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.
A blue heron is an expert fishers, but it also eats snakes and small ground animals. It stands patiently until its quarry is close enough to snare with a quick thrust of its blade-like beak.
While an adult bird stands upward of 41/2-feet tall, its neck is very thin. It's so thin, in fact, that if a fish becomes lodged sideways in its neck, it can choke to death. The neck of a juvenile bird is smaller yet, which makes choking a major factor in the species' high mortality rate.
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There are lots of stories of missing koi and other fish from newly stocked garden ponds. At first, the pond owner notices a few fish are missing, but then realizes there is always the chance that some fish might be hidden under rocks and pond vegetation. Surprisingly, 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. In fact, they may be easier for the bird to catch.
A friend with a large pond near Lake Norman told me this tale. Each November, when the water cools, he stocks his pond with a couple of hundred rainbow trout so that 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 next 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 the herons couldn't swallow them.
Fisherman 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 expresses its displeasure with the intrusion by squawking eerily as it flies away.
As savvy a hunter as the blue heron is, it doesn't always find food easily. You may see one perched on the roof of a boat dock or on a pier; it is searching for another meal along a distant shoreline.
Lower-than-normal water levels are exposing rocks, stumps and gravel banks that are usually underwater. They are navigation hazards, but also great habitats for fish when high water returns.
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 shorter than the 16-inch size limit. White perch continue to hit crappie minnows and Sabiki rigs in water to 30 feet deep.