Monday, February 13, 2006
Mexico Duck Hunting Report February, 2006
I can’t speak for the fishing the past few days but, I envision it to be running along the same lines as it did earlier last week. I fished Monday 2/6 with Rick Tanton and family in the hard driving North winds of a cold front. We bundled up his kids and headed for Upper San Antonio Bay to find the water falling out pretty quickly in the 20 plus knot wind. We had to move around a bit but, we managed 20 Blue Catfish to 4 pounds and 5 Redfish in the middle to upper end of the slot. This has been the first Spring that I’ve focused on the Blue’s in the upper reaches. For some reason that fish drives me crazy. I find them to be the most excellent eating of anything that bites a hook in our Bays. I’ve got one buddy that runs some lines for them and in past years I’ve begged him for fish to the point of just about embarrassing myself. According to Capt. James Cunningham my pardner and a Seadrift local, the Blue’s taste differently coming out of the Bays than they do if caught “up river” or in a lake. I don’t know what they taste like in those environs but I can tell you that they’ve got my attention when covered in Corn Meal and dropped in the grease!
The Redfish are mixing with the Blue’s and undersized Redfish can almost interrupt your Blue catching. This is definitely a “meat haul” as there isn’t anything glamorous about deck loading these fish. You’re not going to find “the Chronicle Team” out there with fly rods trying to catch them and Bass Assassin doesn’t have a tail to entice them, etc. It’s just pure meat and a lot of fun for anyone wanting to stay “Bowed-Up”!
The predictability of this fishing with slowly diminish as the Spring Tide comes in and stays for a while. Right now, it’s ON amid low water levels and gusting Northers.
On Tuesday, 2/7, Capt. James “Scooty” Cunningham and myself pulled out of Seadrift at 3:30am for Bush Intercontinental. We were bound for Chihuahau, Mexico and the distant agricultural valleys of Cuauhtemoc City. Flying in I thought, “where in the heck are we going to kill a duck in this desert”? Mountain ranges abound and our final destination in Cuauhtemoc was at 6,500’. Well, ducks do things differently in the area. The area is surrounded by mountains backdropping agricultural valleys with oats, milo, and corn fields as far as the eye can see. Mennonite villages abound and they are mostly gringos with dual Mexican and American citizenship. Mennonites are compared by the Mexicans to Quakers that we are all probably more familiar with. However, this group doesn’t appear “as old school”.
This ain’t your daddy’s Mexico. Chihuahua State is very prosperous. I couldn’t get over the roads, even the farm roads are better than you can imagine. All of the fields are laser leveled for gravity flow irrigation, neat, and well manicured. I saw very little to make me think of the Mexico that we expect. In fact, I felt a little bit “underpaid” relative to the obvious prosperity across the border. Heavy farm implements abound and there isn’t anyone whipping a team of mules to get the job done. No trash, little crime, and friendly people were a welcome experience.
Oats are the big thing because of the huge amount of dairy cattle. Cheese is big time in the region and the oats feed the cattle and the cattle produce the milk to make the cheese. In the draws, creek beds, nooks, and crannies are lakes and ponds. While we have been suffering from drought, they Cuauhtemoc area has experienced the same. One 12,000 acre lake was completely dry. However, water abounded in deeper reservoirs. A little different than in our area, the ducks feed in the fields at night and then come hard charging at the water in the mornings. Needless to say, this made for some ridiculous wing shooting. Another big time resource in the area are Apples. There are orchard after orchard and guess what, that’s where the Doves are.
We arrived at 10:35am Chihuahua time to clear skies and 25 degrees and met Enrique Perez, owner of Raranuri Ranch Resort and Lodge. We made the 1.5 hour drive, in one of several new Suburbans operated by the ranch, to Cuauhtemoc and stopped for lunch. We then headed to the lodge where we unpacked and prepared for an afternoon of Dove hunting. The lodge is a mortar and stone facility that is completely updated with all the amenities of any World Class Lodge. Rooms are spacious with “in room bath” with heat, hot and cold water, and satellite TV. There is a huge great room/dining room with stone fireplace and a bar; Jacuzzi room; steam sauna; exercise room; and, so on. All the water comes from wells and waterborn illnesses are unheard of. We drank the water and had ice in all of our beverages both at the lodge and in town.
To be honest, getting to the area mid-day didn’t lend itself well to seeing any kind of wildlife or “Dove air traffic”. I swear, I hadn’t seen a sparrow and was beginning to wonder if there was anything alive in the drought stricken area at all. We made a turn approaching a distant apple orchard and “here we go”. As we drive along the field road the adjacent fields are rolling with Dove spooked by our vehicle. The apple orchards are a Dove haven. They roost in the trees for lack of any other trees in the area and of course, the orchards are irrigated from adjacent tanks and ponds. Needless to say, the afternoon didn’t go well for the birds, my shoulder, or Capt. James’ trigger finger. Before we started banging on the quick movers, we jumped the tank and killed a half dozen Teal. Then, it was ON! All Mourning Doves in February according to Enrique. The White Wing (Palomas Blancas) move out sometime in November with the freezing temperatures of Fall/Winter cold fronts. The action was fast and furious to say the least with James and I consuming 6 boxes of shells each. That’s my kind of Dove hunting.
