Feathers and Fish

Waiting for opening day of the duck season is always hard and this year was no exception. Every morning for the last two weeks my brother and I woke for work just a little earlier than we needed to just so we could spend some time looking over the area we planned to invade with our twelve foot flat bottom boat once the season began. Staying on the road so we didn’t disturb the area left us three quarters of a mile from our intended blind site but plenty close enough to see the hundreds of wood ducks vacating the flooded timber that they called home overnight.

303451_383732025007045_1442504058_nThere is usually about a two week window in which the birds would use this area in such numbers. The ducks numbers had peaked a few days before the opener so we had high hopes there would still be enough left to have a great time on the Saturday the season opened. We had been disappointed before with the woodies leaving just before the season opened but this year had showed much promise. Along with the woodies we saw a good number of mallards and a thousand coots lined up in the open water.

The farmers in the area had picked the corn a little later than normal leaving plenty of reason for the birds to stay in the area for a while, maybe even an extra week or so. This had the potential to be the best hunting we’ve had in this spot in many years. The coots that we saw in open water held little interest to us except for the fact that these highly visible ducks were a good indication to the numbers of the other ducks that would be hiding in the reeds and flooded timber.

As the early morning sun started to shine on the edge of the reeds some mallards came in from somewhere else and the woodies began flying out of the reeds first in small numbers then in a cloud of feathers and whistles. The action only lasted about twenty minutes, and then the activity would move mostly to the fields that we didn’t have access to for the rest of the day. Official shooting time seemed to fall right in the middle of the flurry of activity. This was going to be a very interesting hunt I could only hope we were as ready as we thought we were.

At work my brother and I both worked hard and fast so we would have time to practice our shooting and still reach the bridge before dark as to watch the return of our favorite quarry. To be totally honest our favorite quarry really depends on the season. We were just as prone to this kind of excitement and anticipation for every opening day throughout the year be it for fish or game. In reality it seems we were always fishing, hunting or prepping for the next opener. We didn’t need much of an excuse to spend time in the woods or on the water together making some more stories we could tell at work, at the sporting goods stores and even while we were out making more stories.

The scouting we did in the evening went about the same as in the morning with hundreds of wood ducks returning just about the time shooting time was to end. If we were to capitalize on the abundance of ducks our shooting would need to be spot on as the action wouldn’t last long. This area of Pine Creek did however offer something else to occupy our time before or after the hunt, that being the large Northern Pike population that cruised the shallows at this time of year. We could only assume this had something if not everything to do with the ducks that were abundantly available. At this point we personally had not seen Pike take duck though we have heard many stories from others about huge fish feeding on ducks.

Pine Creek had a dam built at a spot just before where the creek meets the river making a three hundred acre lake that was fifty percent flooded timber. Most of the lake is shallow but the creek channel is plenty deep enough to provide for a large fish population of Crappie, Pike, Bass, Bluegill and especially carp. Most of the attention given to this waterway is in the way of people looking to shoot carp or others going after pike mostly on the ice. We rarely saw any other hunters during the duck season, probably because some years the duck were all but gone by the time the season started. Though it might only last a few days this was looking like it was going to be one of those seasons to remember.

On the morning of the hunt we were both up way before we needed to be after not sleeping very well. You would never have guessed that we were tired by the way we were bouncing around the house getting ready. The night before we had made a plan of what we would need to take to make the best of the much anticipated opening day. Most of the list was easy to decide on, all except whether or not to take the decoys. If we leave them behind we can take the fishing gear. My vote was for the fishing gear and my brother reluctantly agreed even though he desperately wanted to use the new floaters he had recently purchased.

We didn’t really want to disturb the area if it wasn’t going to help us score. The act of setting up the decoys would surely alert the nearby ducks to our presence and could very well ruin the whole hunt. So then the plan would be to slip in as quietly as possible and set up on the point right across from the reeds and flooded wood. From the vantage point we had during scouting it looked like we should be covered up with low flying ducks at first light.

To keep the noise down we made our way to the blind using only the electric motor, it took a little longer but we weren’t going to risk screwing up our mission. It was an eerily calm and quiet journey with barely a ripple on the water. The moonlight off the calm water made it easy to distinguish the deeper channel from the stumps and weeds that line it. It was quit spooky seeing our chosen path narrow into the dark tunnel where the creek narrowed from a half a mile down to a hundred yards or so.

