Be the Heron!

I have a live show that I do called “Approach & Presentation Strategies for Trout.” In addition to the rather pedagogical title, the discussion delves into how trout perceive their environment (and ours) and how we perceive the trout’s environment. It then goes onto talk (at some length) about, well, approach and presentation, taking into consideration those perceptions. If you’ve sat through it at some point over the years, you know the drill. I don’t think that it’s a boring show (at least not with the way that I hop around on stage), but it’s not exactly like an hour of the Fly Fishing Film Tour. In any case, early on in the show, I spend a few minutes talking about something that I consider a key approach and presentation mind-set: Be the heron.

“Be the heron” means pretty much exactly what it says: act like that bird of prey in your approach to trout fishing. As I like to ask at the beginning of the show segment:

“When was the last time you caught a brown trout, at your feet, with your mouth?”

I’ll have to admit that despite copious amounts of training and fishing all over the world for most of my life, I have yet to manage that one. I have yet to meet anyone else who has managed it, either. But, I’ve watched herons do it all over troutdom, and that’s the point. If we all emulated herons a bit more in our trout-water (or any-water) approaches, our presentations would likely be more successful. Here’s the deal in four simple steps (you could even make it three by combining the ideas in steps two and three):

1) Position
2) Patience
3) Observation
4) One move when the time is right

 I can talk for some time (trust me) about these four steps, but to save me the typing and you the long read, I’ll summarize them quickly: 1) Even herons have to get into the water somehow. They just tend to do it in a way that minimizes that entry (as best as reasonable). Herons also tend to minimize fussing once they are in. They get into position smooooothly and quietly and then move onto… 2) Waiting. Herons have patience. They don’t tend to rush their “presentations” unless they really must do so. They give the fish some time to acclimate to their presence. They spend enough time hanging out in one general area so that they can… 3) Observe what’s actually going on. What are the fish doing? Are there fish present that weren’t apparent at first? Are the fish up near the surface, or are they mostly feeding under? Once a heron is in place, and has spent the time to get a good idea of what’s really going, they… 4) Make one good move when the time is right. If the move is calculated properly, it’s trout for dinner. Just like magic. And it’s magic that we can repeat if we choose to just get a hold of ourselves and channel our inner heron.

Now, having said that, there are always exceptions, right? Of course there are, that’s just the way things work. Sometimes as a real-world heron you have to shortcut things. You may need to move into position now. You may need to best guess what’s happening because the fish is cruising away fast, and you have about two seconds (if you’re lucky) to be all patient and observant. You may also have to make multiple casts over a fish, but that doesn’t mean that you toss the heron out the window. Make each cast count. In other words, don’t be all heron-like on cast one, and then just slop casts two, three, four, etc., out there because the fish didn’t take right away. If a fish doesn’t like your fly after several good passes, maybe it’s a smart idea to go back to step three and have a careful look again….

With that in mind, below is a little slide show of my wife, Kelley, going through heron steps one through four. In the sequence, she’s stalking and ultimately catching a brown trout from a lake in northern New Mexico. Notice that she has no waders on, and is casting no more than about 15 feet. Notice, too, how close the fish gets to her in a couple of the shots. I don’t think that Kel or I breathed much during those moments. It’s is all up-close-and-personal stuff—heron stuff!


Step 1) Having spotted a nice fish that is working regularly along the bank (no, not the little riser off to the right), Kel is moving up into position.

Step 1) Kel is moving quickly, but smoothly, to get into a spot where she has some cover, and can better wait on the fish.

Step 2) Kel in position and being patient. The fish had moved down the bank, but it soon turned back. Kel is waiting for the fish to reach easy casting range.

Step 2) Whoa! The fish turns in toward Kel. Not what was expected, and Kel, like a heron, freezes.

Steps 2 & 3) Kel holds steady despite the urge to cast. The fish has turned back out, and as Kel observes, is indeed taking adult insects.

Step 3 & Step 4) Kel has observed that the fish has eaten off the top again (she already has the matching fly), and that the fish has reached the limit of its cruising lane. The fish has turned back toward the left now and Kel has made a cast.

Step 4 (complete) The fish has taken Kel's fly and the lovely heron has struck!

Now it's up to the heron to deal with the trout in the best way possible. This heron is all catch-and-release. She is keeping the trout on a short leash, and playing the fish proactively.

Just a cool framing to toss into the sequence. Notice that Kel has complete control of the line, no slop.

And it's about over. The fish has been quickly brought to hand.

The heron tails the brown and steadies it in the water for a couple of quick pics and a release.

A heron's eye view....

Lovely brown, back in and away to meet another day.

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