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Two hungry fishermen, one tangled mess

I have warm memories of Englewood, Fla. I lived in a garage there 25 years ago during lean economic times, which were an adventure and a challenge, rather than a hardship.

One compensation was fishing on Lemon Bay, a large basin of still water embraced between mainland Charlotte County and Manasota Key. I had the use of a rowboat, and every late afternoon after work I would row out to the center of the bay, hoping to catch some supper, which was usually flounder.

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On one summer Saturday, the sun was merciless, so I sat in shade at the end of the boat dock with a fishing pole. The line was out 10 feet or so; the live bait was held a few inches underwater by a bobber. A brown pelican swam around, determined to keep me company.

Pelicans are often comical, consistently happy, and adorable. This one was all of the above. But I wanted to shoo him away, and I couldn't manage It. My voice and waving arms convinced him that I had something for him to eat. I wanted the pelican to find another spot because he was swimming too close to my outstretched fishing line.

Before long, the happy brown bird did exactly what I didn't want him to. He swam across the line once, turned about, and swam back again across the line. In seconds he was all tangled up.

I set the pole down and lay down upon the planks, hanging over the edge of the dock like a door hinge. I wedged my feet behind two giant cleats bolted to the planks, so I wouldn't pitch head first into the water.

It was a task, gathering this large bird in my arms. He did not want to be gathered. Once I had him, I inched backward, raised him out of the water, and put him on the dock. I held the bird in place while I reached for the pliers in my back pocket, grateful I hadn't lost them.

There followed 20 minutes of snipping, unwinding, and untangling his wings, short legs, and webbed feet. The bird flapped his thick brown wings, knocking the cap off my head and into the water. He comically bit my forearm with his flexible cartilage beak.

Finally, the pelican was free. He leaped off the dock to an amphibious landing. skimming the water like a seaplane. Would he fly away to celebrate freedom? Not today.

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The pelican continued to hang around, eyeing me, leaving me with a spiraled entanglement of fishing line I had no choice but to throw away. Plus I had to replace the hook, sinker, and live bait that had been lost.

I had to admire pelicans' intelligence, even though they seem to act goofy sometimes. When a pelican sees a person with a pole, it associates him with catching fish. The only way I was going to catch anything that day was row out to sea and anchor.

With a pool skimmer, I fished my cap out of the bay. I picked up the pole, tackle box, and halt bucket and went over to the rowboat. I pushed off the sandy shore, I rowed out to a favorite spot and dropped anchor.

As soon as I made one cast, pelicans aloft spotted me. Five of them came in for a landing. They floated happily and expectantly, looking like giant bathtub toys.

Now I had another problem: how to reel in the grouper, flounder, sheepshead, bonita, or whatever fish I caught, before the pelicans knew I had something on the line. They were smart. They knew when I had a strike on the line, and grew as exalted as I. So I had to bring the pole from port over to starboard and put the fish in the boat before they could swim around to the other side of my rowboat.

Such was a summer on Lemon Bay.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor