One of the great appeals of fishing is that it puts us in close connection with nature. I’ve always said that if an angler doesn’t take time to regularly soak in the views around him/her, they’re really not getting the most out of fishing, regardless of how many fish they actually catch.
But let’s face it, there are times when encounters with wild animals are more than exhilarating—they can be downright dangerous and frightening. Trust me, the first time you find yourself standing in a river and a bear walks out of the woods to join you, you won’t soon forget it. Those of you who have actually had this experience know exactly what I am talking about.
Goodness knows I have had my share of animal encounters as I have been out fishing. To tell you the truth, these situations always seem more frightening in hindsight, because as they actually happen, I’m usually just awestruck by the power and grace of the animals I see. That’s certainly true with bears, or moose… or even a bull shark that swims through a flat and bumps into the side of my kayak.
If you want to know what scares me most, I’ll admit that I’m not a fan of rattlesnakes. There’s something about that sudden surprise that I’ve never quite liked. And large cats—like mountain lions—give me the creeps. I’ve only seen a few lions, but I’ve felt like I was being watched often. I’ve even seen paw prints in the sand where I had been standing (and those prints were not there) only an hour or so earlier.
The thing to remember is that when we fish, we’re in these animals’ space. We’re the visitors. And nobody—animals or anglers—likes surprises. It’s extremely rare for any animal to actively pursue and attack a grown human. Most problems occur when animals are startled or provoked.
So as a rule of thumb, when you’re out in the wild places, be sure to make your presence known. Be loud. Sing songs. Shuffle your feet. Whistle. Whatever it takes to let those critters know you’re coming. That’s not always best for the fishing, but it’s a trade I’ll always make. Secondly, be vigilant. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open. Often times the animals (like rattlesnakes) will let you know where they are, so you can avoid them. Lastly, you want to avoid silly mistakes. Leaving food open and available in bear country… getting between a sow and her cubs to take a photograph… walking toward a bull moose… not the brightest moves you can make.
When you do encounter animals, make yourself large and calm. Back away from the situation. Don’t provoke, and don’t make aggressive, sudden moves.
And lastly, when it comes to wild animals, keep everything in perspective. The most dangerous threats are often the smallest ones. It’s a fact that mosquitoes cause more deaths and illnesses worldwide than all the snakes, bears, lions, tigers and sharks put together.
When you share the wilderness with large animals—smartly and responsibly—the fishing experience is even more exciting and rewarding.
Kirk Deeter is the editor of TROUT magazine, and an editor-at-large for Field & Stream.