Friday, September 16, 2011

Up North 6

Chapter 6


   I decided to take a day off and go fishing. I knew there were salmon in the river along with the trout I’d been catching and I wanted to catch as many of them as I could. The nice thing about salmon is that they are fairly easy to smoke or dry and they last a long time. I was planning on having them as one of my main sources of food during the winter months. The problem was I didn’t know for sure when salmon would be making a run up the river so I needed to spend a day fishing every so often to see if they were there. Darn, the trials you have to go through to be a pioneer.

   I gathered up my pole, lures and a stringer and walked down to the river. I had been having good luck catching trout right at the mouth of my creek but so far I had never seen a salmon there. It was the same this day. I caught a couple of trout which I would smoke and could have probably caught a few more there but I was looking for salmon so I wandered on down the river. I would check out likely spots as I went sometimes catching a few trout but just no luck with the salmon. I had wondered far enough down the river to know it would be dark by the time I made it back to the cabin when I decided to try one last spot.

   I made half a dozen casts without even getting a nibble. I thought I’d move to one more deep hole and if I had no luck there I would call it a day. I had only made a couple of casts at the new hole when I got a really good strike. I wasn’t sure what it was. Either a very large trout or it could be my first salmon. All I had was a spinning reel and not very heavy line so I had to work it carefully to make sure I didn’t lose it. I worked my way up and down that bank for a good fifteen minutes before I got it close enough to see that it indeed was a salmon. It took another ten minutes to finally get him up on the bank. I didn’t know the difference between salmons back then I just knew it was healthy looking and weighted around ten pounds. I took a few minutes to get a good enough hold on it to get the hook out. Buy the time I did get the hook out I was too excited to worry about putting it on the stringer. I wanted to get the hook back out and see if there were more of them out there so I just tossed it behind me far enough up to make sure it didn’t flop back in.

   It took me a little longer to catch the second one but it was even bigger and just as nice looking as the first one. It was getting later and I knew for a fact I’d be walking home in the dark but I wasn’t going to quit until it was too dark to see. I tossed my line right back out in the same hole. I was having good luck there and didn’t see any reason to change anything. Sure enough it didn’t take over three casts to get another one. I was getting the hang of how to play them by then. I could work to get them down river just a few steps to a shallow spot. Once in the shallows I didn’t have to worry so much about them jumping and breaking the line I just had to keep them from turning and running back to the deep channel. This one felt like he was either the biggest of the bunch or my arms were getting tired but whichever it was I was determined to get him on the bank. I spent a good twenty minutes just getting him into the shallows and close to the bank. Then the unthinkable happened, he broke the line. I had him to the point where over half his body was out of the water by then and there was no way I was losing this fish. I dropped my pole and jumped in the river with him. The water wasn’t even higher than my boots but I must have made a strange sight trying to grab him out of the water. I finally grabbed him but not with a very good hold and I thing I throw him in the air at least four times on the way to the bank. He was a nice looking fish and I’m pretty sure he was bigger than the first two. I tossed him up with the other two and set to work replacing the hook. I was figuring that if my luck held out the next one should be a real whopper.

   The only thing I had been paying any attention to was getting the hook replaced and back in the water. I knew the fish were far enough up on the bank to be safe so I didn’t have to worry about them flopping back to the river. I was already planning a big salmon dinner in my mind as I cast back out for the next one. I had caught the first three on a bright red spoon but somehow I had lost it during the fight with the third one. I don’t know if he spit the hook out when he broke the line or if I knocked it out of his mouth during the battle but it was gone. The only other spoon I had with me was a yellow one but I was more than willing to try it. I may have been will but for some reason the fish just didn’t seem to like yellow. I must have cast that thing out there two or three dozen times without a single hit. I was just standing there staring at the river trying to think of something I could do different when I notice a sound behind me coming from where my fish were.

    I turned to see what it was and got the surprise of my life. Sitting there on the bank, not twenty feet behind me was a bear. It scared me so bad that for a minute I just stood there and stared at him. Then the scare wore off just a bit and I realized that not only was he sitting the on the bank, he was eating my fish! That wasn’t the only thing I noticed. He had made his self right at home. He was sitting there on his butt, both back legs spread out with all of my fish between his legs chomping away. He looked like a giant, hairy two year old sitting on the floor eating ice cream and he’s looking right at me! He had my biggest fish, the one I had planned for my fish supper and I watched as he stripped the skin off and ate it. I could even tell the fish was a female because the nest thing he did was eat the roe. Then to add injury to insult he tossed the rest of it down and picked up the next one.

   I finally after all that time catch a salmon. My pole was too small my line was to light but I did catch them and here was this giant hairy fur ball eating my fish! And I swear he was smiling while he did it! My first thought was to go running up there and beat the hell out of him with my fishing pole for taking my fish. My first rational thought was it’s a bear. It’s a big bear. Even sitting on his butt he was still taller than I was and I don’t think getting smacked on the nose with a fishing pole was going to faze him. The part that really drove me crazy was when he picked up the second one he looked at the fist until he had a hold of it, then He looks at me and at the river and back at me like ”What are you waiting for got get me another one” Oh I wanted to hit him so bad right then. My common sense finally kicked in though and instead of attacking him I slowly gathered up my stringer (at least it was close to me and he wasn’t going to get my trout) and eased off up the river watching him every step of the way. He didn’t move an inch just set there enjoying what should have been my fish diner. I watched him until I felt safe enough to turn around and head back to the cabin mumbling and grumbling all the way about those damn fish stealing bears.

   Bears, especially the fish stealing kind drove me crazy the first summer I was up there. I didn’t realize until later that I had built my cabin at the intersection of Bear Boulevard and Bear Avenue so there were lots of them around. Brown bears are really big. I had even thought about going bear hunting with a pistol one time. One of my favorite outdoor writers had done that and I figured if he could so could I. I had bought a 41 magnum pistol so I would always have my bear protection gun with me. The first time I saw a brown bear up close and in the wild the last thing I wanted to do was to have to pull that thing. Once he left I took a really close look at that gun. It looked huge when I bought it but after seeing that bear it began to look really small and all thoughts of bear hunting with it left my mind forever.

    Another thing that interested me about bears was how much effort they could put into something that I thought was going to yield them very little food. I could understand the fish; there was a lot of protein there for the effort. One day I was hiking throw the woods when I saw one digging like crazy at the base of a big fir tree. I could see that he was digging into a huge mound of fir needles so of course I figured he had buried some kind of carcass there and was back for another meal. I found a spot where I could see him good and settled down to watch the show. He was throwing needles and dirt everywhere, then he would stop and shove his nose into the pile then start digging again. I watched him for at least a half an hour but never did see him pull anything out of the pile. As soon as he stopped and got out of sight I went down to see if I could figure out what he had been digging for. It was ants. All that work for nest of black carpenter ants. It just didn’t seem like something that big would get enough food from a nest of ants to make the effort worthwhile.