Shore birds make pier fishing more interesting

Jeff MulhollemEvery now and then a guy has a less-than-manly moment, and if he is lucky, nobody is around to see it. I had one of those brief unfortunate episodes on a Florida fishing pier the other day.

In retrospect, perhaps I should have been prepared, the way the morning started. We were a long way out on the Bay Pier, in Fort DeSoto Park, St. Petersburg, very early and it was cold and rainy. Because of the miserable weather, other than my son and me, there was only one other angler on the pier, and he was far away from us.

I don’t get to wet a line in saltwater often, and a vacation fishing over the holidays is a real treat for me. So when I hooked my first sea trout perhaps a foot long, I was pleased. Until a big brown pelican abruptly splashed out from under the pier and grabbed the fish crosswise in its bill just as I was hoisting it out of the water.

Caught off guard, at first I froze, but then yelled at the bird and kept cranking the reel and pulling. The pelican reluctantly let go. The trout didn’t seem any worse for the experience and I was careful to throw the fish away from the bird when I released it so the pelican didn’t get it again.

The whole time we were there, short-legged little birds – ruddy turnstones I think they were – lingered around us, edging closer and closer to our bait bucket. When we baited our hooks, if we dropped a shrimp, they would advance like Civil War soldiers, only falling back in a line when we shooed them away.

A few hours and quite a few caught fish later, a sea robin, perhaps 8 inches long, ate my shrimp and I brought it over the rail. When we pried the hook out of the peculiar little creature’s lip, it slithered out of my grip to the pier deck. As I bent to flip it under the rail, back into the bay, I got another surprise.

A big bird that had been sitting on a post 10 feet away, watching me – a royal tern I think — suddenly swooped past my outstretched hand and grabbed the flopping fish in its bill. Scared the hell out of me! Then the grayish-white bird with a 4-foot wingspan tried to take off, smacking into the pier railing and bouncing back into me.

It happened three times. The big bird frantically fluttering, never letting go of its sea robin treasure. I staggered back and squealed like a little girl. Finally, the tern calmed down a little and managed to crawl through the railing before flying away, never dropping the hapless fish.

My son couldn’t quit laughing at me. Thankfully, the guy at the end of the pier never heard or saw any of it. It wasn’t one of my finest moments.

Categories: Pennsylvania – Jeff Mulhollem

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