Monday, October 17, 2011

Catching fish and cleaning 'em in bear country

If you go fishing in bear country you need to take a few extra precautions so your trip won't turn into a nightmare.  My rules are pretty simple:

Don't keep any dirty clothes with a fish smell in camp.  Stash them at least 100 yards from your tent.

Don't clean and cook fish near your tent.  Again the 100 yard rule works best.

Hang all your food and cooking gear in a tree 100 yards from your tent, at least 10' above the ground, at least 4' from the tree trunk or major branches, and use a dark colored rope.  Tie the rope off where it isn't in plain view. 

Wash your canoe and fishing tackle as soon as you finish fishing.  Don't forget your net.  I usually stash mine--you guessed it--at least 100 yards from my tent.

In the pre bear-spray days I always packed iron, but now I'm perfectly happy with a can of pepper spray.  I've been told hornet spray works just as well, but I wouldn't bet my life on it.  

I often think about a trip I took to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) a few years back.  Our outfitter took us to a boat landing on a huge lake--I forget its name.  We loaded our canoe and gear on a motorboat's custom-built rack, and an hour later we were dropped off 25 miles north of the landing.  The plan was to meet the boat eight days later at another location.  That afternoon we had an easy paddle to a predetermined campsite located on our map.  We arrived at the campsite with about an hour of daylight left.  After pulling the canoe up on a beach, we went to explore the site for the best tent location and were amazed to find somebody's duluth bags, tent, and dehydrated food scattered like confetti over a hundred square yard area.  Clearly the work of a black bear.  Two hours later and well after dark, we found the next campsite on the map.  I've always wondered if those careless campers had any food to eat during the three days it would have taken them to return to the boat landing.

On the third day of our BWCA trip I caught a nice walleye just before sunset.  With the bear-destroyed camp fresh in my memory, I had no desire to clean that fish, cook it, eat it, and stash my gear after dark.  That's when I hit on an idea I've used a couple of times since.  I always put my fish on a stringer and attach them to a thwart on my canoe.  Almost always those fish are alive and well hours later when I am finished fishing.  So my idea was to tie my stringer with its prize walleye to a 50' anchor rope and see if it would be alive in the morning. 

A fine Minnesota sunrise and a fresh walleye.  It worked fine and we had walleye fillets and hash-browns for breakfast. Yum!

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