Published May 16, 2012, 07:48 AM

Bear ambles onto pier on Duluth ship canal, startling angler

You could say it’s a fish tale of the big one that got away — which is OK with Dominique Bowens of Duluth.

By: Steve Kuchera, Duluth News Tribune

You could say it’s a fish tale of the big one that got away — which is OK with Dominique Bowens of Duluth.

Bowens was fishing near the end of the Duluth ship canal’s south pier Tuesday morning when the amplified voice of Lift Bridge Supervisor Ryan Beamer came from the bridge’s loudspeaker.

“To the person fishing at the end of the south pier of the Duluth ship canal, be advised there is a black bear coming your way on the pier,” Beamer said.

“I thought he was kidding,” Bowens said. “I turned around, and there was a bear. He kept coming closer.”

The bridge supervisor was talking on his cell phone when he first saw the bear.

“I saw a dog stick its head up and look over the pier and into the water, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh don’t jump in, dog,’ ” he said. “Then it dropped back down and I couldn’t see it. And I’m like, ‘That was not a dog’s head. That was a bear’s head.’ Then it stuck its head up again. Yeah, it was a black bear’s head.”

Beamer told the person on the phone he had to go, warned Bowens over the loudspeaker, and called 911.

On the pier, Bowens was retreating up the stairs to the lighthouse at the end.

“I know cubs like that aren’t aggressive,” he said. But he had seen nature shows about bears reacting if they feel cornered or threatened. “I moved away as far as I could.”

Bowens also called 911. The dispatcher told him not to worry about his abandoned fishing pole, and reassured him that, considering the circumstances, he wouldn’t get into trouble with the DNR for littering if it fell into the water.

“The dispatcher told me, ‘Luckily, you didn’t catch any salmon,’ ” Bowens said.

The bear, meanwhile, was wandering up the pier toward Bowens. Sometimes it would look over the pier or walk on the pier’s wall. At least once it lowered itself over the wall.

“It’s amazing the power it has,” Beamer said. “Halfway down the pier, it lowered itself down and was dangling, just hanging by its claws onto the concrete wall. Then it decided it didn’t want to go into the water. It pulled itself up like you would stand up out of a chair. It exerted no effort in doing a pull-up.”

About 100 feet from Bowens, the bear turned around and made its way back down the pier. As it neared land, Lift Bridge operator Dale Mitchell banged on metal and shouted at the bear. The bear ran off the bridge and onto Park Point.

“I saw him run on the beach then run up behind that house,” Bowens said, pointing. “The dispatcher told me: ‘It’s safe for you to go back fishing. Out of sight, out of mind.’ ”

“It’s was weird,” Bowens said of the experience. “It was the first time I saw a black bear.”

Bowens thought the bear was perhaps a yearling; Beamer estimated it weighed more than 200 pounds.

It was the first time Beamer had seen a bear on the pier, though they have been seen in the area.

“Other people working here have seen them walk right down the center of the bridge,” he said.