Accidental hookings of loons by anglers are a fact of life. No one tries to hook a loon, but loons’ diving habits – and sometimes a tendency to attack lures or live bait – means that they sometimes end up on the end of a fishing line. Sometimes loons are hooked accidentally in the leg or body as they happen to swim across an angler’s line. Again, it happens. What you do after the hooking has enormous consequences for the bird.
WHAT TO DO: LAND AND DE-HOOK THE LOON, IF YOU CAN
The ideal scenario, for an experienced angler who is comfortable holding onto a loon for a short time, is to land and de-hook the bird. In most cases, hooks and lures become lodged in loons’ bills, not their throats, so de-hooking just takes a bit of courage and a pair of pliers, as with a fish. Obviously, de-hooking is best accomplished if two people are available: one person can hold the loon safely, and the second person can work the hook out. When de-hooking a loon, it is most important to: 1) hold the wings firmly against the back and 2) brace the legs against the body so that they do not flap around.
WHAT NOT TO DO: CUT THE LINE AND FLEE THE SCENE
In most cases, anglers become alarmed at having a loon on their line and cut the line. This is understandable, because no one wants to land a loon, and many folks are worried about hurting the loon while reeling it in. But cutting the line can be a death sentence for a loon, because the bird has no natural way to remove the hook from its bill or body. A loon hooked such that it cannot dive and/or open its bill normally will die a slow, excruciating death, as it becomes weaker and weaker. So, if you hook a loon and cut the line — or encounter a loon that has been hooked by someone else — please report it! No one is going to hold you responsible for the initial hooking. The crime occurs when people hook a loon, cut the line, and then leave without calling for help. If you cannot make the report to a local wildlife official – or do not wish to do so, you may inform me of the event (firstname.lastname@example.org), and I will do what I can to organize a rescue for the bird. I will need to know the age of the bird (adult or chick), its exact location (GPS coordinates, lake name, etc), a description of how the loon is hooked and fishing tackle involved, the condition of the bird (is it diving normally?, acting very weak?, etc.) and whether the hooked bird is raising chicks.
As I have said above, loons get caught by mistake on fishing lines all the time. Please take responsibility for an accidental hooking by contacting someone who might be able to help the bird. In many cases, hooked loons can be captured and freed of the hook, so that they can get on with their lives.