** 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.
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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.
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Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N