Despite knowing there has been a high frequency of bear activity at the confluence of the Kenai and Russian rivers, anglers are still showing up in droves, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has a few suggestions for keeping things safe for humans and animals.
"We want to minimize the potential for negative interactions between people and bears while allowing the public to participate in the fishery," said Fish and Game area manager Jeff Selinger. "To do that, the biggest thing we need is for people to cooperate with us."
Selinger said public safety is their No. 1 concern, so Fish and Game has decided to have a presence on the river throughout the weekend during the open hours of 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., but as Selinger put it, they can't always be everywhere at once.
To that end, anglers in the area need to alter their behavior to recreate safely while in bear country.
"A sow with three cubs have been concentrating their activities from the ferry to upstream to the cottonwood hole on the Russian River, but Friday they also were seen farther up the Russian," Selinger said. "Since the bears have been concentrating on this area, the easiest thing to do would be to avoid that stretch of the river."
However, Selinger knows the reality of the situation is that some people are still going to fish the area upstream of the ferry, but there are things anglers can do to make things safer for themselves.
"People need to pay attention," Selinger said. "We don't want bear paranoia, but people shouldn't be so busy fishing that they ignore the surrounding area. They need to be looking around for bears."
Selinger even suggested that people fishing in pairs could alternate between one person watching for bears from on the bank while the other fishes.
"Another way to not invite trouble is to minimize food and food odors while fishing," he said.
It is inevitable that some people will need to bring lunch when fishing an eight-hour day, but food should be quickly consume and easy to clean up. Sandwiches, crackers and pretzels would be better than items that need to be cooked.
"People need to be responsible with their catches, too," Selinger said. "They shouldn't have their fish out of the water or lying on the bank."
Keeping fish on the scene will increase the potential for a bear encounter. He suggested people keep a cooler in their vehicle on the other side of the river and go back to put their fish on ice to minimize risk.
"Anglers could also immediately filet their catch, store the meat in Zip-Locks in the water and send the carcass downstream to minimize odors," he said.
If bears do show up, there are several things people can do to keep safe. First and foremost, anglers should listen and cooperate with agency personnel.
"If people see bears, they need to let everyone in the vicinity know, especially the agency personnel on the scene," Selin-ger said.
"People should quickly gather their belongings, if possible, and get into a group," he said.
Upon first sight of bears, the ferry crew blows and air horn, giving everyone a heads up that bears are in the vicinity.
People should take appropriate action to avoid a negative encounter or take the ferry back.
Once the immediate situation is under control, or the bears have left the area, anglers could then take the ferry back across the river to continue fishing.
For those who end up with the bears between them and the ferry, Selinger recommends staying in a group, out in the open and as close to agency personnel as possible, heeding their advice.
Shouting at the bears often can dissuade them from approaching, but don't run, Selinger said.
In trying not to teach the bears to steal from people or intimidate them for fish, people should keep their catches with them when bears are present. Selinger also said if people have to give up their catch, throw it into the water.
"People should take appropriate measures before a possible encounter to prevent bears from getting their fish and should never risk their lives to save their catch," he said.
He also suggested anglers with firearms not be lulled into a false sense of security.
"People with firearms should still act appropriately, doing everything they would if they didn't have a gun," he said. "A firearm should only be used as a last resort and not be used to justify careless behavior."
So far this year, Selinger said almost everyone has been cooperative and the ferry operators and other agency personnel have been outstanding.
"We want people to have a good time and get their fish, we just want to minimize the potential of more negative interactions between the bears and people," he said.
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