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What to do if you catch a bird instead of a fish — it happens!

By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON - | Aug 27, 2021

A new record was accidentally set aboard my boat this past week. Ms. Jane T., now and forever known by her husband as Birdy T., of Toronto, Canada, accidentally caught and released a total of four assorted water birds and a fair number of fish this past Tuesday, beating my standing boat record of two birds hooked and released in a 4-hour trip.

When predator fish feed from below driving the bait to the surface, the sea birds then join in to enjoy the easy pickings as well. Often a cast into this frenzy of jumping fish and flying birds results in a pelican or other water bird flying into a line and becoming snared or hooked by the lure.

This can be quite a traumatic experience for the bird as well as a newbie angler not at all prepared for this type of close-up and accidental, wildlife encounter.

When this does happen, your first instinct might be to simply cut the line freeing the struggling bird which is definitely the wrong course of action.

The FWC recommends to: Reel – Remove – Release.

Slowly reel the bird down out of the air or across the surface and back to the boat. Some birds will be ready for a fight, others are calmer. It’s important for you to remain calm as well and remember to make sure you put on your sunglasses to protect your eyes from sharp beaks.

The FWC then recommends “firmly grasp the bird’s head behind the eyes. Then fold the wings up gently but firmly against the bird’s body so that it can’t flap its wings, and hold the legs. Hold firmly but don’t strangle the bird. If it is a pelican, you can hold the beak but keep the beak slightly open so the bird can breathe.”

Now take a towel, hat, shirt or other cloth and cover the bird’s head and eyes. This action will calm the bird and make it much easier for you to remove the line and/or hook.

If the bird is simply tangled in line. carefully cut it away and properly discard it, inspect the bird for hooks or other line then release it.

If the bird is flesh-hooked with no hook barb showing, push the hook on through the flesh exposing the barb then clip it off and back out the now barbless hook, freeing the patient.

Keeping a pair of small wire side cutters on board is a must to aid in releasing folks and fowl accidentally hooked while fishing.

If a bird has swallowed a fishing hook or is severely injured, use the FWC app to find the nearest seabird rehabilitator to care for the bird and/or transporter to take the bird to a rehabilitator. The FWC asks that you to stay with the bird until help arrives. You can also report an injured bird to the FWC using the FWC Reporter app for Apple or Android smartphones or tablets. You can download the free app from the App Store or Google Play.

You can also use your smart-phone to keep up-to-date with ever changing saltwater and freshwater fishing regulations by using the Fish Rules App. also available in the App Store and Google Play. Use the location services to see regulations for your area.

Water woes continue as red tides hang around causing yet more fish kills and respiratory issues for many boaters. To find out the latest information call 866-300-9399 anytime from anywhere in Florida to hear a recording about red tide conditions throughout the state.

Reports are updated on every Friday afternoon except during holidays, in which case the report will be released on the closest day.

Time is running out to make your voice heard concerning the current Army Corp Lake Okeechobee plan to ship the majority of toxic summer overflows westward to our area while shutting off discharges flowing eastward.

Speak up!

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. You can contact him at 239-282-9434 or captgeorget3@aol.com.

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