Alaska Bush pilot and avid fly fisherman Gary Limage spent much of his adult life around grizzly bears in the wilds of the 49th state only to end up getting mauled by one along the Canadian road system. Friends and former co-workers over the weekend identified Limage as the Alaska angler reportedly attacked by a grizzly last week in northwestern British Columbia.
Canadian authorities are reporting the bear ripped off Limage's jaw in a horrific attack.
Friend Don Cogger, who used to operate Alaska Air Guides off of Lake Hood in Anchorage, said that since the 1970s Limage worked not only for him there but for a number of other air carriers with service to rural Alaska, including Rust Flying Service of Anchorage and Frontier Flying Service of Fairbanks, as well as various fishing lodges in Bristol Bay. Van Hartley at Branch River Air in King Salmon near the end of the Alaska Peninsula said on Monday that Limage worked there last summer, and Hartley had known Limage for years and years before that.
"We used to take him out and drop him off on camping trips" in grizzly-filled Bristol Bay, Hartley said by telephone from King Salmon. "He spent a lot of time in and around bears."
Given Limage's history, both Hartley and Cogger were shocked to hear about the pilot being attacked by a bear on a popular fishing stream along the Canadian road system. The Vancouver Sun reported the 65-year-old Limage was fishing Sept. 18 in the Morice River near Houston when the attack took place. Houston, B.C., is a community of about 3,200 people near midway along the Yellowknife Highway between Prince George in the center of the province and the coastal port of Prince Rupert just south of Ketchikan, Alaska.
The official website for the community says "Houston is known as the 'Steelhead Capital of the World' because so many anglers flock here for the mighty fish -- even though it is catch and release only."
Friends of Limage said that describes exactly the kind of place that would attract him. According to the Sun story, it appears Limage was on the creek not far from his camper van when attacked at around 7:30 p.m. Sgt. Kevin Nixon, a spokesman for the B.C. Conservation Officer Service, is reported to have speculated Limage "was crouching down to put something in a bag, and when he stood up the bear lunged at him," but it is unclear from the Sun story on what that idea is based.
After the attack, which left Limage seriously injured, he reportedly crawled about 300 yards to a road. A woman driving along the road spotted him curled in the ditch. She stopped to help and then called emergency services.
"If she hadn't stopped for him, this could have been a life-or-death situation," Nixon told the Sun. Limage was rushed to the hospital in Smithers, B.C. and later airlifted to Vancouver General Hospital. The Sun reported his jaw was bitten off in a mauling eerily similar to what happened to Wes Perkins of Nome more than a year ago. Perkins is still recovering from that attack.
The Sun said Limage's "camper van has been towed from the fishing site … a popular destination for fly fishing [that] attracts people from all over the world, including celebrities and politicians."
Details about the attack are vague because Limage was unable to speak, but the Sun did report this:
"Conservation officers spoke to the man briefly, but said his injuries were so severe he could only respond to yes and no questions. From that interview, officers were able to determine that the animal was a grizzly bear and that the attack was likely defensive rather than predatory. Conservation officers combed the site on Wednesday and found the area covered in blood. They found bear fur on the trees and bear cub tracks. The officers did a flyover of the area, but found no sign of the bear or cubs."
Canadian officials did warn anglers and hikers to stay out of the area and closed a campground. Grizzlies are common to the area, but authorities reported this was the first mauling in anyone's memory. They reiterated the usual warning that people should not fish alone. As with bears everywhere, there is safety in numbers.
Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com