I’m the first one to say, you can’t catch anything from the couch. You can’t shoot a pintail, an 8 pointer or a limit of quail from the couch, either. You have to get out in the field to even have a chance. That philosophy also goes for the more humorous encounters in nature. You just don’t experience these things without getting outside.
Let’s pick up at about 7pm on an October Friday night. The wife was cleaning house for a family get together over the weekend and reports of smallmouth below the dam from the night before were echoing in my head. I had it on my mind, and had wrangled a hall pass to go see about those smallies.
When I arrived at the dam a few text messages confirmed where I needed to be and my buddy requested that I keep an eye out for his fancy pliers he’d forgotten the night before. A quick walk down the rip-rap found the lost pliers and the casting started. I caught a spunky little rockfish and nothing else as the sun dipped below the horizon.
The light was fading when I started casting harder to get my timing down for the nearing darkness. I try to setup my aim points and casting rhythm before it gets too dark to see, so I can continue to be effective in low light. I slung a monster cast as far as I could. I noticed the line was strangely limp at the end of the cast.
Usually the flowing tailrace waters are quite noticeable on the larger 1/2 ounce lures I was throwing, but this cast seemed to be floating. Mostly because it was. My attention focused forward to a screaming great blue heron way out at the end of my cast. The poor guy had glided by at the precise moment my lure came sailing across his path. In the failing light I never saw it.
I saw it pretty well with 50 yards of line paid out and a giant bird flailing and screaming bloody murder at the end of it. Several thoughts crossed my mind in those few seconds. Not the least of which was the unbreakable 20lb Suffix braid I had on the reel. I pondered the outcome as the drag sang and the bird squawked and flapped to nearly 100 yards away.
Abruptly he collapsed and fell to the rushing water and continued to flap and squawk while he drifted downstream. I let the 7 foot rod and heavy line keep me in the game while I sorted my thoughts. The $8 lure was important, but I wanted to get the bird freed up if possible. I held his drift at 100 yards away as slowly he flapped towards shore. Eventually I guided him to the water’s edge and started rock hopping my way down to find the God-only-knows-what scenario.
I honestly didn’t have a clue what I was going to have to do, but I made my way down there with a purpose (in the dark mind you). Thankfully I already had my headlamp on and picked up my buddy’s found pliers while fighting the still screaming bird. The heron started to get rowdy as I got within 20 feet and fear of breaking my rod started setting in. I reeled and climbed to within 10 feet as the bird crouched right at water’s edge. The awful terrain wasn’t helping.
As I reeled down to 6 feet the stark reality of what I had on my hands kicked in. I now had the most dangerous bird I could find wrapped in unbreakable fishing line within striking distance and convinced that I was going to kill him. Nevermind the new treble hooks hiding somewhere in the mix. You could laugh it off but the beloved crocodile hunter was killed by a seemingly harmless critter in a less stressful situation that this one. I’ve seen these birds spear through 2lb fish with ease a thousand times, and I wasn’t interested in seeing him poke a hole in my calf or worse if he aimed higher.
I switched to holding the line wrapped around my hand and laid the rod down (thinking this was a good idea) only to find out the bird decided it was do-or-die time. Only real problem was now there but three feet of superline separating me from sword-bird and he was no longer trying to go away from me, but instead was lunging at me with bad intentions.
If you think these birds are pretty feathered creatures, you should see all that plumage standing straight up like a cockatoo when they’re enraged. With a great blue heron tethered to one hand, I quickly unbuttoned my shirt with the other and slung off my Columbia fishing shirt as though i knew what I was doing. I tossed the shirt on his head only to see his beak pop out the other side somehow more aggravated than before. He really started lashing out, this time sporting a nice shirt to go with his vertical plumage.
I let out a few feet of line and he started flapping to get away as I snatched up the shirt. Now I had an airborne sword-yielding bird on the end of 5 feet of line wrapped painfully around my hand. I got him onto the ground and made two more failing attempts to veil the angry fella before a fourth attempt landed perfectly over his head as I moved in close in contempt of any beak injuries I might endure. He was taking a swipe at me when the shirt landed, so I saw his beak clearly pointed through the shirt.
I quickly grabbed the beak, and the game changed. He finally stopped the God-awful wailing routine he’d kept up the entire time, and I moved in tight to do the deed. I saw the the lure had wrapped about four thousand times above his knee. the treble hooks collecting the line many times over. It’d never have come off without assistance. With a great blue heron beak in one hand, I went for the found pliers with the other, only to find they wouldn’t help at all. I laid them on a rock and went for my pocket knife. A little two handed bird-wrangling and knife play quickly cut the lure free. I double checked that the line was free and the rod and lure were independently cleared of the bird, grabbed the tail of the shirt and made the big reveal.
Ol’ razor lips stood up, shook his head, flapped his wings a few times and gave me the stink eye. He hopped a few rocks away and stood there before flying away. I took my rod and lure back to my spot and sat down to get a drink and laugh it all off, only to realize I’d left the found pliers somewhere in the dark amongst the rip-rap below the dam a hundred yards away.
I went back with a flashlight and found the pliers before retying the lure and fishing the rest of the night. I didn’t end up catching anything (else) that night. The water wasn’t running strong and it wasn’t in the cards that day. Once thing is for sure, though. That wouldn’t have happened sitting on the couch.