We flew in on a helicopter, landing on a small patch of gravel in the river. The helicopter left and there we were, my friend Marc Telio the owner of Entree Destinations and Phil, the lodge owner and guide. Our first experience was to sit on a deck right beside the river and celebrate with a toast of whiskey in this remote Yukon river. The guide had been tracking the resident grizzlies for 38 years, knew them intimately and could call them by name. The mothers and babies, he had known since birth. Literally he could talk to them.
This was immediately evident when a Mother Grizzly came out of the woods proceeding to the deck at which we were sitting. Followed by her two one year old male sons. They walked toward the deck, the Mama leading. The guide says hello to the Mom, calling her by name. As the sons walk up, the guide says “hi guys, how is it going today?” One of the males puts his paw on the deck. Our guide immediately responds “not on the deck!” and the Grizzly dutifully takes his paw off the deck looking irritated at the command and continues walking after the Mom.
The next 3 days top the list of most exciting things I’ve ever done – fly fishing for Rainbow Trout in the Yukon with grizzly bears right across the river, sometimes even looking at me.
On day 2 we hiked to a waterfall a few miles up a mountain, following a bear trail. On the way back down, whom should we meet but Momma Bear, Bernice, and her two sons again. They tried to cut us off! Our guide had Marc and me step back behind him as he spoke to her and the boys telling them to keep going down the mountain. As they walked off, the mom was huffing and puffing as though so annoyed. Afterwards, I asked him what she was doing and his words were “oh she’s just being funny.” Although armed at all times for our protection, the guide would Never have harmed the Grizzlies; he absolutely loved all of them.
In August, the Grizzlies are looking for spawning Salmon who’ve already done their thing and are lethargic in the rivers and streams. So the mother Grizzly is looking for food and teaching the young ones how to catch their dinner. Classic pictures of a Salmon flopping in the mouth of the Grizzly are a common sight.
Accessible only by helicopter we stayed at a very basic camp with cabins and a dining/kitchen structure right beside the river. Activities besides fly fishing are hiking and visiting a scientific research camp about a 10 minute helicopter ride from our camp where Salmon are counted as they run up the river to spawn. There, a weir directs the Salmon so they can be counted.
It all ended too quickly with a helicopter ride back to Whitehorse and on to Vancouver and civilization!