News and views, and history and humor, about the lake I love.

"I can hear my granddad's stories of the storms out on Lake Erie, where vessels and cargos and fortunes, and sailors' lives were lost." ~ James Taylor, Millworker

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fishing with Gulls

Juvenile Herring Gull

When you fish in Lake Erie, even when you're by yourself, you're never along. Sea gulls are your constant companions, and they want the same thing you want: fish.

I went fishing Tuesday morning. There was a break in this raining, dreary weather we've been having and the morning broke with the sun in the east and a stiff southwest breeze, but nothing too serious. So my brother-in-law fired up the Lyman and we headed north about two or three miles, dropping anchor in close proximity to the green can buoy off the west side of Catawba.

We got off to a slow start. In fact, nothing was biting, but I noticed the anchor was dragging bottom, meaning we were on a rocky bottom. We starting getting the "junk" fish, namely sheepshead and also some white bass until, finally, the perch started hitting. Then I caught a good sized catfish that was a real fighter. A few of the perch were pretty nice -- in the 9-10 inch range -- but most were on the small side. Before long, of course, they started showing up. Think of them as uninvited guests for dinner.

I'm talking about sea gulls. At the first sign of a fish they seem to come out of nowhere. It's always the same. The first one arrives and moves into position near the boat, but usually at a respectful distance. Then two or three more show up and they start yacking -- vying for position, establishing who is going to be the dominant one and demand the best position, who is going to end up slinking around the fringes, and everyone in between. They scream and threaten. They posture. They are really like humans that way.

We paid little notice to the gulls. We were there to catch fish. After a while, though, I began to notice an unusually aggressive juvenile Herring gull in the crowd. The "juve's" are easily distinguished from the fully mature adults by their mottled brown feathers and black bill. Anyway, this guy I noticed was moving impatiently from one side of the boat to the other. At one point, as he passed over the anchor rope he suddenly out at the rope, pecking angrily at it. I thought to myself, Huh?

Then he started getting pretty closer to the boat. Now, a gull will often get close to the boat but won't actually attack your line or pole. But this guy was different. He started rushing at my brother-in-law's line every time it cleared the surface with a fish, or even with just a minnow on his hook. Then my B-I-L reeled in again and as soon as his hook cleared the water that gull grabbed the line and paddled away in a hurry, the hook set firmly in his bill.

My fishing partner did the only thing he could do -- he reeled him in and tried to get the hook out. The gull was quite a fighter, flapping like crazy and stabbing with his bill. I was finally able to get my hands around his wings and hold him still long enough for my B-I-L to get the hook out. Other than his bill bleeding a bit he seemed none the worse for wear. He swam away and kept ducking his head in the water. Finally he flew away. The other gulls had already taken off and were nowhere to be seen.

It was a good ten minutes before we had a new batch show up. I doubt that he'll be that aggressive in the future. We ended up with an okay catch of 32, including the catfish. We probably threw back twice that number, not counting the sea gull.

Once we were back on shore, it started to rain.

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