We thoroughly enjoyed Alaska Fly ‘n’ Fish’s float-plane guided tour to Pack Creek on Admiralty Island. What a well-managed adventure! It was the highlight of our almost-three week Alaska stay.
Butch Laughlin, the owner, pilot and guide, knows his business. It was a rainy, chilly day (Aug. 22) as we departed Juneau’s seaplane “strip” adjoining the airport (what should you expect other than that in Juneau). Another couple and Butch were aboard. Butch was really clear about what to expect at Pack Creek – no salmon leaping into a bear’s mouth and four-plus hours in one location almost 30 yards from the creek where brown bears were to be expected. No food allowed, no restrooms and no shelter from rain.
The bears were there! At one point, we counted 10 including cubs fishing for pink salmon, which were running to spawn in Pack Creek. The bears have grown accustomed to humans so long as the humans behave themselves, Butch told us. To make sure we would be safe, an Alaska park ranger with a high-powered rifle stayed with us and Butch packed a revolver. No need. The bears went about their fishing and dining as if it were just another day in bear paradise.
What made it so great? Butch took care of the required $50-each permits (only 25 a day are issued), Butch supplied us with boots and offered binoculars as we prepared for the flight, and he provided expert commentary and advice. With 20 years of charter experience, Butch knew the bears and bear behavior, including the sow and her two cubs who our guests of honor the entire day. As the four hours advanced, we watched bears repeatedly lunge for fish, wait patiently for fish to all but invite their demise or scavenge for fish, which were there in such abundance. We saw bald eagles, which nest there, and we appreciated the intimacy the bears granted us (at one point the sow and cubs napped in tall grass about 60 feet from us).
As for photography? A long lens is a must, a tripod might help but the bears move swiftly and panning is problematic. Shoot often (continuous) and with a fast shutter. Percentage shooting pays off.
The bears? Admiralty Island is mostly a federally protected wilderness area of about 1,600 square miles with about that number of bears. It was well worth every penny of the $600 for each of us.
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