||Woodsman, dog and ducks
Among his many good qualities, Jim Colbeck is a generous man. For the last several years, he has invited me to accompany him and his two sons (Kevin and Chris, two of my regular hunting partners) on the opening day of the duck season at a secluded beaver pond on the Eastern Shore. Though my success rate hasn't shattered any records, I am beholden to Mr. Colbeck for letting me share in a great natural experience.
I like to kill my fair share of waterfowl for the table, and, in fact, was fortunate to bag a hen wood duck on opening day. That's certainly part of the hunt, yet when the early October chill permeates my bones, I love sitting in this flooded, forested wetland, surrounded by a gnarled maze of shrubs, buttonbush and alders. In the pond and around the shoreline, large sycamores, gums and ashes, as well as white and cherrybark oak, rise up through the pond, creating a vast canopy where songbirds, amphibians and rodents thrive. These creatures support the owls and hawks that frequent the forested wetlands to prey upon them.
On a later hunt, as night quickly lost its grip on the sky, the creatures and plants roused themselves. I was sitting, along with my retriever Huck, on the handiwork of a family of beavers, and the silhouette of one early riser cut through the water, breaking the silence with a powerful slap of its tail and getting my dog's attention. Then the eerie woo-eek of the wood duck, the sound I had been waiting for, joined the chorus of natural sounds.
This bottomland watery haven is ideal habitat for wood ducks, one of the most beautiful ducks of the Bay region. A.J. and Robert Lippson's wonderful Life in the Chesapeake Bay informs the reader that the wood duck's scientific name, Aix sponsa, translates into "waterfowl in a bridal dress." However odd (unless you happen to be Dennis Rodman), it is a near perfect description of the drake's appearance, with his striking white-striped face and brilliant iridescent greens and purples adorning his crest. Both sexes have square tails that allow them to move agilely through the trees, sharp claws to perch among the hardwoods and strong bills to crack the sweet acorns of the white oaks.
My chance for another bird came quickly and went just as fast, as three wood ducks bolted out of the trees in the half-light of a new day. Relatively new to the game, Huck waited for the splash that usually accompanied the blast from the training tool. Was that disdain or disappointment that flashed across his face? No matter, another day would bring another opportunity for both dog and man.
Fish Are Biting
Several nights of near-freezing temperatures and cool afternoons have the fish on the move. Poppers chucked to the shallows at low light score rockfish up to 30 inches. Rockfish and snapper blues are more concentrated. And above the Bay Bridge, the mouth of the Chester River and Eastern Bay, pods of fish abound. Larger rockfish can be taken trolling off the False Channel, the Gooses and Cedar Point.
Chummers are still working The Hill, Love Point and Stone Rock with success, but still many sub-legal fish show up in the mix. The sea trout action is increasing daily, so drop metal spoons and feather jigs (chartreuse is a good color choice) below the schools of breaking fish.