Brown Bears of Silver Salmon Creek 2015 Trip Report

By Perry Conway on Sep 17, 2015

Even though I have guided bear photo trips for over 30 years, it is still a real adrenaline rush to be in the close presence of this mighty icon of the American wilderness.  I will never tire of the experience.  This year we hit the peak of the silver salmon run.  Two-legged and four-legged fishermen were there to harvest this annual bounty from the clear waters of Silver Salmon Creek.  This Alaskan “creek”—which to me is a river—is bigger than any creek I’ve ever seen in the “Lower 48.”

Each day, we typically had three photo shoots—morning, afternoon and evening.  Riding in carts towed by powerful ATVs, we cruised the trails, most of which were along the beach, until we spotted bears.  Tripods and cameras in hand, we approached to a safe, strategic shooting position and got to work.  It is always best to have the bears move toward you.  Our local guide knew the behavior of most of the individual bears and could usually predict their route of travel.  We stood still and stayed quiet as the bears approached and we commonly had animals move to within 40 to 50 feet of us.  Using a 400-500mm lens we were getting head and shoulder shots—and looking right into their eyes as they passed by.  They were, however, interested in eating fish, not photographers.  This population of coastal grizzlies (Ursus arctos), called brown bears in Alaska, are “people neutral.”

At Lake Clark’s Silver Salmon Creek, the month of August means action--and lots of it.  At this time of year, bears need approximately 20,000 calories a day to put on the extra weight they require for going into winter “sleep.”  When the tide was right, we stationed ourselves in a position to photograph the bears chasing the fish right in front of us.  When a salmon swam by, 500 pounds of long wet fur and mighty muscle would explode into the shallow water.  Some bears would pin the fish to the bottom with their long sharp claws.  Others simply grabbed the prey with their mouth, coming up with their trophy dangling from their jaws and flipping back and forth.  Check out the slide show—the pictures tell it all! 

Many of you who have been to Lake Clark will remember a bear known as “Looper.” For two years we hardly saw her; in 2014 we spotted her for less than one minute during an entire week.  This year was different.  Looper was back—tanned, rested and ready!  She must be at least 100 pounds heavier and really looking good.  Not having cubs to worry about seems to have been to her benefit.  Hopefully, she bred this summer and we will see her at Homestead Lodge next year with her spring cubs in tow.

If you are looking for action, adventure, great food, wonderful lodging and knowledgeable guides, all in a pristine Alaskan wilderness, this trip is for you.  I just got back and I’m already looking forward to next year!