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The Resident Bald Eagle Swoops and Grabs a Moribund Rainbow Trout at Saddlebag Lake

I was fishing for Oncorhynchus mykiss yesterday (see my big trout). I was disturbed at the sheer incompetence and callousness shown by catching five 5 of 32 rainbow trout that contained tackle (hooks and line). Two had treble hooks with plating (so they won’t rust away for years*), the others regular hooks. My knots rarely break off (even 2 lb test), since I tie them properly. Also, I was fishing with barbless hooks, to allow easy hook extraction with low risk of damage to the fish. Those using bait with treble hooks must be the beer-swilling and chair-dwelling sort too often seen along the lakeside, the kind that has no respect for their quarry: kill it and if it’s maimed, so what? IMO, treble hooks with bait should be banned.

* Tiny #12 or #14 treble hooks with barbs with roughly 12-inch leaders of monofilament with attached swivels The others were regular #10 or #12 barbed hooks. The size of the fish means that only knot-tying incompetence could leave such tackle embedded in the fish.

So I feel strongly about the matter—it’s not sporting to use treble hooks of any kind with bait for trout. I sometimes resort to bait with single barbed hooks when dinner is the goal, but when the risk of hooking fish I do not want to eat is significant, I use barbless hooks. I do sometimes use artificial lures with barbed treble hooks, but these are almost always taken on jaw or shallowly, nearly always posing little risk to the well being of the trout when properly extracted (indeed there is a frequent failure to hook and land the trout). My seeming mortality rate for 32 fish was 2 of 32 (6.2%).

Still, I occassionally hook a trout too deeply, even with a barbless hook (I fail to hook and land many trout due to setting the hook too early, an intentional practice to forestall hooking too deeply). After removing the hook, too late I saw the faint blo0d in the water as I released one trout (of the 32 I caught yesterday). It swam away vigorously—but 20 meters out it went belly-up. I regretted that, but the wind would push it to shore again before too long, so that would be a Dinner Trout and thus not wasted.

But it was not to be. The Haliaeetus leucocephalus (bald eagle) that I see every time I visit Saddlebag Lake flew overhead and perched in a tree about 50 meters away, cautiously assessing wether this human was a threat.

Haliaeetus leucocephalus (bald eagle), crop
f4 @ 1/500 sec, ISO 80; 2016-10-06 14:24:54
DSC-RX100M4 + 24-70mm F1.8-2.8 @ 70mm (25.7mm)

[low-res image for bot]

Confident that Lloyd was not a threat, the bald eagle soared skyward, circling once first, in order to evaluate its prey. I do wonder with all the fish I caught with tackle (hooks) in them, how this eagle might fare picking off fish like this. But this particular fish was hook-free.

Haliaeetus leucocephalus (bald eagle), crop
f4 @ 1/500 sec, ISO 80; 2016-10-06 14:25:58
DSC-RX100M4 + 24-70mm F1.8-2.8 @ 70mm (25.7mm)

[low-res image for bot]

This particular bald eagle was not not so skilled at plucking a moribund fish out of the water , fortunate since the Sony RX100 Mark IV is not exactly an action camera. The eagle failed to grab the fish on its first and second passes—just enchanting to watch it hit (and miss) and circle around to try again. Eagle wings make noise—not at all the silence of an owl, contributing both a visual and auditory experience.

Haliaeetus leucocephalus (bald eagle), missed fish-grab
f5 @ 1/500 sec, ISO 80; 2016-10-06 14:26:20
DSC-RX100M4 + 24-70mm F1.8-2.8 @ 70mm (25.7mm)

[low-res image for bot]

After two misses, the 3rd time was the charm. The bald eagle has the trout in its talons. It flew off down the shoreline to enjoy an easy feast of a ~13-inch rainbow trout. I could see it, but it was now too far to photograph.

Haliaeetus leucocephalus (bald eagle), successful fish-grab
f5 @ 1/500 sec, ISO 80; 2016-10-06 14:26:31
DSC-RX100M4 + 24-70mm F1.8-2.8 @ 70mm (25.7mm)

[low-res image for bot]

The bald eagle left a memento of sorts—but for viewing only. I didn’t dare take it (or even touch it), since I am not keen on a year in prison or a $25,000 fine. See also If I Find an Eagle Feather, Can I Keep It?. Parents, don’t let your kids pick up feathers that might be an eagle—they’ll miss you while you’re in federal prison: mens rea is largely ignored in the legal system of our semi-free country where everyone is a criminal due to the massive body of non-objective arbitrary laws no one can possibly understand.

This feather is about a foot long—very large.

Haliaeetus leucocephalus (bald eagle) wing feather
f2.2 @ 1/15 sec, ISO 64; 2016-10-06 19:25:08
iPhone 6s Plus + iPhone 6s Plus back camera 4.15mm f/2.2 @ 29mm (4.2mm)

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