The blind sight was simple being no more than a small brush pile near a fair sized tree. The hour we had to wait till shooting time went by in a flash as there was always something to hear at the edge of the swamp even if you can’t see a thing. When we heard the unmistakable sound of a couple of deer running in the shallow water of course we both looked at each other with our most serious faces and emphatically stated “BIGFOOT” as we always did.

You could barely start seeing the glow from the east when the birds began making noise. After a few more minutes we saw the first silhouette of a male wood duck floating past looking like a magazine cover photo. Fifteen more minutes and we would show our shooting skills. Once the light was strong enough to see all the way across the creek the shaking of the reeds was getting intense and the sound of cackling birds was like I had never heard.

The ducks are now jumping up in small groups with most of them coming within twenty yards of our guns and we still have a few minutes left until we can fire a shot. Anxious doesn’t even begin to describe how we were feeling at this point. We had to wonder if there would be any left, but the ducks kept swimming to the edge of the reeds and taking flight after staging just around the point from us. They then proceeded to make a sharp left turn cutting around the point we were stationed on. Then my watch beeped letting us know it was time to load up the weapons.

Racing to fill dads well used Remington with three rounds of no4 birdshot I fumbled and dropped a shell between my feet leaving an opening for my brother to take the first volley of shots at birds’ way closer than we have ever experienced before. My laughing at him for coming up empty was short lived as I also missed my first three rounds fired. The closer the birds were the faster they seemed to be. One more shot and we were laughing at each other at how hard it was to concentrate and single out one target with a cloud of woodies in the air just a few yards off our barrels.

Our errant shooting had allowed a good share of the birds to escape but that thinned out the flock and with a quick reload we were able to take a deep breath that allowed us to put some steel shot on target. I chose to target the ducks a little farther out that were crossing straight in front of us. This proved to be a much easier shot than the closer birds were. In less than five minutes my brother had his three beautiful male wood ducks on the water. I on the other hand had only two and the sky around us was almost empty.

Looking toward the reeds that had produced all of the action I noticed a male and a female woody swimming out from the edge. After sneaking the few steps to the opposite side of the point I was well within range of the duck that would fill my limit. As desperately as I wanted to limit out I was not about to take a duck off the water so I waited and watched. The wait proved to be worth it when we saw a fin moving to the floating ducks. A twenty pound pike had set its sights on the ducks and was closing fast. The northern pike hit the male duck like a torpedo convincing the female to take flight. Though I was legally allowed to take a female I never raised my gun, probably because I was stunned as the sight of nature’s predator prey relationship unfolding in front of me. The racket forced the last couple of ducks to fly straight up out of the reeds and headed away from us.

The duck didn’t go under and the fish didn’t become airborne instead they wrestled right at the edge of both of their worlds. As hard as the duck flapped his wings he couldn’t gain flight and as hard as the fish swam he couldn’t pull the duck under. For what was probably the longest ten seconds of that ducks life the struggle for life continued. When the fish tried to get a better grip the bird took the opportunity to gain just enough altitude so that the next strike fell inches short. The duck might have thought this was his lucky day until the blast from my shotty brought him down to the water for the last time. The damage to his legs was extensive though he would still find an honored place at our family dinner table.

I guess I will never know if the pike knew how big of a meal he was attempting to obtain or if the dangling feet were just to enticing to pass up. From the struggle it seemed very possible that a fish of that size really could take down and even eat a meal of a small duck. Now all I could think of was it’s time to retrieve our ducks and then get after some pike with the fishing gear that we had brought. Hunting has always come first for us but fishing was never far from mind. Any time there was no hunting season open we could be found fishing.

For me there was not even a question of what I would use to goad a big pike into biting the end of my line, I had a big buzzbait that I always thought sounded like a fast swimming duck. The edge of the reeds was looking like the place to start and it didn’t take any time at all for the toothy critter to show himself. The very first cast that I made parallel to the reeds the pike came to the surface and chased down the buzzer. It was maybe less than half a second between the time the sound of the buzzbait stopped and the sound of the singing drag started. Even with the drag peeling out the boat was moving in the direction of the fish. Luckily the fish moved to the deeper channel instead of going into the sticks and such.

The first run of the fish was impressive but after a short time the monster northern was wore down and let us drag him in. This was one of those fish that it is only when you get him to the boat that you realize how huge it is. My biggest pike was forty five inches and this one was much bigger. Sliding him over the rail of the boat we were able to get the fish stretched out for a measurement of over fifty inches and he was way thicker than I thought possible. Watching the fish swim away was a perfect end to a great day in the great outdoors.

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