Fish-catching birds

  • Brown pelicans diving into the water for surface schooling baitfish can lead fishermen to a big catch of shark, cobia and kingfish. A fisherman cleans his catch at the marina. TERRY LACOSS/SPECIAL
    Brown pelicans diving into the water for surface schooling baitfish can lead fishermen to a big catch of shark, cobia and kingfish. A fisherman cleans his catch at the marina. TERRY LACOSS/SPECIAL

Many fishing seasons ago, I was navigating south on the Amelia River and noticed several sea gulls and pelicans diving into the water next to the shore. Fish were striking on the surface also, which gave me a reason to head my Amelia Angler charter fishing boat straight to the action and start fishing.

My fishing party stayed hooked up with sea trout and redfish for the next 15 minutes until the school of mullet got smart and high tailed it to the safety of the nearby channel.

To this day, diving birds and birds sitting on the water and nearby shore are always a good reason for me to check for good numbers of fish holding in the same area.

During a recent blue water fishing trip to Gary and Sherrell Carter’s resort, Las Ventanas Del Mar, Costa Rica, diving sea birds helped our fishing party locate a floating tree. Bait fish were holding under the tree, and several species of game fish were holding in the same area. A nearby sport fishing boat hooked up and quickly lost a 300-pound blue marlin. We caught a pair of sailfish and dolphin while trolling close to the floating tree and sea birds.

Good numbers of Spanish mackerel, bluefish and jack crevalle are now schooling at both the St. Marys and Nassau inlets, and diving birds are an excellent giveaway to their location.

Offshore fishermen are also on the lookout for diving birds, as sea gulls and other species of water birds typically will dive on Spanish sardines and cigar minnows schooling right on or just under the surface.

Blue water fishermen use their boat’s radar to locate sea birds as well, which shows striking fish holding in the same area. One of the more popular blue water sea birds is the frigate bird, which typically flies high overhead schooling baitfish and game fish.

King mackerel and tarpon fishermen often become frustrated with the local brown pelicans, as they often work their way up a fisherman’s chum slick and eventually become tangled in a fishing line.

Pelicans will also eat a barbed bait that is fished right on the surface in the chum slick. It is a good idea to put your fishing gloves on and place a towel over the eyes of the pelican while removing the hook.

If you really wish to get close to brown pelicans, visit the Fernandina Harbor Marina fish cleaning tables late in the afternoon when fishermen are cleaning their catches. It is not unusual for pelicans to land right on the fish cleaning table and try to steal fish from the fishermen. Watching pelicans attempt to swallow a cleaned fish carcass, bones and all, is amazing.

This week is National Safe Boating Week. Wearing a life jacket is strongly recommended, particularly for young fishermen. Accidents happen too fast to put on a stowed life jacket. Boaters and fishermen also claim they are too good of a swimmer to wear a life jacket, but trying to swim with clothing that soon becomes water logged is very difficult.

Another excuse is it is simply too hot to wear a life jacket. Inflatable life jackets that resemble a pair of suspenders or a belt pack are much cooler to wear in the warmer weather.

Be sure to tell someone on land where you will be boating and when you will return. Bringing along your cell phone, VHF radio, and an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon is highly recommended.Once an emergency position locator enters the water, it sends a signal to the nearest Coast Guard station, giving it your position.

Also, double-check and make sure you have all your safety gear on your boat, and it is in good working condition. Include a first aid kit, flares, an air horn and whistle, a throw cushion, a VHF radio, a fire extinguisher and an EPIRB.

Amelia Island beaches are now open for fishing. Excellent catches of pompano and whiting are being made while fishing with fresh local shrimp, a piece of conch or sand flea.

The 38th annual Fernandina Beach Kingfish and Fishing Rodeo is scheduled for the first weekend in August. Visit The 40th annual Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament is scheduled for July 13-18. Visit