Hook and Line Prevention and Action


Many outdoor activities place you and others into direct and indirect contact with native wildlife. These can be wonderful, awe-inspiring moments remembered forever; or, they can be moments of sudden and real problems if the encounter goes in an unexpected direction. It can happen in the blink of an eye; one moment you are enjoying a relaxing day of fishing, the next you are tangled with a wild bird, vacillating between frustration and panic, and not sure how to resolve the problem.

Gulf Coast Bird Rescue has suggestions to prevent these problems from even occurring, and offers solutions you can use to help a wild bird should the encounter take an unexpected turn. Remember, fish are food for coastal birds and competition for good food can be fierce in the wild.

Never feed a wild animal, intentionally or unintentionally. Not only does this bring it closer, it also leads the bird to expect food from humans, which can lead to harmful interactions, including death, for the animal.


  • Do not give or allow a bird access to any human food.
  • Do not leave bait containers open or unattended.
  • Do not release unwanted catch when birds are in the area.
  • Do not dump waste from ‘field dressed’ fish, use appropriate waste containers.
  • Never dispose of packaging, old line or hooks, plastic bags, or any other unwanted items in the water or on the shore; use proper waste containers.



Bait you use can be visible to the birds, but your hook is not. Use these simple techniques to help prevent hooking wildlife.


  • Do not leave your gear unattended with baited hooks hanging or dangling free.
  • If using a surface bait, it is important to monitor the bait at all times.
  • Watch for diving wildlife such as cormorants and dolphins; they can go quite deep to retrieve your bait unaware there is a hook embedded in it.
  • If a school of baitfish (known as a bait ball) comes into the area you are fishing, hungry wildlife will soon follow. Reel in and secure your lines, or better yet, move to another location.



Consider taking a more active role in wildlife and environmental protection.


  • Biodegradable, barbless hooks and line are available; use them and ask your retailer to carry a supply of these items.
  • Share your knowledge for preventing unintended and harmful wildlife encounters with others in a respectful, professional manner—this helps the wildlife, the environment, and the humans.



If, in spite of your best efforts, a wild bird should get caught in your hook or line,

DO NOT CUT THE LINE! Slowly reel the bird to the shore to assess the situation.




Sometimes, even when every effort is made to avoid hooking or entanglement with a wild bird, an accident can occur. If this should happen, Do Not Panic, and even more important,����DO NOT CUT THE LINE! Cutting your line can condemn the bird to a slow and agonizing death. Follow the steps below to assess the situation, perhaps to remove the hook or entanglement yourself, or to determine if other assistance for the bird is needed.

Step 1:��Gaining access to the bird


  • Assistance from another person is usually very helpful and recommended. Ask a fellow angler or someone nearby to help you with the situation.
  • Secure your fishing equipment so the bird cannot pull it away from your reach and have the assistant hold things in place.
  • Carefully reel your line and the bird in to the shore.
  • If on a raised platform just as a dock, bridge, or fishing pier, DO NOT pull bird up to your level by the hook or entanglement. Walk to the shore to reel bird in or use something like a landing net (if short distance to water), dip net, or cast net to capture bird and raise it to your level. Others fishing in the area may have one of these nets if you do not and help you capture the bird.



Step 2: Securing the bird for assessment


  • Always remember your personal safety comes first. Evaluate the situation continually and do not place yourself or others in hazardous positions.
  • Generally, leaving the line and pole attached to the bird can help prevent an escape should you lose your grasp on the bird.
  • There are two basic ways to immobilize the bird safely depending upon species. The goal is to immobilize the bird without harming it or allowing the bird to harm you or others. Once immobile, an assistant can carefully examine the entire bird for any hook and/or line in preparation for removal.



Brown & White Pelicans

Reach for the beak first and grasp both upper and lower portion, placing one or two fingers between the top and bottom bill to prevent the bird’s mouth from shutting totally. Never hold a bird’s mouth completely shut as this can inhibit their ability to breath. Next, carefully place the wings against the bird’s body in the normal relaxed position. Finally, with the one hand still holding bill slightly open, take the other arm and gently encase the entire bird and lift to place bird on your hip, similar to holding a football.

Herons, Egrets, Loons & Cormorants

One must be more careful with these species as they use the beak for defense with a stabbing motion, often aiming for your face, and have an extended reach due to the longer neck. Reach for and grab the bird���������s head first, then carefully move your hand to the area just behind the skull at the top of the neck without releasing your grasp, giving you control of the head. Do not squeeze, just hold the bird firmly enough to prevent any head movement but not preventing the bird’s ability to breath. Keeping the head under control and the beak facing away from you and others, follow the procedure above for folding wings to the body. If a long-legged bird such as a heron, the legs also should be folded under the body of the bird. Finally, with the one hand still holding the head, take the other arm and gently encase the entire bird, including folded legs, and lift to place bird on your hip.

Step 3:��Removing entangled hook and/or line


  • If a fishhook is involved, a wire cutter, pliers with cutting edge, or similar tool is needed and should be available.
  • The first step is to follow any line to the hook, unwrapping or disentangling the line, not cutting the line, from the bird’s body as you go. Once the hook is located (unless swallowed by the bird), gently push the barb through the skin so visible externally.
  • Using the cutting tool, cut the barb off the hook. The barb may shoot rapidly in any direction when cut, so averting one’s eyes is recommended for all persons in the area or cover the hook barb with a cloth before cutting.
  • Once the barb is removed the hook can be reversed, pushed back through in the direction it originally came, and removed pretty easily.
  • Any remaining line still around the bird can be removed when the hook is removed.
  • Please take a few more minutes to examine the bird completely for any other hooks or line entanglement. If a hook or line is found, use the same techniques outlined above to remove them as well.
  • Caution: If using a “bait-holder” style hook, it may have additional barbs along the hook shank. Do not push this type hook back through the tissue unless these barbs are removed, filed down, or crushed. The barbs on this type hook may become stuck in the bird’s tissue when going in either direction.



Caution: If the bird has swallowed the hook and/or line, professional assistance is needed for removal from the bird.

Step 4: Releasing the bird after hook removal


  • If the bird appears alert and has no injury beyond the small hook puncture, it can be released. Ideally, release the bird on the shore, away from piers, buildings, and people. Simply place the bird on the ground, releasing your grip on the head and/or beak last, and quickly move away.
  • The bird may sit quietly for 5 to 10 minutes getting its bearings and “catching its breath” from the close interaction with humans. After this short time, the bird should regain control, take off, and fly.
  • If the bird dose not leave in this time, or shows difficulties such as trying but unable to stand, wings do not work correctly and it is unable to fly, or anything else you determine to be abnormal, carefully try to recapture the bird and seek assistance.