Fishing Lessons from the Herons

Heron Catching Fish
Originally published in the july 2021 issue of Lakeside Living magazine. click here for the Issue.

“Caution is a most valuable asset in fishing, especially if you are the fish.” 

Author Unknown

On average, humans forget four things per day. But I doubt any of us ever forget the time we caught our first fish. I haven’t gone fishing in years, but I still recall that sudden tingling rush of adrenaline the first time I reeled in a glistening striped bass: a 20-inch “big one.”

Or maybe it was 19 inches… Like any good fishing tale, it may have grown bigger with each passing year. Still, it could have been a 5-inch bream, and I would have felt like I won a jackpot.

Fishing means different things to different people. For some, it’s a source of relaxation––a chance for peaceful serenity alone on the lake or an opportunity to make lifelong memories with your kids. For others, fishing means nothing but sheer frustration while you try to ignore the sweat trickling down your stiff back as your Saturday slowly slips away.

Love it or hate it, fishing is a test of patience, but even the most dedicated fisherman looks like an amateur compared to the patience and skill of the herons.

Heron Catching Fish
Photo by Tim Badgwell

You may know these birds are pros at catching fish, but seeing them in action is an eye-opening experience. Herons can stand in perfect stillness for several minutes as they wait for an unsuspecting fish to glide by below them. Then, faster than your eyes can even quite process, they strike, spearing the fish in a split-second.

While their sharp bills are designed for catching fish, they can’t hold and tear apart their prey. As improbable as it seems, they swallow the fish whole.

Blue Heron Spearing Fish
Photo by Tim Badgwell
Blue Heron Swallowing Fish
Photo by Tim Badgwell

The heron’s meal-prep may look hasty, but there is at least some thought that goes into their eating process. Before they gulp it down, herons determine which end is which and then proceed to swallow the fish head first.

The young herons learn quickly enough that if they start with the fishtail, its spines and scales make for a rough meal, literally.

Blue Heron Fishing
Photo by Tim Badgwell

While herons do fish in groups, they typically like to go out on the water alone. You can see them moving slowly, revisiting their favorite fishing spots, and they’re a little guarded about sharing their “honey holes.” Sound familiar?

I don’t know if herons sit around telling fishing stories, but I like to think they open with the line, “You should have seen the one that got away…”

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