For The Birds

When my late, beloved grandma made a meal that she did not like, or that did not meet her expectations, she dubbed it as being for the birds. As a child I remember finding the expression confusing, as I recognized a negative connotation that didn’t seem to fit with the delicious dish that everyone else was thoroughly enjoying. Nonetheless, as with most things that my grandma did or said…I latched onto the expression and repeated it constantly. Everything was for the birds, whether it was school, homework, broccoli, or bedtime. Everything except fishing that is.


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Photo: Illustration: David Goldstein

Until recently, the above list had remained remarkably intact, and fishing had retained its noble perch for many years. But alas, a recent trip proved that fishing can be—dare I say it—for the birds. The infamous outing began at the request of my wife’s cousin, Angie, who along with her husband Alex had just purchased a boat. “Would you go out with us and show us a few fishing pointers?” Angie asked. “We would love to learn how to catch dolphin.” Me too, I thought to myself, but replied to her initial inquiry with an emphatic, “Yes.”

I was excited to help jumpstart Angie and Alex’s newest hobby. As any instructor will tell you, there are a few ways to learn, primarily by either observing or actively participating. Little did Angie and Alex know, they were destined to do a lot of participating this fateful day. It was a blustery and overcast morning when we bounced out of the inlet. Within moments of emerging from the turbulent tide, we stumbled across a nutrient-rich weedline floating in 200-feet of water and immediately spotted our colorful target swimming below. I sprung into action and raced about the boat, netting baits, bating hooks and casting lines. In a matter of moments all three rods were doubled over, adding the chores of landing and unhooking fish to my duties.

Angie and Alex watched dumfounded as I performed a solo rendition of the ‘phin fire drill. In the fish-frenzy excitement I had totally lost track of my role as instructor. As baitfish showered, dolphin ravaged and birds crashed, Angie finally tired of being a passive observer. “Let me try,” she said while reaching for the rod I was set to re-deploy.

“Uhhh…ok,” I hesitated. “But cast away from that bird,” I continued. I can only presume that the salty air muffled my suggestion, and that Angie mistakenly heard, “Cast directly to the menacing bird with huge talons and sharp beak.” And so she did. Just as quickly she happily retreated to her observer role, tossing me the rod that was tethered to the belligerent bird.

While I tentatively pulled the angry and wildly flailing bird into the boat, Angie and Alex battled our intended species on the remaining rods. But there was little doubt that I was in a fight far fiercer. The bird furiously clawed, swiped and pecked at my face. “I think it’s going for my eyes! What the hell kind of demon bird is this,” I wondered.

All the while Angie and Alex yelped in the background, giddy with fish-catching excitement. Finally, I had the hook removed and the creature corralled. But I had an ominous sense that this bird may seek misdirected revenge on me. As I set to release it, I wanted to save face, literally. I had to launch this bird skyward with some force…away from the boat, and more importantly, away from my mug.

With the bird securely held in both hands, I prepared for takeoff. I faced the bow, took a few paces backward, lowered my shoulders and raced forward to give needed momentum and project the demonic creature into the air.

But on my second step, foot met fish slime. One small step for man, one giant fall for Brent. Simultaneously, the bird flew up and I crashed down. As I writhed on the deck, cupping my elbow and arching my throbbing hip, Angie and Alex obliviously bailed dolphin.

“Brent, can you unhook this one?” Alex enthusiastically yelled.

“And can you put the bait on for me?” Angie inquired.

From my fetal position on the deck I mustered a lifeless reply.

“No, you’re on your own,” I stammered.

Angie and Alex gave token inquiry into my condition, but quickly returned to their newly found dolphin prowess. I remained on the deck for several minutes, as I shouted instructions from a prone position before eventually propping myself up on the leaning post.

For the next hour or so, Angie and Alex learned to fish. On the way in, Alex gazed into a full fishbox.

“Wow, what a day,” he said.

“Yeah, you guys did great,” I conceded. “But that was for the birds!”

Alex lifted his head and awkwardly gazed at me with a perplexed expression. It was the same confused look I gave my grandma when she made a similar declaration about her delicious Sauerbraten.