Next Trip – July 2017
This trip was researched by me in 2006. Apart from lengthening our stay on the boat to seven days/six nights, I have exactly re-created what I did on that trip. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to change anything. My four days photographing these bears were without doubt the most enjoyable four days photography of my entire lifetime. Nothing has surpassed the sheer exhilaration of lying on the ground just a few metres away from these amazing animals. The largest of these bears weigh in excess of 500 kilos. This trip has been hugely productive and has rewarded all participants with some amazing experiences and photographs in both 2009, 2010 and 2013. The last two trips in 2014 & 2015 were outstanding and there were Bears everywhere – including numerous bears sparring and lots and lots of bears fishing. We enjoyed close encounters with mothers with 1, 2 and 3 cubs at their sides.
Living on a Boat
We leave Kodiak on a small float plane. We are treated to an hour long flight over stunning countryside. You will see vast mountain ranges, picturesque valleys, green forests, vivid blue water and snow capped mountains (see gallery). Our destination is a boat that will be waiting for us in the Shelikof Strait. This will be our home for the next few nights. It is a converted research vessel that began life as a tugboat built for the US army. It is 70 feet long and heavy-set with thick wooden beams. This means that, anchored in a sheltered cove, the boat is much less likely to rock and roll on the sea. The boat is no five star liner. The cabins are twin share and quite small. They are basically for sleeping in, storing your luggage, and little else. There are toilets and showers plus a sizeable warm lounge/diner above. They have a professional cook on board and the food really is excellent. Freshly caught halibut is regularly on the menu.
Why stay on a boat?
The reason for staying on a boat is twofold. Firstly you can guarantee that you will not get an unexpected visit from a bear in the middle of the night. The other hugely important reason is that the boat is mobile and is able to quickly put us ashore on the beaches with the highest populations of bears. At one stage in 2006 we were surrounded by no less than 26 bears in one bay. The same location produced 23 in 2010. Any necessary travelling can be done during the night, and we then have all of the day to watch the bears. No down-time, and increased bear viewing opportunities result.
Transfer by Skiff
Each day we leave the boat and are transferred to the best bear viewing locations by skiff. This is a very shallow bottomed aluminium motor-boat. Waders are supplied to all for final disembarkation. There will be a maximum of 8 in our group, and we unlikely to see many other people during our day.
Almost Exclusive and Varied Locations
To say we have exclusive use of our locations would not be entirely factual. We are so privileged to be at theses locations, however, that more often than not we will see no other humans during the day. The boat that we are using is the one that is used by the top professional photographers and film makers of the world. Our guide (with us at all times when we are ashore) is hugely experienced in bear behaviour. He has assisted Arte Wolfe, Matthias Breiter, IMAX, Animal Planet, BBC, Discovery Channel and many more.
Katmai National Park Study
A study was done on the impact of the company that owns the boat we are using. The results were; “The company is an ecologically minded eco-tourism company operating in a very low impact manner, always having an experienced naturalist accompany people ashore. Ocean tides of up to 26 feet, some of the largest tides in the world, erase most of the human tracks daily. This is a rare window of opportunity for people who want to view bears doing their natural thing without being disturbed by a lot of other people. The area is largely undiscovered by the public, even though it is a national park. It is our least visited national park, and is largely pristine wilderness. As more people discover it, rules will have to be made, but for the time being small groups can walk virtually anywhere without restriction and watch bears behave as they have for thousands of years. This has been recommended as the best way to see Brown/Grizzly Bears living their natural lives in a variety of situations. The area is over a hundred miles from the nearest road, so the inaccessibility of the area virtually assures you will not come across another person outside this group.”
How safe are the bears? Safety is always paramount on any of our trips, and it is impossible predict exactly what a wild animal will do in every situation. Our guide has built up a wealth of knowledge of these bears and regularly works alongside some of the world’s top bear ecologists. Bears are normally fearful of humans. It is almost always when humans take the bears by surprise, that undesired behaviour occurs. It is reassuring to hear our guide continually shouting “Hey Bear” when we are on the move. The bears recognise this and keep their distance. He also carries a flare gun and pepper sprays, but has reassuringly never resorted to using either of these. A mark of his expertise. It was an amazing feeling during the 2009 trip to experience a mother bear bring her cubs to within two metres of our group. She backed off another three or four metres, rolled on her back and fed her two little darling cubs. She stayed there for almost 40 minutes, safe in the knowledge that her offspring were safer in our presence than they would have been alone if a male bear was around. One of those special moments that will live in the minds the whole group forever more. Our guide likened our experience, including the unforgettable sounds made by the suckling cubs, to “a pair of angels singing in heaven”. He was not far wrong.
