Sharing A River
Angler John Jolly was reasonably certain these huge bears were more interested in salmon than him.
How many of you catch yourself saying you’ve been driving “in the middle of nowhere?”
John Jolly sends his big rig drivers into one of the most “nowhere” places in America, the vast openness of Alaska. Jolly, a general manager with World Wide Movers in Anchorage, also likes to get out into that wilderness in search of game and fish. Especially if the object is to catch (and release) big (really big) rainbow trout.
Being in a very remote part of the world isn’t the only thing Jolly has to take into account when he fishes the Kulik River in the fall. A large gathering of very big and very hungry brown bears like to fish the same, shallow stretch of water at the same time he does.
“I was out there fishing one day and counted 29 of them in less than a mile of water,” says Jolly. “And they were close to me. Very close.”
A native of Oregon who went north to Alaska in his early twenties, Jolly, 43, got into trucking by accident. He was working as a lineman, but “when winter freezes the ground, everything slows way down up here,” and he was often left with no work. His brother-in-law found him a job in trucking as a driver, and he’s never left the industry.
World Wide Movers’ Alaskan trucks drive the entire state, including the long, brutal run from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay, on the treacherous, graveled “Haul Road” (officially the Dalton Highway, which runs parallel to the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline) with only one stop at the world’s northernmost truckstop at Coldfoot above the Arctic Circle.
“These days I mostly send office furniture and equipment up to Prudhoe, although we do carry some computers and other sensitive commercial loads that need an air ride on the haul road,” says Jolly.
Fishing is important enough to Jolly that a six-hour drive to the right river or bay to follow salmon runs or to look for Halibut, rainbow trout, Dolly Varden or other fighting species is just a weekend outing. But his encounter with the band of bears on the Kulik was an hour’s flight and a 45-minute helicopter ride from Anchorage.
“Actually I was up there working in the fall, and there was plenty of time to walk down to the river and fish.”
The Kulik is a short river, less than two miles long, a connector between two lakes on the Alaskan Peninsula southwest of Anchorage. “It’s an amazing place to fish. It’s as clear as crystal and only wading deep. The salmon run in from Bristol Bay in the summer and fall, and they spawn in the river in the fall. Then the river is thick with them; they’re red with eggs and after they lay them, they will die. The rainbow trout come in to feast on the eggs.”
Jolly and four other World Wide Movers men – including three drivers – fished for the rainbows. “It’s seems funny, but all those salmon were really a nuisance. We were after the rainbows. It was all catch and release, and there were some really big fish in the water. We got a couple right at 30 inches, the others between 20 and 30 inches. I’d say the biggest of them were around 10 pounds. We were strictly fly fishing by choice. Most everybody that fishes out there chooses fly fishing. It’s so much more fun; those rainbows are the hardest fighters.”
Jolly and his colleagues were at the Kulik helping a lodge remodel. Building material was airlifted from Anchorage into Kulik by giant Hercules aircraft and then taken by helicopter to the lodge site. A total of 18 Hercules loads came into the gravel airstrip at Kulik, and there were 340 round trips with the helicopter fitted with special skids carrying loads of no more than 3,000 pounds.
A cold, snowy fall day on the Kulik and the water between John Jolly and that bear is only wading depth.
“Fortunately there were some days the helicopter couldn’t fly. Those were fishing days. I’d fished there before; I knew what a spectacular river it was. And I knew there’d be bears. They’re there because there is so much salmon, a staple in their diet. They stay there until Thanksgiving, until the salmon are gone.