Deneki is of course known for providing excellent fishing experiences in beautiful destinations, but occasionally we will put the rods down and take the opportunity to enjoy other things the outdoors has to offer. I know many anglers can’t imagine being somewhere known for fishing and doing anything but fishing, and we understand that, but sometimes it’s fun to do something “off the beaten path” and give your casting arm a break for the day. I was able to convince my family of this the other day when I suggested we all go to Brooks Camp and spend a day enjoying the outdoors together while not fishing. We have two busy teenagers, and, like many families, it often seems that time together is something we don’t get enough of, so I’m always excited to spend time together with my family, particularly in the “great outdoors.” We are a fishing family, particularly when we are in Alaska, but we also can appreciate all Alaska has to offer.
We have been to Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park – home of the infamous Brooks River Falls where people come from all over the world to view bears – countless times. Our kids were fortunate to see their first Alaska Coastal Brown Bear when they were two-years-old and barely toddling around. So, when I said to my family that I wanted to go to Brooks and hike to the top of Dumpling Mountain and view bears for the day, they all begrudgingly agreed. They, like many of our guests who visit our lodges, were thinking about the fly rod and the fish, and that was not going to be part of this day. But they fulfilled my wish and we all hopped on the floatplane for the short 15-minute flight from Rapids Camp to Brooks Camp. The sun was bright and high in the sky with just a few clouds here and there, and it was unusually warm for Alaska, even in the middle of summer. As we flew over Naknek Lake we all marveled at the glacial blue water that was more vibrant than ever as it glistened in the natural light. We landed at Brooks Camp and received our brief but thorough “bear orientation” from the Park Service, and we were on our way to begin our 1.5 mile/800 feet trek to the top of Dumpling Mountain. I had hiked to the top 20+ years ago, but this was the first time for us to do it as a family. We made our way through the overgrown path, talking loudly and excitedly and between conversation yelling “hey bear” just in case we had a furry, 4-legged surprise guest decide to join us on our hike. We didn’t encounter a bear on the way up, and about 40-minutes later and only slightly out of breath but very sweaty, we were at the top of Dumpling Mountain taking in the magnificent panoramic views of Naknek Lake, Brooks River, and the entire Brooks Camp. Before our eyes were majestic, expansive endless miles of Katmai National Park. The sun was gleaming above us, there was a slight breeze, and the image we saw before us seemed more like a painting than reality.
After some family photo ops and absorbing the breathtaking scenery, we made our way back down the trail, a much easier trek than the way up. At the very bottom of the trail, we encountered our first bear of the day. We were able to keep a safe 100-yard distance, but despite all our efforts to make the bear aware of our presence and hopefully move off our path, it was not budging. It was a curious sub-adult bear but not aggressive, but we saw no reason to have a war of attrition if there was another way, and after all, it is the bears’ land, not ours. So, we changed our course and exited the forest from another direction and made our way back to the main area of Brooks Camp.
Now we were ready to view bears from the safety of a bridge or viewing platform. Although we typically walk to Brook Falls to view the bears in action, we opted not to this time. As we were crossing the bridge over Brooks River en route to the falls, we were joined by another family of four, but it wasn’t a human family. A mother and her three cubs were spotted by the bridge and provided us ample entertainment and undoubtedly some of the best bear viewings we had ever seen. We watched them swim, have a little sibling wrestling match, and dive for salmon. One of the cubs approached the mama bear in hopes of getting her to share some of her salmon, and as any good mom would do, she gladly gave the cub some of her salmon. And typical of a young child – human or bear – the cub had a brief interest in eating the food and then quickly turned it into a toy, eventually dropping it in the water. The four of us in our family were all simultaneously amused when we saw this happen and we all witnessed the mama bear shake her head at her young, silly cub. We all remarked that families and parental/child interaction seem to be the same no matter the species.
After our mesmerizing hour of bear viewing and sharing our family time with a family of a completely different species that is so different, but yet somehow felt so similar, it was time for us to walk back to the plane. Everyone commented that it was the best time they had ever had at Brooks, and my son shared with me that he hadn’t really been excited about going but he went because I wanted to but now he was so glad that he had because it was such a fun day – I was elated! I loved the scenery, the hiking, the fresh air, the bears – but mostly I loved sharing it all with my family.
Deneki is a family-owned business and it is a family of fishing lodges. Fishing is what we do, but we do other stuff too. Of course, we love being on the water with a fly rod in hand ready to catch the “big one,” but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the outdoors in other ways. There is so much that Mother Nature has to offer and spending a day with your family in Alaska and at a place like Brooks Camp will ensure memories to last a lifetime. And you never know what the experience will provide – countless trips to Brooks over 20+ years and this one was way different than any other and hands down the best. Just like we never know what’s going to come out of the water and onto our fly when we cast our line in the water, none of us knew that we were going to have the day we had at Brooks. We knew there would be hiking, we assumed we’d see at least a bear or two, but we didn’t know it was going to be one of the best Alaska days ever, even with the fly rod being left at home.