Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

heron with bluegill © Greg Konop

Shore lunch.
© Greg Konop

April 2013

A true "fisherman"

Witnessing a heron's great gulp!

Greg Konop

I consider myself a decent fisherman. I pound the weed edges, ledges, humps, points and flats choosing from the vastness of my tackle box: jigs, Rapalas™, buzzbaits, spinnerbaits, chatterbaits, soft plastics and spoons. Fish beware!

But, I’m humbled to have learned that my assortment of techniques and tackle pale in comparison to nature’s fishers. This narrative shares an amazing experience where I was blessed to be in the right spot at the right time to see nature at work.

On an early morning in July I drifted back in from the water with the live well of my boat empty. I was surprised to find a great blue heron had settled in on the swim platform that floats in about 4 to 5 feet of water. This “fisherman” pounds the shoreline and flats with only what nature has given him: long legs, a whip-like neck, laser vision and a 5-inch sharp beak.

My encounter with the heron started as he moved repeatedly in and out of fierce strike positions. I noticed the sharp angles, spiked feathers and laser focused eyes scanning the water.

Suddenly the heron launched himself from the swim platform into the 5-foot deep water. He was gone momentarily and then from the far side of the platform he exploded back from the water onto the platform with the bluegill speared on his beak. The heron shook as a wet dog dries itself. Water was flying. The fish remained. This was breathtaking. The heron’s speed and sheer violent action was evidenced by the bluegill’s still quivering dorsal fin.

It took some time to get the fish off the beak. The heron seemed to use his tongue to flick and push at the fish, moving it slowly down towards the beak end. Suddenly he flipped his head back, ripping the beak up towards the sky. The fish flipped off the beak, then the heron caught it in mid-air about 6 inches from the platform. The precision of the flip and catch was amazing.

It slowly became apparent to me that this fish was going to be swallowed whole. After catching the fish in midair, the heron began to slowly rotate the fish as he quickly opened and closed his beak. Ultimately he positioned the fish with its head aligned to the center of his throat. Then he flipped his head backwards again and again and again. Each time the fish moved further down his throat until it was no longer visible.

The last sight of the fish was in the form of a bulge as it was slowly muscled down the heron’s throat. The heron then paused, reached down to take a drink, paused again and then flew off. I wondered if he was still hungry or if he felt like I do after the Thanksgiving Day feast.

I am fortunate to spend a fair amount of time on the water. It is easy for me to focus in on the action of fishing and lose track of what surrounds me. My experience with the great blue heron occupied 15 minutes of time that I will never forget. Yet, it taught me that each minute that I spend on the water is a blessing: a chance to see nature, an opportunity to take in the sounds of the lake, another day to feel the cool calming touch of water. Each moment on the lake is an occasion to appreciate how small I am and how grand Mother Nature is.

Greg Konop writes from Oregon,Wis. The photos were taken by Konop at a family lake home in Barron County. To reach him send an email to: greg.konop@gmail.com