On The Hook: Fishing for the birds

BILL WALSH

We are truly blessed here in Southwest Florida with the enormous numbers and species of sea birds. There is hardly a day on a backwater charter that rods are not swapped for the camera for a shot of heron in grand pose or a bald eagle perched high with a nice catch in its talons.

In winter, we watch the osprey arrive on their channel marker nests in complete synch with the human snow birds arriving from northern climes. They then become a slow motion show over the ensuing months birthing their young to final flight lessons before they beat the car carriers back north.

Birds are a huge attraction here and much appreciated and cared for, but aviary creatures are just that. Instinct rules. And every so often you have an event, while fishing, with our feathered friends as the centerpiece; thought you'd like to hear about a few that have occurred over the years that may bring a smile or a chuckle to your day.

The pelican wrestle

To date this event, for the old timers here, O'Shea's Restaurant was still alive (Newcomers: where Pier 81 condo complex is now). We're coming back from an afternoon charter with two brothers and their two young sons. It's early summer and we've had a good day with fish in the box.

As we near the O'Shea docks, we see a guy fishing off those docks making frantic pulling motions with his rod. At first, it's puzzling but then one of the kid's spots a pelican some 50 yards off the docks being ducked in the water in unison to the yanks of the angler's rod, the pelican has been hooked and the angler is either trying to dislodge the lure or kill the pelican or both.

We hit the throttle, moving toward the vexed angler, with all screaming "stop," he hesitated for a moment and resumed the yanking. We took the boat right up to the dock and with a bit of unreportable rhetoric told him to stop. He stopped probably fearing physical restraint.

Moving to the pelican, we saw he had a treble lure hooked in a wing. We came alongside and quieted the bird with a towel over his head. One of the fathers gently removed the treble. The pelican shuddered a bit and went skyward – free.

The belligerent angler now bellowed, "let go of my lure." One of the fathers tied the lure to a stern cleat and with, "OK, skipper, let's go home."

As the line peeled off the angler's reel, he was screaming, "my lure ... you got my lure." We kept going with a response of "come to the marina to get your lure."

He never showed. Kind of knew he wouldn't. Somewhere, the pelican applauded.

The flying fish

It's fall, a couple of years back and we're trying to hide from a nasty northwesterly wind in the shelter of Rookery Bay. We're anchored in the lee of some mangrove trees and the best we can do, as yet, is some small snapper and sheepshead. But this is a kid's charter, four of them plus parents. They don't care as long as something is tugging on the other end of the line.

One of the little girls – the one most into the fishing experience – all of a sudden shouts, "I've got something big, oh, help." The drag was screaming and running straight out from the boat. We suspected a snook or a bull redfish. Yeah!

Just then, there was a flurry on the surface just above the line and a cormorant surfaced, shook his head with the shrimp in it's mouth and started his taxi and take off; all the while, the little girl was screaming both from delight and fright.

The drag is screaming and the cormorant is outbound, bait, line and sinker. With just yards of line left on the spool, we tightened the drag knob and the line went slack. Hoping that the thieving cormorant wasn't permanently hooked, we reeled in line for what seemed like forever and, thankfully, found our bait intact.

Our little girl will probably remember that event forever – and so will the cormorant.

30 seconds over Naples

This happened last week. We ran a charter the screaming heat with a father and four boys; sons and cousins none of which had reached double digit age. Our trip, was one for the book right from the git go.

We were either trying to get two of them untangled or running from one to the other putting bait on and taking fish off all morning long – it looked a lot like a Lucy skit.

The father was involved and helping – kind of – but he became frantic when one of kids would catch a fish and leave it dangling over the side of the boat waiting for assistance to release. We told the kids to leave the fish in the water until we could help them – most times they didn't listen.

About half way through the trip, I asked the father why the overwhelming concern about the fish "dangling." We would get to them and they would survive.

And then he told me.

The day before the fivesome went fishing at the Naples Pier. They had great action on smaller fish and the kids were spread out. He was running as fast as he could getting fish off, putting bait on, yada, yada, yada.

But mid morning, one of the kids had hooked a small mackerel and had him in the dangling mode when a osprey, obviously hungry, made a swoop on the dangler, affixed him in his talons and took off, with the rod and reel following.

The line must have snagged in the rod so, here's the osprey with his meal hovering above the pier with rod and reel beneath.

Upon inquiry as to what direction did the bird vacate the pier, the father admitted he headed east into the city.

Imagine, now, someone enjoying an afternoon at their Port Royal pool party only to be bombed by a rod and reel – gift of sorts from the thieving osprey.

So just maybe, with all this going on, fishing is "for the birds" after all.

Capt. Bill Walsh owns an established Marco Island charter fishing business and holds a current U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments or questions to dawnpatrolcharters@compuserve.com.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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