos when the black bear was still some distance away. The bear then got down from the stump it was standing on and started towards Joshua. At first Joshua stood still to see what the bear's intentions were. When the bear kept coming in his direction Joshua started jumping up and down waving his arms and yelling "GO BEAR GO BEAR" and the bear obliged and ran off into the woods. My son's friend was charged by a large 300 pound black bear on the upper Chilliwack River, (Near Vancouver, BC) knocked down and his roe bag pulled from his fishing vest before the bear high tailed it into the woods.

 According to the statistics that I found, from the year 2000 until now (2011) 14 people have been killed by brown bears (grizzlies, brown, Kodiak) and 17 people have been killed by black bears, including a 5 month old infant that was taken from her stroller in Fallsburg, New York. These are the statistics for fatalities, many more bear attacks happen every year but the people survive. Fishermen account for many of these attacks both fatal and non fatal. Fishermen are often in bear territory and need to know the basic rules on how to avoid confrontation with bears.

Rules for bear country 

The following bear safety information was gathered from a variety of different government sites and should be considered good preventative advice but there are no guaranties against bear attacks. You are on their turf and every bear has its own personality so always be aware and be informed.

  • Stay alert. Keep an eye out for bears so you can give them plenty of room. Look for recent bear sign such as tracks, scats, fresh diggings or partly eaten fish. (If you see any of these, be especially cautious.)

  • Make noise, especially when your visibility is limited. If a bear hears you coming it will probably leave the area.

  • Gut your catch at the shoreline, not at camp. Put the guts in the water. Pop the air bladder so the guts will sink.

  • Try not to get fish odours on your clothes. Wash your hands, knife and cutting board after cleaning the fish.

  • Keep your fish cooler in your vehicle. If tenting, store fish and food away from your tent in bear-resistant and odour-proof containers.

  • If approached by a bear, reel in and leave the area, or cut the line if playing a fish.

  • Do not handle roe used for bait on picnic tables. Wash your hands afterwards, do not wipe on clothing.

  • Do not build fires or cook by the river's edge.

  • Fish with a friend. Bears are less likely to be aggressive toward groups of people.

  • Always sleep in a tent or a camper, never under the stars. Do not camp by the river or near berry patches or wildlife trails.

  What to do if you happen on a bear

 The previous points were to help avoid bears but there are also rules for when you actually come upon a bear.  

  •  If spotted in the distance, do not approach the bear. Make a wide detour or leave the area immediately.

  •  If you are in a park report your sighting to Park Rangers at the first opportunity. If you are at close range, do not approach the bear. Remain calm, keep it in view. Avoid direct eye contact.

  •  Move away without running. Running can instinctually make the bear chase you.

  •  If the bear is standing up, it is usually trying to identify you. Talk softly so it knows what you are. If it is snapping its jaws, lowering its head, flattening its ears, growling or making 'woofing' signs, it is displaying aggression.

  •  If you are carrying bait or your catch drop them and move slowly away. It may distract the bear and give you more time. If it is an adult grizzly, consider climbing a tree. Remember black bears and small or young grizzlies can climb trees and adult grizzlies can reach 12 feet up a tree. 

  • Should a grizzly bear charge or attack do nothing to threaten or further arouse the bear. Play dead. Grizzlies tend to defend themselves when threatened. Assume the 'cannonball position' with hands clasped behind neck and face buried in knees. Do not move until the bear leaves the area.

  • If a black bear charges or attacks do not play dead. Be aggressive, a black bear when threatened usually retreats to the forest or up a tree rather than stand its ground.

  • If a Grizzly or Black Bear Attacks offensively (including stalking you or when you are sleeping) Do not play dead. Try to escape to a secure place (car or building) or climb a tree unless it is a black bear. If you have no other option, try to intimidate the bear with deterrents or weapons such as tree branches or rocks.

  Bear deterrents

There are a number of tools that can help you deter a bear, including bear spray, non-lethal projectiles, and a variety of noisemakers. Used properly deterrents can be helpful, but they're not 100% effective. Make sure you're familiar with their use before you need them. And don't let deterrents give you a false sense of security. Even in your tent, keep deterrents close at hand. Bear spray Bear spray should only be used at close range on an aggressive or attacking bear. Carry it ready to use, not in your pack. Before using it, ensure the nozzle is pointed away from you. Exercise caution… If discharged upwind or in a confined space, bear spray can affect or, in extreme cases, disable the user.

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