A big black bear sighting missed by Nora the Schnauzer

Nora the Schnauzer scares up eight grouse and spots a pileated woodpecker high in a tall tree, but hasn't a clue at the appearance of a black bear.

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A black bear watches from the woods along the South Fork Walla Walla River. The bear quickly faded back into the woods.

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A pileated woodpecker clings to a tall tree along the South Fork Walla Walla River.

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Nora the Schnauzer looks over one of the many good trout fishing holes on the South Fork Walla Walla River.

A black bear briefly stood at the edge of the woods, and I clicked off a few photos before it disappeared.


When it faded into the underbrush before Nora the Schnauzer saw it and before it became interested in me, I breathed again.


Actually, Nora may not have reacted to the bear. She often sees cows, horses and deer and tends to ignore them.


Tends to, mostly.


A bear could be different, so I’m glad she didn’t see it.


In a way that surprised me, however. Like most dogs, she smells and hears about 200 times better than people do.


And she proved it often on that recent all-day trek along the South Fork Walla Walla River.


We had walked about 10 minutes when she stopped the first time. She pointed her nose skyward and inched into a snowberry thicket.


A soft flutter of wings stopped me, and I peered into the shade. A grouse sat among the tangled limbs and twigs.


Nora moved within a foot of it before it flew.


By the time Nora sneaked into the bushes for the fourth or fifth time, I paid attention.


Every time she did it, something in the thicket moved. Usually it flew.


Before the day ended, she scared up grouse eight times.


Anyway, with my fly-fishing gear in the day pack, I aimed to hike the six miles to the bridge at the Target Meadows trail junction. I’d fished there before with good success — for me.


I planned to start at the bridge and fish at the good spots on the way back.


The plan, as usual, had problems: It would take a week to fish the good spots, and it would be a day-long, 12-mile hike without stopping to fish.
After passing the cabins about three miles up the trail, we entered an open section with larger trees and smoother footing.


And Nora flushed more grouse, and one varied thrush.


I looked carefully into the woods as we walked. I assumed that deer, elk, coyotes, bear and cougars would be watching from the shade.
We left the trailhead at 8:08 a.m., and we reached the six-mile bridge at 11:51 a.m.


Nora wolfed her snack, and I munched a vanilla yogurt PowerBar, which Nora also likes, on the bridge while I rigged up the 9-foot, four-piece fly rod with a 7-foot leader and a 1-foot tippet.


Fall caddis-flies fluttered above the swift-running stream. An occasional stone-fly dipped onto the current.


"Dropping eggs," I said to Nora.


So, I selected a stone-fly pattern from the fly box, tied it on, and we crossed the bridge and slipped down the bank to the stream.


It was easy enough to stand in water four-inches deep, hold the rod parallel to the current, flip the line sideways and toss the fly 20 feet upstream, close to the far bank, 15-to-20 feet away, and watch the fly float past.


I stripped out line so the fly floated 50 feet down, over hidden rocks and into slow water.


Nora stood up and chewed drooping alder leaves behind me as I cast.


I fished there for nearly an hour and changed flies twice, once to a caddis-fly pattern and once to a black bead-head stone-fly nymph pattern.
I hooked and released two six-inch bull trout. Not great fishing.


So, at one o’clock we headed downstream. I stopped twice and caught three more small fish and one fat 10-inch rainbow on a small pheasant-tail nymph pattern.


Once I thought I had a big fish on, but I’d snagged a leader that had a green-and-black spinner on it.


I met one other fly fisher, three men on horseback and three men on trail bikes.


Once, Nora stopped and stared up into a tall tree.


I stared, too. A pileated woodpecker clung to the tree trunk. As I lifted the camera into position, the bird flew across the trail.


I gritted my teeth in disappointment, but it landed in another tree. I sneaked forward to get a clear view of the bird, and it swooped down ahead of me to another tree.


I finally had a clear shot. I snapped a dozen shots, before it flew away for good.


So, Nora didn’t see the bear, and it didn’t see her, but she spotted a woodpecker for me.


It’s too bad she can’t spot fish.



