hooked pelican

Photo provided

This brown pelican was hooked and then either broke free or was cut loose. Either way, this bird now has fishing tackle hooked onto it — and no way to get itself loose.

I got a slightly panicked call last week from one of my Fish Coach clients. He’d gone back to one of the places I had shown him in the Gasparilla Sound area and was fishing with a live threadfin, hoping to hook into a tarpon. While the bait was out swimming around, he got preoccupied with something on the boat. He and his son had their heads down in the bilge when he heard the drag suddenly start whining. When he popped up (hitting his head on the hatch, of course), he discovered he had hooked one — but not the one he wanted.

Apparently a pelican had spotted his bait struggling near the surface and dived on it, and was now attempting to fly off. The Gamakatsu circle hook he was using was firmly embedded in the pelican’s beak. He wasn’t quite sure what to do, so he called me.

If this were your scenario, how would you react? A lot of anglers would choose to cut the line. That’s a bad call. It’s a guaranteed death sentence for the bird, since the next time it lands in a mangrove all that attached line is going to become tangled up. Tied to the tree, the pelican won’t be able to feed and will die a slow death due to dehydration.

Maybe try to pull the hook loose? Yeah, maybe. But if the bird is well-hooked (and this one was), it’s not gonna happen.

Pop the line, like you might if you foul-hooked a tall mangrove tree? Unlikely, unless your knot-tying skills need work. A mangrove stays in one place. A pelican will end up getting pulled in.

Which is how he ended up with a large and irate bird at the side of the boat, flapping and hissing and snapping its beak. What do you do now?

He didn’t want to get hurt — but to his credit, he wanted to avoid unnecessary injury to the bird as well. So I gave him a magic trick: I told him to take a cloth and toss it over the pelican’s head, covering its eyes. I don’t know the reason this works as well as it does, but it’s amazing how quickly a freaked-out bird will calm down when it can’t see anything. (If you ever need it, it also works on alligators and some lizards.)

With a fish-slime towel over its face, his son was able to grab the upper bill (where the dangerous point is) and then slip the hook right out of the pouch. They had mashed the barb down to a bump before they started fishing, which contributed mightily to easing this process.

Then, they pulled the towel off. The pelican snapped it jaws a couple more times, then clumsily took off. Last they saw it, it was headed toward Pine Island Sound. I’d love to hear the bird’s version of the story. I’ll bet he makes it sound like an alien abduction.

Obviously, none of us wants to hook a bird. Avoidance is ideal. But sometimes birds can be very persistent or very sneaky, even when you’re paying attention. It happens. Don’t get mad or beat yourself up — just deal with it and move forward.

Most of the situations we find ourselves in have relatively simple solutions. The key is to not flip out and seek out that information as quickly as possible. Because that’s exactly what happened, this story had a happy ending instead of a tragic one. And now that you know what to do if it happens to you, here’s to living happily ever after.

Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com.

Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@


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