When loons attack

As Jack and I settled into our little one-man canoe, it was readily apparent we were pushing the limits of this small vessel -- we only had six inches of clearance from the lake's cold surface to the top edge of the gunnels.

As Jack and I settled into our little one-man canoe, it was readily apparent we were pushing the limits of this small vessel -- we only had six inches of clearance from the lake's cold surface to the top edge of the gunnels.

We'd brought this particular canoe because of its light weight and short nose, as I had a 200-yard "drag" from the Jeep to the landing. I didn't want anything heavy to weigh me down, you know, because I'm weak -- mentally and physically.

Sitting in the canoe, rocking it back and forth like a washing machine in shallow water, to see just how seaworthy it was, my nine-year-old and I were both confident we wouldn't flip. Sort of. We had life jackets, so we went with it.

As we paddled out, before us stretched our favorite lake and an afternoon of fishing. The waters were calm, the day was bright and our smiles were wide. We like fishing. And look -- over there -- one other canoe, and nearby a loon. Aren't loons wonderful? There's nothing like being on a remote lake, in a canoe, while off in the distance a shy loon calmly glides over the surface of the water. Worries and concerns seem to melt away. Loons will do that to you.

Out on the lake we began catching fish right away; bass, nice ones. It took a bit to decide just how hard we could set the hook on these fish without endangering our lives, but we figured it out. In fact, sometimes these red-eyed monsters pulled with enough muscle to actually move the canoe. My son and I giggled at our good fortune.


Off across the small lake, the other canoe moved along the shoreline, the loon now following oddly close behind. I wasn't wearing my glasses, but it seemed peculiar. The loon appeared quite close, actually. Wonder what that's about?

We forgot about those other guys and moved to another side of the lake and I hooked a bass right away. I'm not kidding, that fish leapt at least five feet into the air and threw the hook. We'd never seen a bass rocket out of the water like that.

"Holy Cats!" Jack laughed. "Did you see that?"

We laughed, and laughed. But that also seemed strange. What's going on?

Then I hooked another bass, and as I began to pull it in my line became very heavy. Really heavy. I couldn't reel the fish in. But then I could.

The bass came in and suddenly, very close, a loon popped up not three feet from the canoe. It's right there. And it's huge. And it's scary looking. And it doesn't seem afraid.

Jack and I looked at the massive bird in terror.

That loon wants the fish.


I held up the bass and the bird looked at it, the loon's wild red and iridescent eyes focused on the fish.

"Here, you hold this fish, Jack," I said. But he wouldn't take it. The bird moved in close, and then swam under the canoe -- once, then twice -- we could see it a foot under the boat. Crazy.

I let the fish go and the loon took off after it. But, it was quickly back. I held our paddle like a club. Jack and I were defenseless in our little boat. We quit fishing altogether.

For several minutes the standoff continued; several more times the big bird swam under the canoe, like the shark from "Jaws." I imagined this menacing bird flipping our already shaky canoe and stabbing us with its dagger-like beak. The loon would look at us with a vacant soulless stare.

I trembled with fear, as did Jack. Then I realized I didn't need to out-swim the loon, just Jack. I felt a little better.

Still, several times I furiously swung the paddle at the loon when it got ridiculously close. I looked like a man in the woods swinging a flaming torch in failed nighttime attempts to keep werewolves at bay. But, it was as if the bird calculatingly knew just how close it could get without getting hit. It was sentient. And it was threatening us.

The other canoe passed by, moving along at a good clip. I yelled out, "Hey, was this loon bothering you guys?" I kept one eye on the bird.

The two men kept up a furious pace. It was if they were in a panic. I couldn't figure out the problem.


"It's been bugging us for hours! It ate all the fish off our stringer! When we hooked fish they'd leap out of the water like crazy, because the loon was chasing them! Ayyyeeee!"

The loon saw them and began speeding toward their direction, and the guys increased their paddling. Jack and I took the opportunity to paddle away ourselves and ducked behind a small island. SOS -- Save Our Selves. We edged around some stumps and could see the other men at the landing frantically unloading their boat, the loon just offshore. The bird had actually driven them off the lake.

Safe, we fished, caught some and then headed out, constantly swiveling our heads around in case of another attack. We made a break for the landing when we cleared the island. My arm muscles screamed in pain as I dug the paddle deep into the water, trying to gain speed. Jack lowered his body up front to make us more streamlined. And we made it.

The men were still there. And so was the loon.

True story.

Darrell Pendergrass of Grand View, is a Wisconsin Newspaper Association outdoor writing award winner and director of the Washburn Public Library. His articles have appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Milwaukee Journal. A collection of his stories appears in his new book, "Still Out There: A life afield," is available for $18 at: Darrell Pendergrass, 52405 Otto Olson Road, Grand View, WI 54839.

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