The Riches of Wild Places
This particular hunting trip had its origins last March, when I paddled Mattaponi Creek, that wildly wonderful tributary off the Patuxent River, with super Bay-saving volunteer Mary Kilbourne. That day hundreds of waterfowl, from black ducks to mallards to Canada geese, flew among the scores of diverse wetland plants.
Fast forward to one of the first days of the early autumn resident goose season. There, at last light, Drew Koslow and I sat in my jonboat waiting for them to fly. They never did give us a decent look, but that didnt deter us from absorbing the tremendous richness of wildlife that flourished around us. We flushed more than 100 wood ducks while nosing into narrow creeks and guts.
On one of the last stretches of semi-wild rivers left in our part of the state, there exists a patchwork of sanctuaries, parks and refuges owned and operated by different natural resource agencies that effectively fuses essential habitats for plants and animals with peoples desire to bond with nature. And because the area is situated on the Atlantic Flyway, making it the perfect birders bistro, more than 200 species of birds including bald eagles, thrushes, tundra swans and green-winged teal find protection here from harsh winter winds.
To the south of Patuxent River Park lies the 1,678-acre Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary, set aside in the 1930s as a Canada geese refuge by conservationist Edward Merkle. Upriver from the park, Calvert, Anne Arundel and Prince Georges counties converge, and there youll find Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, bordered by one of the largest tidal freshwater wetlands on the East Coast, with myriad lush plant life. Hearty cord grass, colorful rose mallow and pond lily mingle with heart-shaped pickerelweed (with beautiful blue summer blooms) and spatterdock.
We set up our decoy spread near Mondays Creek, just up from the Western Branch, surrounded by hardy stands of lush wild rice as tall as stepladders. Wild rice is valuable food for many seed-eating birds, and all of the area near us was fenced off to keep resident Canadas from devouring the plants before the migrating waterfowl have a chance to refuel from their flights.
During the fall migrations, researchers estimate that some 25,000 waterfowl feed on the rice and other seed-bearing plants such as smartweed, which ripen when waterfowl and other seed-eaters, including bobolinks and red-winged blackbirds, winter in Chesapeake Country.
We failed in our mission to help thin the flock of resident geese in hopes of taking pressure off of the native migratory species. But we still came away enriched. Wild places do that.
Fish Are Biting
Water temperatures are still a bit too warm for the larger rockfish to feed in the shallows in any consistent numbers, but plenty of smaller rock, including some legal fish, are holding in rips and undercuts off points and structures. Top-water plugs at first and last light are a time-tested method to entice strikes. Love Point and Swan Point have produced legal stripers mixed with bluefish for chummers. Gas Docks are slow, but limits can be obtained if you have time and patience for crowds.
Flounder fishing is reported good along eastern channel edges. Top-notch guide Richie Gaines said he has had success fishing for flatties from Poplar Island south to Choptank River.