(Gillette, Wyo.) Conditions were nearly perfect on the section of the North Platte River known as the Miracle Mile. The ever-present wind was notably absent as the last traces of early morning cloud cover disappeared into the distance. Even the water, which had started as a dull, muddy brown, cleared up considerably. I had already missed three bites, and I had only been fishing for around 10 minutes.
I had found the perfect spot, where the shallow, fast current moved into a deeper, slower section of the river. I even had an audience, a flock of North American pelicans stood in the shallows on the far shore watching me warily while my eyes were glued to the brightly-colored slip bobber that had stopped dead in the water.
I knew the water was too deep for my rig—a single split shot and hook about five feet beneath the bobber—to have snagged on the bottom. If the last 10 minutes had been any indication, I expected at any minute for the bobber to shoot beneath the surface.
When it happened, I whooped with enthusiasm as I jerked the rod backwards, securely hooking the large brown trout on the other end of the line. I felt the tell-tale jerk on the end of the rod, followed by a surprising slack in the line and I knew the fish was going to jump. I prepared myself, my right hand playing with the drag in case the big fish decided to make a run for it instead.
With an almighty splash, the fish leapt from the water, glistening brightly in the early morning light. That’s when everything went wrong.
The peaceful flock of pelicans across the water went from observation mode, to straight attack-mode. At least 10 of them took flight and made a bee line for the exact spot my fish had just jumped. I yelled at them and waved a hand, but they paid me no mind. They were hungry, and they were going to get that fish that I had so conveniently made accessible for them.
I had to think quickly. The only way I would be able to get the fish in was to allow it to stay down deep, well out of reach of the vicious-looking beaks of the would-be thieves until I got it within rock throwing distance.
I played the fish slowly, letting it hug the bottom as I worked it gently into the shallows. I stooped and picked up a handful of gravel, wisely ignoring the baseball-sized stones lying around me. I didn’t want to hurt the pelicans, but I didn’t want them to get my first fish of the day either.
The majority of the pelicans peeled off for the opposite bank when they saw how close they had come to the strange, two legged creature holding a stick. But there was one of them that wasn’t so wise. It had caught sight of the trout near the bottom in four-feet of water—just a few feet from me—and was just reeling its head back to dive when it saw me, and froze.
I smiled wickedly.
“Hi there!” I said in a conversational tone, cocking my arm back for a throw.
I let my gravel fly and it bounced harmlessly off the pelican’s feathers, but it had the desired effect. The pelican bolted, flapping its wings furiously as it made for the safety of the flock. Once there, it turned around and stared at me, not at the fish that was now at my feet, at me.
It raised its wings once in an agitated gesture. I don’t think I need to translate into English what the gesture meant, just that I knew right then and there that we were going to have problems.
It was all out war. The pelican sought its revenge by floating right next to my bobber on every cast, splashing its wings into the water every time a fish came up to inspect the nightcrawler I had dangling in the water. Every time the infuriating bird did this, it would look at me smugly, if a bird could ever be described as looking smug.
Hours went by with the pelican refusing to leave, even after I settled down to munch my sandwich around noon.
The afternoon was no better. The rest of the pelicans, evidently deciding that I wasn’t going to be catching any other fish they could steal, had floated down river and were hunting in the next section of rapids. But that one pelican quickly made its way to my bobber when I tried another cast.
This time, however, the bird wasn’t interested in scaring off the fish and I thought maybe, just maybe, I would have a decent time. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t to be. I watched my bobber shoot under the water, followed closely by the pelican. A second later the bird burst from the surface with a mouthful of trout. With horror, I watched my bobber leave the water and fly through the air as the pelican took off. It dropped back down a few seconds later with a dull kurplunk!
I stared in disbelief for several moments at the now distant figure of the pelican before I stomped on the ground angrily like the child that I am and shouted a series of colorful words at the bird. I’d had enough. I packed everything away and made my way for the car, cursing my bad fortune.
Who knew pelicans could be so smart and devious?