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updated: 7/18/2013 12:06 AM

Occasionally, fishing is simply for the birds

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I now clearly remember how beautiful the clouds appeared to be directly overhead. It seemed to be a perfect wilderness day.

It was mid-morning just as our boat pulled in to a shallow, weedy bay. The sun was doing its best to jockey into position so as to give us a chance to sight fish for big northern pike doing their so-called "sunning" exercise.

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Just weeks before my arrival to this old, familiar waterway in the far, vast reaches of the Northwest Territories, lightning tickled a stand of dry trees and in turn created a fire-cleansing of old growth timber.

The aroma of charred timber was reminiscent of my college days wandering through the abundance of pipes in the Iwan Reese tobacco shop on Wabash Avenue. Sweet-smelling blends and singed alders are alike in a poetic sense, in that a flame brings life to one and life's end to another.

The motor was off. The wind carried us into the bay, and the sun provided the illumination so we could see long gators (big pike) suspending themselves in the stalks of weeds.

I made a half-dozen false casts with my heavy fly rod, with the final effort sending my monstrous, hand-tied bucktail fly inches in front of the pike.

And then, like a staged magic act, a much smaller northern came out of nowhere and beat the larger fish to the fly.

Junior took off for Manitoba, so to speak, but before it could swim a yard a huge bald eagle swooped down, claws extended, and grabbed the smaller fish. I was mesmerized as the eagle shot upward and headed for its tall tree nest where hungry mouths awaited their next menu course.

I dredged this memory out of my gray matter the other day when an email arrived from a suburban birding guy. He asked if I had plans to write about birds and fishing. And when I sat down to scribble some notes about some inane topic I visualized the eagle scene once again.

I got my fly back in that man-vs.-nature exchange, but there was another real life drama played out with a persistent Ontario osprey.

The fishing season had just opened and reasonable men, guys who had been there and done that, stayed home and warmed themselves.

I, on the other hand was one of those schmuckeroos who had to test my manly ways and machismo by standing in an ultra-cold stream fly fishing for God knows what.

My reward was a strike that almost pulled my rod out of my hand. Two runs by the fish to both sides of the river subsequently brought the fish close enough to the surface for me to realize it was another northern pike.

It was small enough to eat and yet tough enough to have me consider releasing it so it could fight another day.

And that's what I did -- release it. Just as I unhooked the fly from its mouth and guided it forward and away from where I was standing, an osprey flew down to the surface and sank its talons in to the fish.

Unlike the bald eagle, this osprey was considerably smaller, so when it lifted off it kept dropping the pike back into the river. It took almost four tries before the fish hunter gave its all and finally applied the death grip, holding its meal firmly in place.

While fishing the deeper-water drop-offs just off the flats in the Florida Keys, I was casting a small baitfish (a pilcher) on a circle hook. As the offering sailed through the air, a pelican flew into the melee and grabbed the bait a second before it hit the water.

Both baitfish and hook wound up in the pelican's pouch and my guide had to perform emergency, on-boat surgery to remove the hook.

It turned out I gave the hungry bird a couple of pilchers, then sent it on its way -- only now it wouldn't leave. So we motored off to another location.

Such is life, just like "Wild Kingdom."

•Contact Mike Jackson at angler88@comcast.net, and catch his radio show 6-7 a.m. Sundays on WSBC 1240-AM and live-streamed at www.mikejacksonoutdoors.com.

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