Conversations with Bears – Flylords Mag


It has scared me for years. The thought of stumbling around a corner on a trail and seeing a 600 pound grizzly bear. Taking in the view, gazing intently, then pushing me, flying rod in hand. Killing me. Leaving nothing to show but the cork of the rod, freshly ripped open by the claws of a beast, and a trail of blood in the woods.

While I have worked in Yellowstone over the years and researched bear activity throughout North America, such circumstances simply do not exist. News sources portray that although it is a normal occurrence, the bears do not want to catch us. However, you may be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And that’s usually how attacks happen.

The rule of thumb for walking in the gray area is to walk in groups of three or more. Always carry bear spray and never run. The reason not to run is because a bear can run up to 40 mph. Translation: Usain Bolt can’t outrun a bear.

Carrying bear spray is your best chance of surviving an attack. Bear spray is basically pepper spray on steroids and the bear has to go through the spray in order to get to you. Ask any hunter, most of them carry bear spray regardless of whether they are shouldering a high caliber rifle or even a heavy bow. The reason is, if you kill a grizzly in self-defense, you can go to jail since they are federally protected.

Finally, walking in groups of three or more allows and encourages conversation and noise. Taking a bear by surprise is the most common method of attack, and if you’re walking with friends or family, talking should eliminate the element of surprise. With large groups, if a grizzly shows up, you can appear larger, enticing the bear to go elsewhere with its attention.

So enter me: A Yellowstone tour guide, an avid trail runner, fly fisherman, and has seen hundreds of the 800 native grizzly bears that call the greater Yellowstone ecosystem home. No friends, family or out of shape or interested but still wants to run deep into grizzly country. Doing it just because no one wants to go, all to access some of the most beautiful and remote bodies of trout water in the continental US, but at the end of the day, there is an intimate fear of bears.

I learned at a young age that just because no one wants to go with you, it never means you shouldn’t go. So in all the solo endeavors I’ve done, I’ve also learned that if you don’t take steps towards fear, you’ll always turn around and run away in fear. And after years of traversing the trails in and around Yellowstone, gritting my teeth in frustration at my fear of bears, my breakthrough finally came.

For the past year, I’ve been researching high and low for a trail running pack that can carry flight gear smoothly without compromising comfort or the necessity of all long distance running needs. I noticed that Simms was creating a flyweight collection and a running pack was added to the kit.

Immediately upon opening the box and ripping off the plastic, I was disappointed. I opened the package looking for them, scratched my head wondering if I bought the wrong one, even looked on their website and saw their YouTube ad. The straps for the rod holder were missing. I thought they might have forgotten to include them in the bundle until I went to the fine print on their website and noticed that they are not included in the bundle purchase. What nonsense!

The sole purpose of buying the kit was literally for the rod holder system. And here I am on a trail, with a small stream sloshing its way alongside the trail, and I can’t even test the pack because Simms was too cheap to include straps.

However, I mustered up the strength to carry my original running pack, leave my stick in the car and just hit the trail for a few miles. My first solo run in literally Yellowstone and instantly, bear evidence was everywhere. Scat lay along the path, huckleberry bushes were stripped, fallen logs were torn up, even a paw print. But my inner monologue was still flipping the coin to keep flashing or spinning, and at that moment, the phone was pulled and the music started playing.

Playing music in bear country is a surreal experience. It seems to create an imaginary shield as I run. My stress was released and my focus returned to the beauty of the area; the stream teeming with insect and trout life and the concentration of breathing. I run without music almost every day. I love the quiet sounds of nature and the deep meditative thoughts that come out of the exercises. But in grizzly country, there is no hesitation. The more unpleasant the music, the better. And with my sense of stress slowly diminishing and my turn forward, a large brown object moves slowly through the forest in front of me.

My heart sank and my stomach turned. The mixture of fear in her gaze as well as fear of the unknown took over. Unfazed, the bear meandered slowly across the landscape looking for berries and herbs. I was screaming speed metal when I noticed him, and surprisingly, he didn’t care much about the music either.

I slowly backed away facing him, pausing the music, talking and saying hello as I tried my best to have a subtle but calm conversation with him. She looked up at me and almost sighed like she was a cute girl being approached by another guy in a grocery store. He went on his way and finally I said goodbye and turned back. Slowly running back when I felt it was appropriate to do so.

When you run, it triggers a response from the bear that you are prey. So I made sure she kept foraging and got away from me when I felt I had to run. I looked back intermittently to make sure it wasn’t following or chasing me, and as usual, it wasn’t.

Bears are lazy after all. 80% of their diet is plant-based and they sleep four months a year. But that experience left me with a nervous excitement about what lay ahead, and with the confidence from that experience, the next track and the one after it kept popping up on my radar. And yes, I finally got that stupid belt that Simms failed to include with their package and the casts also started in bear country.

Shouldering my pack and excited to begin my first run into alpine territory, I finally had all the components to create a great running and fly fishing experience. The weather was good, a stream ran down next to the trail for drinking water, and my excitement was through the roof. A lake lying in wait for my clumsy casts for local trout, and I actually have a lure that was designed by a runner and a fly fisherman. But this is actually wrong.

After putting the pack to the test and putting it through its paces on terrain ranging from low-altitude flats to extremely technical and high alpine, I joke that the pack was designed by a fly fisherman, not a runner.

With what frustration in my veins at the lack of purchase slowly turned into my enemy. The straps and rod placement in the pack were clearly not designed by someone who runs. When you’re hiking, the bar sits wonderfully on either the left or right side of the pack without so much as a worry in the world. Until you start running, that is. The rod, no matter how tightly you strap it to the side of the pack, will swing back and forth annoyingly rubbing against your arm with every step.

But with over 100 miles of trail running, countless crunches and flushes, and only a few bear sightings, I’m happy with the pack’s accessibility and storage as a runner, regardless of rod placement. I learned to ignore the jumps and rubs and just enjoy the beauty of the scenery. Some of the trails and lakes I ran on looked like a human hadn’t been there in years. It turns out I’m not the only one with a real fear of bears.

With this new access, I can carry anything from a two-weight to a 10-weight as long as it is quartered. And because of that, I can now access areas that used to take me days, but can now do in a day with a running pack that can hold a fly rod.

I was able to get into ground this summer that would have easily taken several summers. But because of my pack and training, I was able to go to the water and fish on the way home and have a full meal the same day. It was thrilling almost every day and human encounters were almost as rare as spotting a bear, but the overall environment and the confidence it gave me opened the doors wide to all the other trails I have yet to discover and all the fish that yet shall they not be deceived by my fly.

With over a thousand miles of trails in the park alone, and many thousands more outside the park, I’m sure I’ll at least try to run and fish them all. Hopefully and excitement with a few more bear talks, as long as everyone is as calm as the first. You just have to talk to Simms about rod placement.

Article written by Sean Jansen @jansen_journals. Sean Jansen is a freelance writer for Flylords Magazine and spends his time in Bozeman, Montana, where he guides tours through Yellowstone National Park.

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