Adventures of Mac Lightfoot: Brooks River Renegade

Mac and Wally, aka The Fresh Prince of Fly Fishing, entered the rustic room and joined the other globe-trekkers for the Brooks River brown bear orientation. Forty-five minutes later they have been armed with pertinent bear interaction facts, including the need to break-off fish that the bears may attempt to remove from their lines. Both are uneasy, but the 30-plus-year track record without a mauling calmed the nerves enough to rig rods, don waders and head out in the bright sun on a July day to locate cooperative rainbows.

The wanderers decided to start at the upper end of fishable water and slowly work their way down to the bottom. They negotiated the trail system without incident, senses on high-alert, immersed in bear sign without sighting a bear. Mac found a 50-yard run filthy with trout, yet none would bite. No doubt the steady angling pressure and bright sunlight conspired to reduce the chances of fighting trout. Mac continued to change flies and send long drifts tight against the far bank. At somewhere near the 12th fly, a trout finally ate. Mac erupted with “Fish on!” and the bank simultaneously erupted in a shower of mud and vegetation. Perched about a single-story above the river, sitting unseen or heard in the treeline, a mature brown bear sat watching. When that trout reentered the water, so did the bear. Mac managed to stumble backwards and fall into the water, bracing with the left arm so as to avoid a complete submerging.

Somewhere in the interchange, he managed to break-off the fish. The bear suddenly lost interest and retreated back into the shade. Mac and Wally spent the next 15 minutes trying to process and reboot from the adrenaline overdose. A quick dose of whiskey does prove helpful in these moments.

The two fished throughout the remainder of the day without incident, right up until the final run of the session, when a particularly territorial boar emerged from the vegetation about a hundred yards upstream of the pair and then beelined for Wally’s midriver casting spot. The bear simply swam-paddled-bounced towards Wally, eventually walking him fifty feet up the bank, and then with the angler safely removed from the water, happily returned to whatever he had been up to upstream.

After eating dinner, Wally and Mac enjoyed another wee dram, which led to several more for Mac. Armed with liquid courage, he attempted to convince the wiser Wally that they should go back to the river. The Fresh Prince declined; Mac re-wadered.

Not more than a handful of minutes later, what passes for July darkness settling over the Brooks River drainage, Mac convinced himself he'd hooked a 7-pound trout, figuring this around the time of the third aerial display. The river’s sockeye had turned red, transforming their overall countenance for the ongoing mating ritual. Mac was battling a chrome-bright fish, so this certainly had to be a very respectable rainbow.

Finally bringing it to hand, Mac was a little deflated to unhook a bright sockeye. At the same time, the Volkswagen-sized bear that had decided to invade Mac’s personal space was anything but deflated at the chance at a tasty fish. It seemed rather improbable that an animal this large had managed to sneak within a rod’s length of the angler, but Mac has always been a rainbow addict, and big trout make him daft. He looked away from the bruin, mumbling under his breath about tame bears, and waded directly and purposefully across the river and back to the lodge.

Even the 36-inch rainbow that Mac was unsuccessful in getting to bite the next day has not been enough to bring either intrepid fisherman back.