Bears Fishing for Salmon
The trip has been designed to coincide with the annual “Salmon Run”. Again the reasons are twofold. Partly because this is a great spectacle to watch, but also because it is the safest time to watch the bears. All that is on the bears’ minds is eating as much fish as they can in the shortest possible time. Their success during this period is what sees them through the winter months. Bears are normally very territorial and will not allow other bears onto their patch. There is an uneasy truce at this time. You will see an amount of snarling, but almost never is there any physical contact between them. Neither contestant wants to risk injury at this critical time. The mothers are extremely protective of their cubs when a large male appears, and it is invariably the male who retreats. The salmon are the most active as the tide goes out. They become very concentrated in the narrowing streams and gullies as the water level drops. This is the time the bears (and we photographers) have been waiting for. The largest bears take the prime positions, the lesser bears take the fringes. There is usually plenty for all. I photographed one bear with a large salmon under each front paw as well as one in his mouth. He still tried to get another as it passed and ended up losing the two that were under his feet.
It has been decided that it is advisable to have a “buffer day” both before and after the Bear watching. This is to provide flexibility for the float plane, should we suffer from fog or should the seas become less than smooth for landing. We will stay at the Best Western Kodiak Inn for 2 nights before, and 1 nights after the bear watching. This will be on a B & B basis, twin share. You may choose to rest or to take the opportunity to explore the town of Kodiak, where fishing is the main industry.
Booking this Trip
The optimum time to go is mid July to mid August.
Bookings for the 2017 trip are now being taken. We are currently using an 8 berth boat. Please contact us if you are interested in joining this photographic tour of a lifetime. Early booking is essential. Minimum 4 photographers required.
7 days bear watching £5175.00
Dates for 2017; July 20th 2017
N.B. Exact dates & price to be confirmed.
Please register interest to avoid disappointment.
Suggested international flights (not included) depart from UK on July 20th 2017 and return on July 31st 2017
July 20th; Depart UK. Fly to Anchorage. Overnight in Anchorage hotel included.
July 21st; Fly to Kodiak. Overnight in Kodiak B & B
July 22nd; Free day in Kodiak. Overnight in Kodiak. B & B
July 23rd; Fly by floatplane to our boat. Bear Watching. Overnight on boat. Full Board.
July 24th; Bear Watching. Overnight on boat. Full Board.
July 25th; Bear Watching. Overnight on boat. Full Board.
July 26th; Bear Watching. Overnight on boat. Full Board.
July 27th; Bear Watching. Overnight on boat. Full Board.
July 28th; Bear Watching. Overnight on boat. Full Board.
July 29th; Bear Watching. Floatplane transfer to Kodiak Overnight in Kodiak. B & B
July 30th; Free day in Kodiak before evening flight to Anchorage. Overnight in Anchorage hotel included.
July 31st; Fly Anchorage to UK
August 1st; Arrive UK
Inbound and outbound hotel in Anchorage on B & B basis. Please note that Anchorage hotels have been included for your convenience. Flights from Anchorage to Kodiak are not included. Hotel in Kodiak 3 nights on B & B basis, All Kodiak transfers, Float plane from Kodiak to boat, All food while on the boat. Anchorage airport transfers. Photographic tuition, Services of experienced bear naturalist, Use of waders.
International flights to Kodiak (via Anchorage). Lunches and dinners while in Anchorage & Kodiak.
Contact Us To Book
Independent Recommendation (2010 trip)
We have just returned from Bears in Alaska with John and we would like to share a few of our experiences and thoughts with others. We had gone on the trip with good expectations based on discussions with John and information on his website. The trip not only met expectations but surpassed them ten-fold. We are both experienced safari travellers and photographers and this trip ranked in the top few of all the trips we have taken. It is a long way to the Katmai National Park from the UK, but when the Kodiak float plane touches down on the shimmering waters of the Shelikof Strait and you transfer to live aboard the boat for the duration of your stay your breath is immediately taken away by the vastness of the wilderness, it’s remoteness and the sheer beauty of the open grasslands with mountain and glacier backdrops. It was worth the journey just to see this but of course we were there to see the Katmai Brown Bears salmon fishing and a treat was in store for us. The days proved to be full and long with an early breakfast before leaving to track the bears on land. We would come back for lunch to the boat and maybe have up to 2 hours rest time before we were off again for further bear viewing, sometimes not returning to the boat until late into the evening. Kathy the chef produced gastronomic delights at every mealtime. Shore trips to view the bears were arranged around the tide as the salmon move up river on the tide to where the bears are waiting. We experienced bears in almost any situation and activity you could imagine including many spring cubs with their mums, some suckling only feet away from us. John had timed the trip to perfection and there was an abundance of salmon and the bear fishing was spectacular. In addition to bears we had great sightings of Whales, Sea Otters, Wolves, Bald Eagles, all three types of Puffin and a number of other sea birds. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and a trip not to be missed.
Derek & Sally Howes