We often spend so much time looking at the water, we miss what’s in the sky

John Liechty

Out on the lake, day after day we find ourselves staring at the water’s surface, just watching for signs of activity to help key us in on that next bite. Often, we develop a case of tunnel vision and put too much emphasis on fishing.

Occasionally we snap out of this trance-like state and take a moment to glance at our surroundings. Scanning the hillsides and gazing into the sky, we will encounter many of nature’s wonders rustling in the bushes and flying in the sky. But, every once in a while, we are graced by one of the most amazing creatures soaring above, the bald eagle, the bird that was selected as a U.S. national symbol.

These magnificent birds are few, but common to our local waters. Dressed with a bold white feathered head and tail, they are very distinguishable from a distance. Most sightings are from afar, but when you are in the right spot at the right time, a close encounter can be breathtaking.

A few years back, a good friend and I were fishing for bass on New Melones Reservoir. We had hooked a decent-sized fish fairly deep in the mouth. After removing the hook, we released it in hopes it would recuperate and survive. A few minutes later, we spotted the same fish floundering on the surface. Knowing that it was mortally wounded and not likely going to survive, we decided to go back and retrieve it to prevent it going to waste.

At that moment, we noticed a few large birds honing in on it. There were two ospreys and one giant adult bald eagle circling the fish. They were swooping from the sky in a display of miraculous aerobatics. We sat back and watched, assuming they would grab it before we could.

With eyes locked on a sizable meal, the eagle was determined to become victorious. The ospreys teamed up and began attacking the eagle from above. As the ospreys surged down closer, the eagle rolled over and flared its razor-sharp talons upward. This defense proved successful as the eagle fended them off and plunged into the water to successfully claim its prize. We watched in awe as the giant bird carried this sizable fish off into the horizon. The relentless ospreys followed and probably challenged the eagle again in the treetops.

On another occasion, we found ourselves tucked away in a secluded creek arm. The water was trickling down the rocks, creating an almost magical feel in the air. Just beside the boat we recognized a large crappie floating on the water, periodically twitching, adding a slight ripple to a glass-like surface. When suddenly from over a large outcropping of rocks, a large set of wings appeared. We could hear each pulse of its powerful wings as it grew near. Within seconds, this massive bird dropped from the sky and splashed violently down onto the water, just a few feet from the boat. Our jaws dropped as we witnessed a spectacular bald eagle clutch the crappie and return to its nest on the hillside.

The bald eagle is arguably the most remarkable bird in the world. Displaying an unprecedented amount of strength and determination, it is a perfect symbol for our country. 

John Liechty is the owner of Xperience Fishing Guide Service in Angels Camp. Contact John at 743-9932 or xperiencefishing.net.