Of Grizzly Bears and Grizzly Hackle
A small mountain stream hidden under the forest and thickets was a perfect place to spend the hot summer day. The stream was cold and numbed my legs as I waded through the shadows. Losing feeling in my feet, I had to brace my hand against rocks to keep from slipping. The brush along the banks was overgrown and prevented me from freely walking beside the stream, but the cold water was a relief from the heat.
Every now and then, Grand Teton and the surrounding summits provided a backdrop when I was able to see through the pine branches. Well upstream of the nearest hiking trail, I was alone now and could only hear the sound of churning water rather than barking dogs.
At the end of my leader was a buoyant dry fly, a heavily hackled Stimulator. I would toss the fly into a seam behind a boulder and watch its orange and cream colored body float through the riffles. It had been a while since I fished with just a single dry fly, like I did when I was learning to fly fish and only had well-battered Parachute Adams. It was refreshing casting a single fly. While watching any dry fly there is always a slight part of me that cheers for it to ride the current through a gauntlet of trout and make it out the other side unscathed.
I continued moving upstream and had to wade carefully as my numbed feet slipped on the algae covered rocks. It was slow going, but with plenty of pocket water to drift my dry fly through every few yards held potential terrain for cutthroat trout. A few trout would turn on the fly as it slid past them, their white mouths holding open as they tailed towards it. They would catch up to the fly and crash into it, then I would set the hook and bring them to hand. Little mountain gems with speckled bodies and red slashes beneath their mouths.
The forest along the streambanks continued to grow thicker the more I moved upstream. Brambles and thorns kept me in the stream and at times I was forced to cross logs to get over deeper pools. Then I would stop, cast my single dry fly and again be mesmerized as it sailed on the current.
A few yards up ahead was another log spanning the stream. I would have to balance and cross it if I wanted to get over the deep water and keep fishing. Just then my fly disappeared in a splash, I set the hook but missed. Damn. I re-casted. With my head down I kept my eyes ready for the strike.
As my eyes stayed locked on the fly a silhouette emerged onto the log. I watched the fly, waiting for the strike. The silhouette inched along the log and expanded in size, this caught my attention so I finally looked up. A grizzly bear, only a few car lengths away, was carefully shifting its weight as it moved atop the log. My throat tightened, I was frozen, suspended.
It was my first time laying eyes on a grizzly bear, I had never even seen one at a zoo. I always hoped to see one in the wild, though from the safety of a car or through binoculars. This bear was too close. However, it was inching across the log away from me and had not yet seen me.
My eyes stayed fixed on the bear but my mind sprinted through every possible scenario and outcome. Behind me, and not too far, was a huge boulder. Every piece of expert advice and guidance on not trying to run from a bear tried to keep me in place. But here was this grizzly, trying to balance as it lumbered slowly on the log across a pool. Could I make it the couple yards to the boulder, climb up and potentially be out of reach? I backed up and then ran. My feet slipped but I kept lunging forward until I reached the boulder and climbed up in a flash.
By the time I turned around, the bear was gone. Atop the boulder I shouted "Yo bear!" over and over at the thick woods. My arms were shaking and I had trouble yelling through my tightened throat.
Ten or fifteen minutes passed while I stood there shouting. It was gone. Before I climbed down the boulder I clipped the dry fly off my leader and reeled in my fly line. I was done fishing for the day, that was enough excitement for me. I waded back downstream, shouting into the woods until I reached the trail and my truck.