James Phillips Photography


Drought Fishing

The little pond had almost disappeared. Another week or two and it would dry up completely, victim of the worst drought in Florida’s history. I was shocked and saddened to find it in this condition; I was expecting the same perfect microcosm I’d chanced upon many years ago, an obsidian pool hidden deep in the forest, decked with emerald lotus leaves and patrolled by iridescent dragonflies. What I found instead was a scummy puddle in a field of mud. Parched and lifeless, or so it seemed.

I stepped onto the exposed lakebed. The muddy ground was cracked and broken into slabs. The cracks were shin deep, and filled with gasping fish, bream and bluegills and largemouth bass, packed like sardines in a tin, with barely enough water to cover their backs.

Without warning, a great blue heron landed nearby. I sensed that it was sizing me up, so I pretended to ignore it. Moving slowly, I planted the tripod in the mud, mounted the camera on it, and looked through the viewfinder. It was still there, poised for flight, eyeing me suspiciously.

To the big heron, the lure of easy prey was strong. Eventually it decided I was harmless and began to hunt. With the grace and balance of a tai chi master it prowled the tortured lakebed, scanning the cracks and crevices for a flash of silver scales.

The hunting was good and the killings quick. It speared fish after fish with its dagger-sharp bill, then swallowed them whole, “converting fish energy into bird energy,” as the nature gurus say.

Then it left, again without warning and for reasons of its own. Fearing that my presence might discourage other birds, I left too.