Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park in Alaska has been on our bucket list for 20 years. I went with my son and son-in-law to Kulik Lodge, 40 miles from here on a fishing trip in 2011. This time, I brought Genie to look at bears and fish the Brooks River.
We joined our good friends Morten Langoy and Marit Berling along with their good friends Trond-Erik and Hilde Johansen. Our first day, Genie and I went bear-watching while the others went fishing. Enjoy the pictures.
In 2011, I took my son and son-in-law to Kulik Lodge just 40 miles from here on the Kulik River. We spent five days fishing with Brown Bears in and around that river. Although we were at Kulik only ten days later in the year than this trip, the Rainbows were much bigger. The grow fat quickly eating these Salmon eggs. See that trip here.
Although several groups flew up to fish the Brooks River for the day from Kulik, I determined to save Brooks for another tirp since Genie and I had wanted to see it for so long. Here we are two years later!See the pictures from our second day in this post: Fishing the Brooks River.
Here are the pictures from our third day, more fishing with bears and the Valley of 10,000 Smokes.
We flew into Anchorage and spent the night, the first of our four flights to get to Brooks Lodge.
The Alaska Range runs right through Katmai National Park on its way to the Aleutian Islands.
The sun going through our windows mad a rainbow on the clouds beside us.
We landed on a gravel strip next to the Kulik Lodge, on the narrow strip of land between the two lakes. I fished the Kulik river two years ago.
Where I spent five wonderful days fishing with Andy and Kevin, my son and son-in-law
For our last flight, we loaded up on a floatplane and took off for Brooks.
After four flights to get us here from Denver, we landed by float plane and checked in at the Brooks Lodge. When Genie and I heard that our friends Morten and Marit were coming to Alaska to meet their friends and go to Brooks Lodge, we knew we had to go. It had been on our bucket list for twenty years since we saw Tom Mengleson's photo of a bear catching a salmon jumping up Brooks Falls.
There's a big round fireplace in the middle of the lounge where they keep a fire all day long. Great place to sit and talk with new friends.
The cabins had two bunk beds. We were glad we had the top bunk to spread out. This place was established as a fishing camp. Over the last decades, it has drawn more visitors to see the bears than to fish. Some people don't know to expect a fishing camp when they arrive.
When I was at fishing with bears at Kulik Lodge two years ago, we got used to this sight. Looking from the lower viewing platform you can see a big brown around the corner from three fly fishermen.
Brooks River draws successive waves of Salmon starting in early July. The first two weeks of July, the Sockeye Salmon are jumping Brooks Falls to get up to Brooks Lake and tributaries beyond to spawn. That's when you have the best chance to see a bear catch a fish jumping up the falls. But, you can have a long wait to get out onto the platform. When people are waiting, you can only stay an hour.
Bald Eagles are great at catching fish in rivers. The bears are so dense here, we saw only this one eagle, and no osprey.
Moving from one pool of Salmon to another.
That's what we call it when our son's Golden Retriever and our daughter's Newfoundland let their last mouthful of water drip onto the floor as they walk away.
The National Park Rangers are at the platform answering questions about the bears, and giving safety instructions. They said the bears came back to the river looking scrawny in few weeks ago. Now the big boars are 950 pounds.
The lower river is full of Sockeye that are still migrating into the river. These fish spawn below the falls. They are still quite active, and a bit harder to catch. After they spawn, they become very lethargic as they wait to die.
After finishing a Salmon the bear cleans its claws.
As we walked up the foot trail to the upper platform, we saw a red squirrel run across the road with a big mushroom in its mouth. As he ran off into the woods, he got it caught between branches and had to tug it loose.
Looking down from the platform overlooking Brooks Falls, you can see Sockeye Salmon in the riffles and pools below.
The bears would move up and down, side to side, from one pool to another. When I got near the Salmon swimming near shore, they would scatter. They are used to being hunted.
After wandering around for a while, the bears would alternate between standing up for a better view, and snorkeling to look for fish.
Bears would glide smoothly through the slow waters.
Each bear has its own fishing technique. Some would dash about. Most would wander from spot to spot. Some went to the falls, some stayed in the lower river.
The Rangers identified the bears by number, but a few had names as well. Old Ted has been around a few years.
Bears would hardly take notice of us. They did not associate humans with food. This has only come from very strict rules around the lodge, the river and the campground. Care to sleep in a tent in Brown Bear country? Don't worry, there's an electric fence.
After seeing nothing but one bear sleeping just below the Falls Platform, we walked back down to the platform by the bridge at the mouth of the river. The Brooks River is only about a mile and a half long. It connects Brooks Lake to Naknek Lake.
You can see that one cub is much smaller than the other. The runt is much less likely to survive to adulthood. This first afternoon, they were walking along the bank as mom went fishing.
Two cubs wander around.
She is just below the bridge, where the Brooks River flows into Naknek Lake. Salmon are schooling here preparing to move into the river. Wherever you see the Salmon, you will see Rainbow Trout feasting on their eggs on the spawning beds.
The biggest danger to these cubs is from adult male Brown Bears. They will kill and eat the cubs so the sow will go back into heat. Cubs stay with the mother two or three years. These guys are right below the viewing platform.
I had read that mothers would sometimes stash their cubs near people because the big boars don't like to come around people. While mom was out fishing, she left the cubs right near the platform.
The bears don't fish for the Rainbow Trout because they are too strong and agile. It is much easier to get a spawning Salmon. They will take a trout off your line if you catch one when they are close by.
The three cubs fight for their share of a Salmon mom brought.
While the cubs finish this one off, mom heads out for more.
No, but eating scores of Salmon a day does.
A Sockeye jumps out of the water, catching the attention of a bear.
With Rangers on each end of the bridge, the radios would cackle when a bear came too close. The Rangers would close the bridge periodically for a bear traffic jam.
Coming around the gate. The fish look fatter on the other side of the bridge.
Although they can swim under the floating bridge, they often walk around.
The bears expended minimal energy fishing, so they could build their fat reserves for a long sleep.
You shoulda seen the other bear
You can see the big scar on his forehead, and that his ears are a bit crooked. He had quite a fight with another big boar.
When 900+ pounds moves through the water, it makes some waves.
As the sun fades on our first day, we have seen eight bears at once. The Sow and thee cubs were a highlight. Tomorrow, we walk the river itself as I hunt for Rainbows, and Genie takes pics of bears and fisherpeople.