After wrapping up the hunt, we headed back to the lodge where Enrique whipped up an appetizer of Quesadillas made from homemade flour tortillas stuffed with Mennonite cheese. The Mennonites are known for their craftsmanship, cheese, and agricultural prowess. Enrique then through down some pasta and mushrooms with grilled smoked pork chops, homemade salsa, and more quesadillas.
We discussed the duck options for the next morning and Enrique said the “water is black with ducks”. Ok, we’ll see. We hit the road at 5:00am the next morning and made a little drive closer to Cuauhtemoc and a pond outside a Mennonite village. In the headlights were a few ducks as we set up with the backlighting from the Suburban. As we got ready and the vehicle withdrew, we were confronted by Widgeon whistling in the darkness. James and I talked with them for awhile as shooting light approached and our anticipation grew. There was no way that we could anticipate what we were about to experience. With a very light wind cutting across our set up on a small point from left to right, we were in the glide path of wave after wave of ducks falling into our decoys. Widgeon “Scooty” on the right; Mottled Ducks; Mallards; Teal in droves; “Pintail up top”. I dropped the gun and got on my Sony 7.2 MP digital camera and switched to video mode while calling the birds for James. For the next hour we were shooting; spinning to grab shells; reloading; and, shooting; then repeating the process. Replaying the video, we are out of breath many times. At one point, I was rotating two guns at one time as if I was defending a position on some distant battlefield. The action would numb the senses of those that have never had the experience for sure. We didn’t bother hunting geese while in country but, they are abundant. In fact, on our second waterfowl hunt, the geese got up off one end of the larger water that we were hunting. Now, I’ve guided goose hunters since 1988 and have hunted virtually every stretch of dirt from Hockley to Devers, Katy to Bay City, Seadrift to Speeks. I’ve seen and heard some roosts get up off the water but, when these Cuauthemoc birds got up the ground shook and I was somewhat intimidated. The area is actually more famous for goose hunting than duck hunting with a rich history of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby gunning the area “back in the day”.
I guided in Mexico along the Laguna Madre outside San Fernando, Tamaulipas State in another lifetime. I lost my taste for it quickly because of several things. First, shooting ducks over baited locations is neither sporting nor climactic. I felt like a puppet with a duck call blowing a call for rich American’s with no question of the predictability of the birds or eventual outcome. That’s boredom to me. Second, the logistics of just getting to the lodge in San Fernando would challenge a desert road racer. Outside San Fernando you would spend an hour on black gumbo field roads just getting to the various lodges. Getting to the Laguna was just as challenging and you were always concerned about rain because you might not make it out of that hell pit until it dries.
In Cuauhtemoc, we shot “natural” air traffic returning from feeding in the fields at night. With grain fields so abundant and no food source in the water, baiting a pond, tank, or lake is just pointless. With essentially zero hunting pressure beyond the guests of the lodge, the birds were dumb as a box of rocks. Now I can handle a little bit of that after fighting decoy and gun shy ducks here on the mid-Texas coast. When it comes to logistics, it doesn’t get any easier. Goose hunting here in Texas, the best access and easiest hunting is in an area marked by oil production. You know the farm and ranch roads are going to be excellent. Well, I didn’t see any oil production in the Cuauhtemoc area but the field roads and highways would rival anything anywhere in the most prosperous areas of the US, period. Flying into Chihuahua also made things much easier than dealing with a border crossing by vehicle. Our airfare on Continental Express from Houston was $450 per person and that was a rather late booking. Bringing guns and shells in is quite easy and each person is allowed 4 cases.
We gunned the area shooting Dove in the afternoons and Ducks in the morning. We made three Dove hunts and two Duck hunts. Each outing yielded similar results and astounding visions of wing-shooting grandeur. It truly was a trip of a lifetime.
If you are interested in October White Wing hunting or Duck/Goose/Dove hunting the 2006/2007 season, we are lining up hunt dates and trips in association with the Mexico operation. Capt. James and I will be guiding clients during October, early November; during our waterfowl split after Thanksgiving through the first part of December; February and until the season closes in mid-March. We’ve got pricing to fit any budget as well.
Now is the time to start making plans for the White-Wing trip in October and early November waterfowl, so give us a shout if you are interested.
Capt. Kris "Double K" Kelley
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Texas Duck Hunting Report February, 2006
I have just posted the pictures from the 05/06 Waterfowl Season. I have found it beneficial for proprietarty reasons to post the pictures en mass at the end of the season rather than periodically throughout the season. That’s a great plan until you lose your camera. Regardless, I’m now running a 7.2 Mega Pixel Sony that is awesome. So, I captured many of the moments during the last three weeks or so. If you don’t see your photo, it's in the swamp.
