I’m a fly fisherman, and one of the reasons I enjoy the activity so much is that it connects me to an alien world, the aquatic world of trout and bass (in Maine) and snook and redfish (in Florida). There are other reasons, like fish hang out in beautiful places, and I enjoy the solitude and peace fishing provides. It calms me, and at its best it’s a meditative experience. Also, there is something deeply compelling about connecting with creatures that live in a completely different world.

Fly fishing provides a singular opportunity to see, up close, “creatures that live in a completely different world,” Steven Price writes. LorraineHudgins/Shutterstock.com

But sometimes things go wrong, someone makes a mistake, and the enterprise suddenly reveals even deeper questions about our relationship to nature and its wild creatures. To wit, once in a great while a fisherperson unintentionally hooks an animal that’s not a fish. And you’re confronted with a life-and-death situation and your responsibility as the primary caretaker of our planet’s finned and feathered friends.

This past winter, while fishing from an observation deck in Clam Bayou, a saltwater mangrove estuary in St. Petersburg, I heard the clomp, clomp, clomp of big feet. I turned to see an enormous brown pelican had joined me on the deck. The bird life in coastal Florida is glorious. You regularly see not only pelicans but also cranes, herons, eagles and osprey. And if you’re lucky, you’ll spot a roseate spoonbill. All of them are better fish catchers than you, and basically your competition on the water. But you don’t begrudge them because they’re too patient, too efficient, too beautiful.

Now, a pelican is not exactly pretty. In fact, with their huge bills and snaky necks they look kind of goofy. But this pelican was in distress. I immediately noticed a long piece of fishing line trailing it. Then I heard a small boat collide with one of the deck’s footings and its captain curse: “I’ve been chasing that damn pelican for an hour!” On closer examination, I saw that the bird had swallowed a fishing lure.

The boat owner and I managed to corner the pelican. I wrapped my arms around its enormous wings and cradled it against my chest like I was holding a child. The bird panicked at first, but then calmed when I put him on the deck and stroked his long, curved, silky neck. He just looked at me with that golden-irised eye. While I had come to connect with creatures of the water, I was now intimately connected to a creature of the air.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t remove the fishing lure, as the pelican had taken it deep into its throat. The boater called the wildlife rescue office, but it was Sunday and no one answered. Instead, we loaded the pelican into the kayak, squawking and flapping, and they headed for the local police station, hoping the cops could help.

I’ll never know what happened to that bird, whether it lived or died. But because of someone’s mistake, I felt like I had bonded with it, and it with me. One with nature.

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