Calfgrit8’s Cub Scout pack had a fishing day planned for this past Saturday. Both our boys were looking forward to it for nearly two weeks, but I was feeling strangely apathetic about it.
I haven’t been fishing in around 25 years. It was a regular part of my youth: saltwater fishing off the pier at the beach, freshwater fishing from shore or boat in a lake. I had my own fishing rod and reel — oddly, a left-handed rig (I’m right handed in all other things) — and I knew how to handle it and take care of it. But that was a long time ago, seemingly in a previous life.
The most regular fishing memories I have is fishing off a pier in the Atlantic with my maternal grandparents. Baiting two hooks (upper and lower) with shrimp, casting the pyramidal lead weight out into the waves, waiting patiently for the tug of a fishing biting, and reeling in the catch.
I also remember some ocean and lake fishing with my dad, river fishing once or twice with my paternal grandparents (with cane poles), and some small-pond fishing with friends. All catches were for eating, and it was years after I had last fished that I heard of the concept of “catch and release” (unless the catch was too small to eat).
Even though I fished a lot in the ocean, I don’t remember pulling in any really big catches. I’ve seen others pull in sharks, a manta ray, and some big fish that I don’t know what they were. I always wanted to fight some big monster, but it just never happened.
The only exceptional catch I ever landed (and I love telling this when people are relating fish tales) is my catch of a seagull. Yeah, a seagull.
I was fishing with my dad off the ocean pier. I baited my hooks with shrimp, then held my rod aloft for a grand cast, and threw it out.
Seagulls were regular fixtures of the ocean pier. Many were always flying about or hovering in the wind, and you had to be mindful of laying your bait around unattended. If you set down a piece of shrimp and then turned away to get something, it wasn’t unusual for a gull to swoop in and snatch a snack.
As my bait, weight, and line flew out in a high arc over the waves, a seagull swooped in on the hooked shrimp. The bird plucked the snack out of the air, but its wings got tangled in the fishing line. Down the bird went into the water, all tangled and flapping and crying out.
I reeled in the bird as a bunch of people on our side of the pier looked on at the strange situation. With my dad advising, I reeled the bird on up out of the water and up the twenty feet to the side of the pier. Other fishers came up to help get the bird onto the pier and restrained.
It took three grown men to hold the seagull still — it was panicked and tried to flap, claw, and bite at any hands that got close to it. But it was terribly tangled in the line, and every panicked move just made things worse.
Eventually, though, after many minutes, the men got the line unwrapped and the hooks removed (neither were in the bird’s throat, fortunately). Once finished, everyone stepped back quickly and let the bird go. It leaped up and cried and jumped away. It took to the air and flew out over the water, hopefully with enough of a lesson to never again go for flying bait.
When other fishers start telling their stories about big catches, and the bigger ones that got away, I really like tossing out this story. After all these years, I’ve never found a fisher who’s seen firsthand or heard about anyone catching a seagull. It’s my own unique fishing experience. And yes, for the record, it is really true (no wink or nod).