DUNEDIN, Fla. – A Florida uncle and nephew have a whopper of a fishing tale after a chance encounter with an opportunistic predator.
As the sun was setting on the Dunedin Causeway, Chad Rissman and Darrin Vick had waited all day for one bite.
"We are just sitting there talking. The line got tight and slack," Vick told FOX 13 in Tampa.
Rissman was reeling in a small shark as his uncle was going to grab the line. But before Vick could get ahold of the shark, a bald eagle swept in and claimed her prize.
"The way everything lined up, the sunset; I couldn’t have asked for a better time," Rissman said.
With family watching nearby, they grabbed their phones and captured the moment.
"It's just like brushing the greatness of the country all into one picture and one experience," Vick said.
The anglers were able to cut the line short and free the hook away from the eagle, known to some as ‘Eugene.’
"I think they did a really great job. It could have been a lot worse," said Kim Begay with the Clearwater Audubon Society and Audubon Center for Birds of Prey.
Begay first rescued Eugene in Bradenton in 2017 after fracturing her leg.
"The first time she broke her leg she was in rehab for about eight months, and she was in rehab at a very critical time when she would be learning how to hunt and following her parents’ hunt," Begay said.
If any angler happens to hook a bird in a similar situation, Begay offers a few steps to follow, or it could end up in serious trouble.
"If you hook a bird by accident, or the bird has line wrapped around them, don’t cut the line leaving the bird with long amounts of line trailing. You have to reel, remove, and release," Begay said.
The worst thing that could happen is for the eagle to fly away with a hook and line.
"Because when she perches on things, she could end up hanging herself," Begay said.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the state has one of the densest concentrations of nesting bald eagles in the lower 48 states, with an estimated 1,500 nesting pairs.
The bald eagle was removed from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species list in 2007. They also continue to be protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, along with the state bald eagle rule.