Fishing for Loons Part II

Continued from Fishing for Loons.

Loons are smart birds, and over the years certain loons on certain lakes have discovered that when an angler catches a fish, that fish is ripe for the taking. They swoop in like underwater torpedoes, stealing the trout and zooming off.

While it may be a boon for the loons, it drives fishermen and women up the wall. To compensate, on Kennebago Lake the locals have begun reeling in as fast as they can, desperately trying to keep their fish ahead of the aggressive loons. Sure, this works sometimes, but once in a while it backfires, and the loons launch themselves straight into the boat! They may be birds, but their bills are ridiculously sharp, and I would definitely not want to face off with an angry diving bird.

As I furiously reeled in my line, dragging the fish from the water, the loon zipped up from underneath the boat and zeroed in on my fish like a Russian submarine.

“Brian, it’s coming!” I cried, forcing myself to move ever faster.

nature, birding, maine, common Loon, fishing

Photo by Lindsey Rustad.

Even in the dim evening light I could see the dark outline of the loon’s body, its white spots showing clearly beneath the waves. I practically shrieked as the bird’s head broke the surface at the same moment that I yanked my fish to the other side of the boat.

“Bring it here, bring it here!” Brian called back to me, motioning quickly to the other side of the boat. I curved, pulling my line through the water towards Brian with the net. He swiftly grabbed the line and scooped the fish into the boat in one piece. I’m sure the other anglers on the lake were wondering if the Loch Ness Monster was on my fly.

The loon was unhappy with the loss of the fish. While her mate looked on, she swam back and forth beneath the boat, perhaps equally aware of the catch and release rules of the lake and waiting for us to toss the fish back. I couldn’t help it, perhaps it was a primordial response to an ancient bird, but every time the loon emerged barely a few feet away I let out a tremendous gasp. You would think I was trying out for a TV soap opera I was being so dramatic.

I caught one more fish, another ten incher, but this time I was ready. The second the fish hit the fly I was reeling it in with all my might, hoping that I could reel faster than the underwater speed of the loon. The fish made it into my lap – barely. Of course, the loons could have gobbled up the weakened creature moments after we tossed them back, but I don’t have too many moral qualms about unintentionally feeding the loons.

nature, birding, maine, common Loon, fishing

The fishing slowed after that, a strong breeze and further rain drowning the rest of our chances. Sensing our increasing ineptitude, the loons paddled away from us to better fishing grounds (or better fishermen), and I could watch them again from my usual safe distance. I have always loved loons, but until my own fishing incident had only appreciated their striking appearance, not how powerful they really are. I would be absolutely terrified if one of those things jumped into a boat with me.


Erika Zambello

About Erika Zambello

Erika Zambello is a writer, birder, and photographer, born and raised in Maine. She has a bachelor’s degree in Government and Anthropology from Cornell University, and a master’s degree in Environmental Management from Duke University, specializing in ecosystem science and conservation. Her love of the outdoors was inspired by her childhood in Maine, and she returned for her National Geographic Young Explorer grant in 2015-2016.