Fishing Alaska rivers surrounded by bears

I was fortunate to enjoy three adventures of two weeks each in Alaska, focused on fishing. Two were with my friend Les Priest and one was with my wife Linda. On all three adventures, we encountered lots of bears.

Today I’ll tell you about a few of those encounters. On Kodiak Island, Les and I spent a week on the Karluk River. We were flown in to the start of the river, and spent a week rafting down river and catching huge king salmon. And oh yeah, we had bears all around us.

On our first night, as Les and I were in our sleeping bags in our tent, we saw the shadow of two huge bears walking by our tent. I said to Les, “Let’s let our guides handle this.”

When we got up in the morning, we spotted several bears just downriver from us. One guy in our group had not done a lot of fishing, so they put a bobber on his line. He cast his bobber out into the river and on the other side a bear emerged, and swam out and ate the guy’s bobber.

Every evening after our tents had been set up, they put our portable toilet out in the bushes. One morning I had just finished my business and was standing up, pulling up my pants, when I glanced behind me and saw a giant bear walking by about 10 yards away.

If that bear had walked by in front of me while I was sitting on the toilet, I would not have had to go to the bathroom for a week!

One time Les and I were fishing with a guide in a boat on a river, when we saw a bear walk down to the edge of the river and jump in and swim in our direction. Our guide quickly pulled  up the anchor and sped up river. Eventually the bear turned around and swam back to land. We all wondered what he had in mind as he swam in our direction.

One time in a very remote sporting camp, our guide took Les and I on ATVs for an hour’s ride to a very remote brook that was full of fish. Les and our guide went up the brook while I headed down it.

I stepped out onto a gravel bar and spotted some very fresh and huge bear tracks. And I sprinted all the way back to Les and our guide and fished with them for the rest of our time there. Perhaps I was overly cautious, but I don’t think so!

Linda and I, on our Alaskan adventure, stayed at Rainbow River Lodge, which flew us out every morning to different rivers to catch big rainbow trout or silver salmon. I took Linda there in August because that’s when the silver salmon, one of my favorite fish, were in the rivers. They often are 10 to 12 pounds.

I have a photo of Linda taken from behind after she has just cast, and 10 yards away a huge bear is looking at her. The river was full of bears, and fortunately they were very good at catching fish. But our guides, who had guns but had never had to shoot a bear, advised us to bring our fish in quickly and release them so as not to draw the attention of a bear.

It did take some getting used to fishing with a bear here and a bear there!


George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.