Anglers still flood confluence waters for opportunity to catch red salmon

Posted: Sunday, July 20, 2003

Bear activity at the confluence of the Kenai-Russian rivers remains high following last week's mauling. But it hasn't diminished the crowds at the popular angling destination. Combat fishing still reigns despite the potential danger from the resident bruin populations.

"I'm not nervous," said John Mummert, a vacationer from California carrying a 12-gauge shotgun.

He said he had planned his trip to Alaska months in advance. Although he was concerned about the mauling, reservations in the campground already were booked.

"This is Alaska," Mummert said. "You just grab a gun and go fishing."



Carol Harris from Wasilla wasn't wielding a firearm, and despite having seen the brown bear cubs herself, said she felt safe nonetheless.

"Fish and Game has done a good job making a safe environment," she said. "It makes me feel safer seeing them patrolling. I wouldn't be here if they weren't here."



Angela Irby from Fairbanks, and the four people in her party, have also seen the brown bears up close. Her husband was one of the two men who found Daniel Bigley after he was mauled.

On Tuesday, Irby also had the frightening experience of having to grab her two daughters both under 5 when the bears came down just yards away from her and began going through a bag with graham crackers she left behind.

Despite the close calls, Irby and her party have been back every day since.

"It's scary, but the reds are just so fun to catch and we drove so far to get them," she said.

However, like several others, Irby said it was the constant Fish and Game presence with firearms that made her feel it was safe to return.

"I wouldn't be here with my babies if it wasn't for them," she said.

She also felt that Fish and Game and other agencies involved have done an extraordinary job, considering the challenges they've been facing.

"They've done great," she said. "Fish and Game has been very open and honest with us."

She also stated she thought the agencies involved acted appropriately by not dispatching the bears, other than the three brown bears euthanized after their mother was shot by an angler.

"We're in the bears' turf, so I don't think they should kill them," she said. "It's the bears' salmon run, too. We have to learn to share."



Tim Pruce from Washington also favors the decision not to kill the bears.

"It's our risk to be out here," he said. "Fish and Game did the right thing. The bears should be left in place."



Dean Kuntz from Anchorage was of a similar mind-set.

"It's unfortunate what happened with the mauling, but it's a risk you take," he said. "I'm actually surprised there haven't been more incidents, because I've seen a lot of people doing things that aren't bear safe."

Kuntz saw both brown and black bears during the week. However, other than picking up some bear spray, he was continuing to fish in his usual manner.



"It's as much their river as it is ours," Kuntz added. "You just accept it."

Chuck Gordon from Anchorage was a little disgruntled with the evening closure of the river, but said he knows bears have the right of way.

"I don't like the closing thing, but I understand it," he said. "I know the bears are here, and I don't want to see anyone else get hurt."

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