- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 12, 2003

At first, there was a single bald eagle, a magnificent specimen in full adult plumage, cruising above I-295 and the maddening beehive of horn-blowing vehicles and screeching tires. The eagle didn't seem to care. Its eyes were glued to the surface water of the Potomac River, watching for the slightest movement of slender baitfish or fat, purplish gizzard shad that tend to cavort near the water's surface and sometimes pay the ultimate price for their peculiar behavior.
The eagle soon was joined by a juvenile that might have been an offspring, but it was every bit as large as the adult. Only the dark, mottled mass of feathers gave away its lesser standing in the family, the youngster not yet having attained the distinct white tail and head.
It was the younger of the two who suddenly swooped over the calm waters of the Potomac's Spoils Cove, legs and razor talons extended, and quickly speared itself a shad. It then landed in a tall, nearby sycamore to dissect its prize but within minutes lost it. The huge bird didn't hold onto the fish well enough, and it fell into the underbrush far below. The eagle looked down in apparent disbelief, its head sharply swiveling.
A human might have loudly cursed such misfortune. As distressed as the eagle was, it wouldn't think of dropping down into the bull brambles and dense undergrowth to retrieve the food. It might not have been able to get back out of the tangle of vines and snags, so it abandoned the snack and took to the skies again to resume the hunt. Its powerful binocular vision would quickly help to spot food even under water.
In the distance, a large airliner approached Reagan National, soon thundering over the adult eagle that had taken up watch in a tall, spindly tree that grew from a sand spit between the cove and the river. The eagle ignored the noisy plane, preferring instead to stare at the river's surface.
Meanwhile, two men in a bass boat chatted about anything that entered their heads while gently hopping plastic grubs across the bottom. Occasionally, one of them would stop fishing, pick up a stainless steel Thermos bottle and pour hot coffee into a cup, savoring every sip. It was cold and the breeze out in the river began to pick up speed, but the tree-edged cove afforded some protection for the time being.
"Saw an article in our county paper a few days ago," said the bigger of the two. "It lamented the passing of fall and that the fishing had now come to an end. The writer seems to think even the hard-core anglers now are suffering from cabin fever. If that's true, what the heck are we doing here in the cold, hooking bass, crappies and perch?"
The boat's other occupant smiled. "Guess we're not hard-core enough to stay indoors where it's warm," he said with a sly grin.
The fact is that people who enjoy fishing should do what pleases them. If the cold winds of January aren't to their liking, they should stay inside and perhaps watch a video of "Grumpy Old Men." It'll get you as close to real ice fishing as Hollywood is able to. Besides, even though she's gotten older, the female star, Ann Margret, continues to be oh so easy on the eyes.
The two fellows continued chatting, occasionally fooling a fish with their artificial lures, watching the eagles, airplanes, and confounding traffic jams on Wilson Bridge.
"You know," said one of the fellows, "since I can't retire just yet and head for Florida, I'll continue to fish in our region through winter and into spring, summer and fall, then do it all over again from year to year. All I ask is that I stay healthy enough to be able to do it. The cold doesn't worry me. We can always wear enough warm clothes to make us reasonably comfortable."
The other man looked back and nodded his head, then said, "You just missed a pick-up by a fish. You talk too much."
Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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