I know I’m not the first to notice green herons employing actual “fishing” tactics. Nevertheless, this avian angler’s ability to identify tools and tactics for its pursuit never ceases to fascinate me. I watched a green heron stroll right up to where I was chumming bluegill with chunks of sliced bread, confiscate a chunk for his own baiting, and then use the bread to lure a fish into snaring range. (I also caught fish that day. I’m just sayin’.)
Anyway, what I think is interesting is that although we like to imply that birds are mimicking us, we anglers can take a very clear lesson from the bird. Simply put: fish with what they’re eating. When it comes to lures and baits, diversity is good, experimentation helpful; but mimicking the real deal never loses its wisdom.
Maybe that means downsizing a big swimbait to match indigenous shad dimensions. Or perhaps you’re trying to impress the bass with that sweet walking topwater when they’re more interested in plucking crawfish off the bottom. Color can also confound. It’s no secret that a lot of lures hanging on the peg boards are made to catch fishermen as much as — if not more so than — fish.
Same goes for live baiting. Fresh or saltwater, you’ll never outdo the local forage. Predators will often lock on to one particular forage item – usually a schooling baitfish – and ignore all others.
Case in point: summer in Tampa Bay; my group was looking for Spanish mackerel. We were feeling pretty stoked because we had the well full of plump pilchards (scaled sardines). When we spotted big schools of mackerel slashing at the surface, we ran to the white water savagery and flung those sure-to-impress live baits into the fracas.
I won’t bore you with the repetition, but this went on for a while. Frustration grew until we let one of these feeding frenzies pass us and noticed that the macks were chasing tiny glass minnows a third the size of our live baits.
That’s what they wanted to eat. We had no such baits, so we caught no mackerel.
Now, watch the video. Notice what the bird uses for bait and remember this lesson in simplicity the next time you’re overthinking a bait decision or attempting to force the fish into eating something they’re just not gonna eat.