Be the Heron

by | Oct 4, 2020 | 8 comments

** This article is part of the Spooky Trout series on Troutbitten. You can find all articles in the series HERE. **

Just after dawn, I rounded a river bend and cleared the floodplain, leaving the broken hemlocks and growing sycamores behind me. On countless mornings, I’ve seen a blue heron lift off from the shallow riffle ahead, cutting through the morning mist with a graceful lift and a few forceful flaps of its large wings.

Herons spook easily. So this time, I crept along the remaining cover of the tree line, emulating the caution of the heron itself and trying to catch a glimpse of this mysterious bird. I paused, methodically scanning the shallows until I found it — a mottled grey, thin form that moved far slower than I did. Its gaze was focused on the water ahead. And the limbs blowing gently in the breeze moved more than did the heron as it waded upstream.

I crouched and watched this patient hunter for ten minutes. Its cautious steps intermingled with long pauses, until finally the inevitable happened. The blue heron struck its prey with a swiftness wholly opposite of the stalking I’d just watched. Then, with a trout in possession, the heron took off through the grey morning skies and ducked behind the tree line.

— — — — — —

It’s fall again

Be the Heron

I hope the range of the Great Blue Heron falls within your fishing territory. The large, crane-like bird that my young sons once called a Pterodactyl is the epitome of stealth. Watching a heron on the water is a lesson that every angler should take in, because this fish-eating bird is the ultimate trout hunter. It wades within striking range of its target by sneaking into position. The slender bird is a patient and efficient predator. And any trout angler can well learn the lessons of stealth by watching this avian model.

Be the heron on the river.

But the heron has an advantage that we do not. It has the luxury of time. While watching a heron glide into position, you might go through your whole lunch and make a cup of cowboy coffee beside the river, all before the bird is halfway into position. The heron doesn’t rush through the water. It casts no waves that give away its presence. The heron is a noiseless, inconspicuous presence among its prey. And it blends in by moving slower than the surrounding elements.

Truth is, the heron has more time than any of us ever have. Because our days are filled with schedules and routines that permit limited hours for chasing trout. And that’s less time for wading into the perfect position, undetected.

The heron is also smaller and more camouflage than you, and it knows the environment with more detail than even a daily angler.

Regardless, we can learn much about wading a river for trout by observing the heron. Take time to watch this compelling predators — these master hunters of the river. Because the lessons of incomparable stealth are unforgettable once you’ve seen them.

Be the heron on the river.

Fish hard, friends.

Photo from tug44.org

 

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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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8 Comments

  1. I had a nice conversation with a heron at the Elms section of the Housatonic one evening.

    The bird swooped in and took up a position only about 20 feet away. I could have hit it in the beak with a Stimulator, easy.

    It took a look at me and squawked.

    I squawked back.

    This went on for a few minutes. Then, apparently finding me a tiresome companion, he zoomed off upriver.

    And so the long evening wore on.

    Reply
  2. and the Heron’s feet to not go clickity-clack on the river bottom…

    Reply
  3. Great stuff, Dom. I spend a lot of time guiding in shallow saltwater. I always tell clients to watch herons and other fish-eating birds. Redfish and sheepshead are often seen tailing within a few feet of them. The birds are also showing you where the best concentration of food is that our quarry enjoy.

    Reply
  4. I had the opportunity to meet and watch one of the Belgium fly fishing team members fish on the Eagle River in Colorado. We sat together on a large boulder on the side of the river. He told me about one of his tournament wins and showed me his fly box. All the flies were neatly placed by weight. We parted but I watched him enter the water and head to a spot he wanted to fish. The first thought running through my mind was that “he moves like a Heron as he approaches his spot”. I smiled as I asked myself is that “really” necessary. He proceeded to catch fish after fish. It convinced me then and there to study the ways of the Heron!

    Reply
    • Interesting heron story. About a month ago I was fishing my home water which consists of some really nice pocket water. On this particular evening I was fishing a run that has a giant rock taking up about half the stream, think VW Beetle size. Wedged on the upstream side is a fairly decent size log. Between my location and the VW is another large rock blocking my view of the run between the two rocks. However, standing on the log no less than 20 feet from me is a Blue Heron staring into the run I can’t see. As I watched him it was obvious there was something in that run he was very interested in. So I flipped my nymph rig right below where he was standing. Holding my rod tip high to clear the rock in front of me I watched my sighter. As soon as it flinched I set the hook and out of the water blasted a 17” Rainbow hard enough to clear the boulder in front of me. Game on. Netted the fish, released it and the heron just stood and stared. I thanked him and moved on.

      Reply
  5. No doubt Great Blue Herons are pleased by the ease of spotting palomino trout. 😉

    Reply
  6. Wading like a heron is a minor part of their stealthy feeding style. The bigger takeaway is to WAIT like a HERON! Relaxing the trout to your presence is the ultimate in stealth.

    Reply
  7. I’m around “GBHs” a lot…both while fishing and otherwise. I can indeed attest to their amazing “style” and effectiveness as hunters of fish. We could all certainly learn from them as you write. And yeah, wouldn’t it be great if we had their time?

    Side note…..I’m often sharing my fishing spot with an Osprey as well. Now there is an impressive hunting style! Not too much we could learn and take away from their tactics though I’m afraid.

    Reply

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