LOONS ARE REALLY FUNNY PEOPLE
This story takes place over about a 3 year time span.
I have always enjoyed the Loons for their company, especially early in the mornings when only they and I are out on the lake. They are a protected bird and I hope they will always be there to greet me when I travel to the high country lakes that I love.
The first time I ever fished Link Lake, which is situated high on the mountain just behind Summerland in British Columbia's Okanogan Valley.
I noticed a Mother Loon sitting on a nest, low down and right at the water's edge. She first caught my attention because when I rowed my pontoon boat near to her tiny island nesting spot she flattened her body as close to the ground as she possibly could and then stretched her neck out flat along the ground half submerging her head in the water along shore so as not so show any profile. Man now that is clever, I thought as I passed within 20 feet of her. I greeted her with a Cheery "Hello there, I can see you." The Loon stayed frozen to the spot not moving so much as a feather. Her mate meanwhile did a noisy splashdown about 30 feet from the other side of my Pontoon boat trying, I suppose, to distract me away from his lady love. I pretended it worked and rowed slowly away leaving her to her motherly duties. A week later I was back on the lake to greet the dawn and take advantage of the great spring chronomid hatch.
I passed farther out from her selected spot this time not wanting to cause her any stress. I noted the same stretched out posture as she tried to be invisible to me. I had to laugh though because as she did so a tiny chick ran up on her back and made a strange crackly sound. Not a chirp but a crackly sound hard to describe really.
Spring progressed with warm days and calm winds just perfect that year. The fluffy grey chick grew feathers got a little bigger and finally began swimming around the lake with its two parents. It was a nice feeling to watch the little fellow develop. I would greet them each time I passed them.
This imagined friendship lasted until one day as I reeled in my first fish of the day. Darned if the trio didn't race over to my pontoon, the two parents dove and one of them grabbed my fish. My 5 weight fly rod doubled over in a tremendous arc as the bird grabbed hold and zipped thru the water. Man can they yank on a line. You would have thought there was a 10 lb trout on the line. The bloody nerve I thought.
"That's not gonna happen you stupid jerk!" I yelled at it.
I fought that stupid bird for 5 minutes. While all this was going on I was being pelted with catcalls and hoots of derision from my camping buddies who hastily convened a large peanut gallery along the shoreline. I not only had the bird to deal with I was now being subjected to calls of "Hey You big bully," let the poor loon have the fish," pick on someone your own size and similar alcoholically inspired bon mots from the gathered riff raff.
I finally managed to get the bird and fish almost up to the boat before the stubborn bird finally gave up. I netted a slightly mangled smallish sized fish took the barb-less hook from its mouth and gently released it. The boos and catcalls escalated to a deafening roar as my friends exalted over my misfortune. As the poor fish slowly moved into the deeper water the loon triumphantly flashed by, grabbed and swallowed it down whole. He had won after all. My blood boiled at the thought of losing to this bird-brained thief.
For the rest of the summer I battled first one then the other parent loon for my fish. I did notice that if the fish was truly a big one, the size that I would take for a shore lunch, then the loons would size it up, decide it was too big and leave it alone. Most of my catches escaped their notice but still my score for that year was Loons 13, and me 2. Not a good average. Plus the peanut gallery was getting louder occasionally adding the odd shot from a spud gun to the fracas on occasion. Claiming to be on the side of Mother Nature and not on my side, this was an alarming development to be sure.
A disturbing thing also started happening in the fall when instead of just the two original loons poaching off me, now all three loons took up the chase.
I noticed too that they had cleverly learned which were the most productive boats to follow, usually choosing those of us who consistently caught fish. I had a buddy who fished that lake all the time but the loons never followed him. Of course he never caught fish either. So I developed a strategy whereby I would troll slowly up to another boat, the three loons in tow. I'd then turn up the electric motor speed around the unsuspecting angler and motor swiftly away leaving the loons in his wake not mine. That worked most of the time. This went on for 2 more seasons me battling the loons for my fish.
Last year winter came and finally went, the ice reluctantly left the lake and once more I was back on the lake. This season I gave up on the pontoon and took along my trusty boat, Sea Barf. It is a 5ft x 10 ft fiberglass pontoon boat that is the best fly fishing boat I have ever encountered. It is so stable that it's like fishing off the dock. Four people can easily fit in it without bumping into each other. I began using it instead of the pontoon because my son Mike and grandson Kyle had begun to come along fishing with me.
As with other years there on the same small island as she had been for the last 3 years was the Mother loon, and as always, sitting still as ever, neck and body flattened out low on the bank so as to show no profile back on her nest. You sure had to admire her.
All that winter I had regaled my Son and Grandson about the evils of these marauders and not to get fooled by their obvious grace and beauty. They were thieves! Pure and simple, thieves!
We began our circuit of the lake picking up several nice rainbows as we made the first round. The male noisily splashed down in our wake and I thought, "Oh Crap here we go again."
I hooked into a fish and the loon dove to steal it. It seemed like a good one and the loon popped to the surface
"Hah!" I cried out too big for your thieving ways "Hah!" I smugly netted the fish then released it. Then a shout from Kyle
"Fish on Grampa Fish on."
"Be quick" I shouted "or the Loon will get it."
No sooner were the words out of my mouth than Kyle's rod doubled over as the bird struck.
"Damn it! He's got it" I yelled. The next 5 minutes were filled with my son Mike and I yelling instructions to the kid on how to bring in the fish, and bird to the net without losing either it or the line or falling overboard or any other tragedy that might happen on the way to losing out to that damn bird again. Aha Triumph! Kyle brings the fish to net. The bird is forced to let go and the fish is ours. We have won!
Now this dear reader is where my epiphany comes in. What? You didn't expect an epiphany? Too bad there is an epiphany and this is it, so get over it.
Kyle releases the fish, turns to His dad and I beaming from ear to ear.
"Wow Grampa did you see that? Wasn't that just the greatest thing ever? Did you see how hard he fought? Man I bet none of my friends ever got to fight a Loon and a fish all at the same time. Wasn't that awesome? Lets do it again. This is much better than just fishing."
And there it was. It had been there right in front of us for almost 3 years but the Grandfather and the Father had missed it. We two adults stuck in our rigid notion of what is right and wrong being full of prejudices against change of any kind had totally and utterly missed it. Yet the child had easily seen it and with all the innocent wonder of a child had reacted accordingly.
The fight with the loon was far more exciting than catching a fish. The courageous Loon had gone mano a mano against great odds never flinching in its duty nor had it backed down a tiny bit in its quest to feed its family.
I now look forward to the contest with the loons. Although now they occur without all the swearing arm waving and carrying on as before. At the end of each battle the Loon is always awarded the prize. He needs it to feed his brood and raise strong sons and daughters so that I and my brood will always have the pleasure of the Loons for company those chill mornings out on the lake.