Volume XII, Issue 1 ~ January 1-7, 2004

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Chesapeake Outdoors ~ by C. D. Dollar

Allure of the Flats’ Flights

It pays to steadfastly observe Rule Number One when hunting the lower Bay’s grass flats: Tide dictates everything. On Pocomoke Sound and thereabouts, sometimes you cannot count on any predictable timetable for the ebb and flow, especially on a new moon. Tide charts can serve as a guide, but sometimes all bets are off.

It’s humbling to witness the power of earth’s gravitational pull, and I’m powerless to plug up the torrent of water exiting what soon becomes a sandy field of widgeon grass. Why I tempt such mechanics of nature is easily explained: That’s where the birds are feeding, on robust mats of vegetation that provide essential sustenance for wintering waterfowl, including such flats’ mainstays as widgeon, gadwall and brant.

But be forewarned: The allure of the flats’ flights can bewitch even the most hardened fowlers, mesmerizing them with dizzying aerial displays of the scores of birds dumping onto the water. The allure of wild birds often proves too tantalizing not to tempt the fickle tides.

I know of what I speak, as one who has recently been foiled by nature’s folly. I thought I had pegged the approximate duration of the falling tide, but I was proved wrong. The briny froth that floated me into prime duck shooting drained out faster than the fickle, quiche-eating crowd after the sixth inning of an Orioles-Yankees home stand. (At the ball park, their collective cell batteries must have died, and without the inane chatter of their own importance, the game must have seemed all too dreary.)

Just one more toll, I told my canine companion, and we’ll shove for home. But it was too little too late. Water enough to float the boat had abandoned us, and dusk came. Soon full-on nightfall descended. No matter; I had snacks, water and warmth. The tide would turn soon enough and we’d be on our way.

But the mystery of these tides wasn’t soon solved. Even two hours after the ebb faded to slack, no water was moving. I knew if things got dicey, I had an ace in the hole. I hesitated using it since I wasn’t in danger and I knew the water had to return … at some point. Besides, no one likes to admit to getting stuck.

Snug and warm back at the lodge was Willy Agee, one of my fairly frequent gunning partners. I reached him by marine radio, filled him in on the situation and estimated my arrival some time around the late news hour. Tides willing.

He showed his measure as one of the true good men by insisting he run his skiff to the edge of the flats, where he’d pick us up after my stranded party hiked nearly a mile. In an era where hollow style trumps substance, you can gauge the sincerity of your friends by such actions. Such people don’t ask why or how’d that happen? when you’re stuck on a grass flat or broken down on the highway at midnight. They just get on their horse and get it done.

Using spotlights, we flashed our position through the jet-black night. Brilliant stars cast into the winter solar array hung like Christmas lights. The extraction went seamlessly, and on the brisk walk across sandy tumps of sea grass and shell I reflected on how different the grass flats are at night than in the light of day. I also smiled at the reflection that true friends remain so, regardless of the time of night or day.

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Last updated December 31, 2003 @ 9:12pm.