If You Go


The South Fork Walla Walla River Trail (No. 3225) begins about a mile upstream from Harris Park, which is 13 miles upstream from Milton-Freewater. The trail’s junction with the Target Meadows Trail is about six miles from the trailhead.

A black bear briefly stood at the edge of the woods, and I clicked off a few photos before it disappeared.


When it faded into the underbrush before Nora the Schnauzer saw it and before it became interested in me, I breathed again.


Actually, Nora may not have reacted to the bear. She often sees cows, horses and deer and tends to ignore them.


Tends to, mostly.


A bear could be different, so I’m glad she didn’t see it.


In a way that surprised me, however. Like most dogs, she smells and hears about 200 times better than people do.


And she proved it often on that recent all-day trek along the South Fork Walla Walla River.


We had walked about 10 minutes when she stopped the first time. She pointed her nose skyward and inched into a snowberry thicket.


A soft flutter of wings stopped me, and I peered into the shade. A grouse sat among the tangled limbs and twigs.


Nora moved within a foot of it before it flew.


By the time Nora sneaked into the bushes for the fourth or fifth time, I paid attention.


Every time she did it, something in the thicket moved. Usually it flew.


Before the day ended, she scared up grouse eight times.


Anyway, with my fly-fishing gear in the day pack, I aimed to hike the six miles to the bridge at the Target Meadows trail junction. I’d fished there before with good success — for me.


I planned to start at the bridge and fish at the good spots on the way back.


The plan, as usual, had problems: It would take a week to fish the good spots, and it would be a day-long, 12-mile hike without stopping to fish.
After passing the cabins about three miles up the trail, we entered an open section with larger trees and smoother footing.


And Nora flushed more grouse, and one varied thrush.


I looked carefully into the woods as we walked. I assumed that deer, elk, coyotes, bear and cougars would be watching from the shade.
We left the trailhead at 8:08 a.m., and we reached the six-mile bridge at 11:51 a.m.


Nora wolfed her snack, and I munched a vanilla yogurt PowerBar, which Nora also likes, on the bridge while I rigged up the 9-foot, four-piece fly rod with a 7-foot leader and a 1-foot tippet.


Fall caddis-flies fluttered above the swift-running stream. An occasional stone-fly dipped onto the current.


"Dropping eggs," I said to Nora.


So, I selected a stone-fly pattern from the fly box, tied it on, and we crossed the bridge and slipped down the bank to the stream.


It was easy enough to stand in water four-inches deep, hold the rod parallel to the current, flip the line sideways and toss the fly 20 feet upstream, close to the far bank, 15-to-20 feet away, and watch the fly float past.


I stripped out line so the fly floated 50 feet down, over hidden rocks and into slow water.


Nora stood up and chewed drooping alder leaves behind me as I cast.


I fished there for nearly an hour and changed flies twice, once to a caddis-fly pattern and once to a black bead-head stone-fly nymph pattern.
I hooked and released two six-inch bull trout. Not great fishing.


So, at one o’clock we headed downstream. I stopped twice and caught three more small fish and one fat 10-inch rainbow on a small pheasant-tail nymph pattern.


Once I thought I had a big fish on, but I’d snagged a leader that had a green-and-black spinner on it.


I met one other fly fisher, three men on horseback and three men on trail bikes.


Once, Nora stopped and stared up into a tall tree.


I stared, too. A pileated woodpecker clung to the tree trunk. As I lifted the camera into position, the bird flew across the trail.


I gritted my teeth in disappointment, but it landed in another tree. I sneaked forward to get a clear view of the bird, and it swooped down ahead of me to another tree.


I finally had a clear shot. I snapped a dozen shots, before it flew away for good.


So, Nora didn’t see the bear, and it didn’t see her, but she spotted a woodpecker for me.


It’s too bad she can’t spot fish.



If You Go


The South Fork Walla Walla River Trail (No. 3225) begins about a mile upstream from Harris Park, which is 13 miles upstream from Milton-Freewater. The trail’s junction with the Target Meadows Trail is about six miles from the trailhead.

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