If you made it in this year, you know we fought low water/no water conditions in the Bays all Winter. Call it El Nino, La Nina, Equinox, inland drought, freak deal or whatever, but this threw us for a loop like we’ve never seen. If you didn’t make it down this season, you missed a good one, but one that was extremely difficult on man, machine, and dog. With prime major habitat devastated and in many cases dry and void of the essential bottom grasses the birds piled into a swamp that hadn’t seen a duck in 10 years and we went with them. With no infrastructure, we had to put it in place in order to hunt. The swamp is a bottomless quagmire of big Gators, snags, logs, and lillypads and it’s “drop-off” only in this country. Both the guide and clients had to be dropped off as there was no walking or stepping out of the blinds to make adjustments or go get the boat.
With us behind the curve catching up with this “in migration” of birds to an area virtually un-hunted in years, we found ourselves moving in pallets, palm fronds, putting in blinds in the dark and so on. Hard pressed to get two high quality blinds installed “late season”, Capt. James Cunningham, helper Chris Cady, and myself left Seadrift one afternoon in fog at 3:00pm and had two blinds built by 6:00pm. We cut cane with a chain saw in the dark and had them brushed up by 8:15pm. Upon returning to Seadrift we again ran into fog. Both blinds were shot the next morning with full limits from each and both repeatedly produced throughout January. It was the constant addition to infrastructure, air boat mobility, and dedication on the part of everyone that made results like this common, day in and day out. We maintained a 5.63 bird per man average and that's just plain hard work on a year like this. One thing I've learned over the years is that we can adapt to just about anything. If there are birds to kill or fish to catch, we're going to find a way to get it done.
You can bet it pays to have friends in low places in a year like this. Drawing from a network of guides and associated guide services is a big plus when the chips are down. We've bailed out other guide buddies and shuttled customers for others as needed, this time it was us in the hot seat. Mid season, I tore the belt on my reduction unit on the airboat. This is about the equivalent of dropping a transmission "mid race". This time, we needed some help and got it in spades. I've got to give a big thanks to Capt. Marvin Strakos, Marty Strakos, Brian Caldwell, and Freddy Horbath. This crew with MS Guide Service in Port O'Connor shuttled us in to the hot spots a couple of days keeping our clients well cared for and on the birds. We went down on a Friday with the belt reduction unit and were back up and running on Monday despite everything going wrong that could go wrong with the change out. This was followed by a plague of starter problems that finally lined out the last week of the season after a half dozen new units, some of which were changed in the field. That is pushing the envelope for sure. I've also got to thank Capt. Dwayne Lowery of Lowery's Guide Service. D-Wayne came through for us early and we returned the favor late. I'd also like to thank all of our clients and friends that made this an unforgettable season.
While getting the infrastructure built was demanding, hunting the swamp was rewarding. We limited most every shoot while hunting and rotating the same blinds day after day. With the birds so congregated due to the devastated habitat, it made for memorable outings day in and day out. Of note, we killed 8 Cinnamon Teal during the season and 1 Cinnamon/Blue Wing crossbreed pictured in the photo gallery. These were the first Cinnamon Teal we have ever killed.
Thanks to Paul Steinhauer from New Jersey , we made an adjustment this year from milk crates on ambush hunts to buckets with padded seats. What a leap in comfort and utility, this was a big hit with everyone.
James and I are leaving for Mex on February 7 th to check out an operation in Chihuahua, Mexico. The management is more proactive than I’m used to in Mexico and I think these guys are doing a hell of a job in the agricultural valley nestled in the mountains about 2.5 hours from Chihuahua . If the lodge and operation meets my expectations, we are going to be accompanying clients in February/March of 2007 after our season ends.
It looks like things are already moving on the fishing scene in February. Wouldn’t you know that after suffering “low water/no water” conditions all of the Waterfowl Season, it had to flood on us the last two days. When you are used to hunting a specific water level and solidly killing, you notice changes and perhaps slow downs with a fluctuation of an inch or two in water level. We picked up at least 12 inches of water two days before the season ended. Regardless, the birds didn’t let us down, in fact, they were so hung up on the area that they just weren’t going to leave it no matter what the depth pushed to.
What is hard on duck hunters is “heaven” for fishermen. It’s way too early to call this influx of water a “Spring Tide” but is sure is nice to know that there might actually be a Spring Tide. If the water maintains and average “high water” status, I’ll call it a Spring Tide. This is going to make for some serious rod bending fast. I’ll keep you posted as we move through February. We are going to be doing more Popping/Cork Shrimp fishing for Trout this Spring along with some heavy Airboat Redfishing in the back country. If you want to load the freezer, try a Hog/Fish combination trip now through mid-April. Give us a shout.