Fishermen sometimes compete with blue heron for catches

by Gus Gustafson

Those who have spent time around the water have most likely seen a blue heron stalking minnows.

The bluish-gray bird with long legs and an even longer neck is usually seen wading along the shore. These solitary hunters frequent quiet coves and areas where an abundance of baitfish swims near the shore.

Blue herons are expert fishers, but also eat snakes and small ground animals. They stand patiently still until their quarry is close enough to snare with a quick thrust of its blade-like beak.

While an adult bird stands upwards of 4 ½ feet tall, its neck is very thin. So thin, in fact, that it can choke to death if a fish becomes lodged sideways in its neck. The neck of a juvenile bird is even smaller, which makes choking a major reason for the species’ high mortality rate.

There are lots of stories of missing Koi and other fish from newly stocked garden ponds. At first, the pond owner notices that a few fish are missing but then realizes there is always the chance that some fish might be hidden under rocks and pond vegetation. Within a few days, the entire fish population has disappeared.

Koi are expensive enough for one to surmise that they were stolen. But that’s usually not the case, so don’t call 911. Could it be a neighborhood cat? Wrong again! More than likely, the real culprit is a blue heron.

When food is hard to find, the blue heron may resort to unconventional means for a meal. Small pond fish are as tempting as those that swim along the shore. They might be easier to catch.

A friend with a large pond near the lake told me this story. Each November, when the water cools, he stocks his pond with a couple hundred rainbow trout so his grandchildren can fish when they visit. The first year, the kids didn’t catch a single fish, and he couldn’t understand why. He drained the pond to see where the trout were hiding. No fish.

The following season, he restocked the trout. This time, he installed a camera on the side of a tree to help identify the thief. The pictures showed a steady stream of blue herons coming back and forth to eat the trout. Not to be outdone, the pond owner ordered another shipment of trout. This time the rainbows were so large they couldn’t be swallowed by the hungry blue heron.

Fishermen cast toward lighted docks at night to catch game fish that eat the minnows attracted to bright light. It is not unusual for them to come face to face with a long-legged blue heron. The bird, unhappy for the intrusion, expresses its displeasure by sending an eerie, gawking sound as it flies away.

As savvy a hunter as the blue heron is, it doesn’t always find food easily. There are times when you will see them perched high on the roof of a boat dock or on the rail of a pier. From these vantage points, they are searching for another meal along a distant shoreline.

Tips from Capt. Gus

Lower than normal water levels are exposing rocks, stumps and gravel banks that are usually underwater. While these obstructions are hazards to navigation, keep in mind that they are great habitats for fish when high water returns.

Hot spots of the week

Crappie fishing is good to very good around old boat docks with sunken brush piles in Mountain and Little creeks. Spotted bass are schooling in back coves and over underwater humps in Davidson and Reed creeks. Small stripers are schooling with the spotted bass, but most are below the 16-inch size limit. White perch continue to hit crappie minnows and Sabiki rigs in water to 30 feet. The lake level is about 4.3 feet below full pond and dropping. Water temperature is in the mid- to high 60s.

• Capt. Gus Gustafson of Lake Norman Ventures is an outdoor columnist and a full-time professional fishing guide on Lake Norman. His website is www.fishingwith
gus.com. Contact him at 704-617-6812 or Gus@LakeNorman.com.

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