DOGGETT AT LARGE by Joe Doggett

PIKE ON THE EDGE by Doug Pike
November 25, 2017
EDITOR’S NOTES by Chester Moore
November 25, 2017

Double Up

M ost ducks are remarkably fond of water. Come to think of it, so are most fish.

This happy coincidence provides an abundance of double-dip potential that more coastal hunters should utilize. Assuming weather conditions are reasonable, catchable fish in marshes and bayous and bays often are within reach of the camo-clad opportunist.

Regardless of venue, the typical duck hunt is an early affair. Even die-hards waiting for the celebrated late-morning flights of pintails and mallards tend to lose stoke after about 10 a.m. When the nearest “spoonie” starts looking pretty good, then it’s time to pick up the decoys.

This leaves the rest of the day for a combo session. This is especially true if realistic fishing potential is within a short walk or quick drive. 

The biggest problem is having the grit to follow through with a fishing rod. The “rack monster” starts beckoning after a late hunter’s breakfast. But forcing yourself to give it a go sometimes can pay big dividends.

For example, I was on a two-day Louisiana duck hunt last December, the guest of a friend with access to a private marsh. The brackish backwater cut with canals and sloughs sits on the east side of Lake Calcasieu. 

The weather was damp and blustering, favorable for low duck movement, and we enjoyed a fine shoot. We were back at his bay house by 9 a.m. Before succumbing to sleep, I opted to grab my light casting outfit and a small box of lures and walk down to a nearby drainpipe that feeds the marsh. 

The conditions weren’t especially “fishy;” but, well, I was there. And the drizzle had stopped.

I rigged with a 1/4-ounce jig fitted with a pearl/chartreuse Norton Sand Shad, Jr. The first cast—yes, the first cast—drew a heavy pull. The murky water boiled with the copper flash of a no-nonsense redfish. We traded line about five minutes before I slid it against the bank.

It was a fine red, at least 30 inches, glowing with health and thick from gorging on mullet and crabs. I pushed the jig hook from the glum jaw and watched it scoot free.

During a one-hour session while walking the bank within sight of the duck camp, I caught and released six redfish between 28 and 32 inches, all on the single lure. It doesn’t get much easier than that. I thought of the many days I’ve waded long hours for far less.

Oh, yes, I also hooked an outrageous alligator gar. I spied a lazy swirl and chunked out. The gar snatched the jig and wallowed up and looked five feet long. The little reel buzzed as the brute surged across an open channel. Mercifully, the hook pulled from the toothy jaw. 

Unlikely prehistoric encounters aside, the six gorgeous redfish were a grand complement to the morning limit of greenwings and gray ducks.

Admittedly, that session was exceptional, but it occurred because I had the foresight to toss a fishing rod in with the ducking duffel.

For several seasons, I duck hunted on a middle coastal ranch near the Lavaca River. A large network of marsh ponds drained into Lavaca Bay, and the area was a magnet for ducks—not to mention fish.

Between hunts, we could sight cast to tailing and cruising redfish in several of the shallow back “lakes.” The bottom was goo-pie soft in places but we were determined. Mud or no mud, it’s hard not to press forward when the saucy pennants of blue-tipped tails are waggling in the fall light.

Come to think of it, the wooden bridge spanning the primary bayou feeding the marsh was an excellent intercept area for flounders. Small tandem jigs tipped with dead shrimp racked up some impressive strings of flatfish.

Bay flats offer classic double-dip possibilities. The late sporting artist Jack Cowan utilized this theme in numerous paintings—redfish tailing in the decoy spreads, or waders stringing reds with stilt blinds in the background and bull sprigs hovering overhead. You get pumped just looking at those beautiful images.

And they are real. Hurricane Harvey certainly stirred things up along the middle coast, but the fish are there and the flights of pintails and redheads will come. It remains only for the hunter-turned-angler to capitalize on the wading or drifting opportunities. 

Hey, you’re already in chest waders; all you need is a rod and a gung-ho mindset. A couple of friends and I recently rallied for a double-dip morning off Matagorda Island. Frankly, our duck hunt was lousy—two muffed chances at early teal and that was it. The keenly anticipated flights of redheads and pintails failed to materialize.

But the December morning was dead-solid perfect for wade fishing. The air was mild, the sun was bright, and the green tide was riffled by a moderate southeast wind. We ran the center console to a nearby cove and hopped out into thigh-deep water.

The bottom of the primary bay was hard sand that soon gave way to the crunching of oyster shells. We eased along the reef, working about 25 or 30 yards apart. I’d like to say that we “killed ‘em,” but we didn’t. We caught 8 or 10 redfish, mostly small, but the impromptu session saved the duckless dawn.

I don’t recall what the other guys were using—plastics, probably—but I went with the glittering promise of a 1/2-ounce spoon.

When you feel as if you are in the middle of a classic Cowan painting, that’s just what you do. Old timers might remember the 1983 Gulf Coast Conservation Association stamp/print. That first powerful “save the redfish” image showed a shin-deep Texas wader, cool and loose, poised in a slight crouch. He was wearing a cowboy-type hat and flicking a side-arm cast with a gold spoon at a pod of redfish gliding across sparkling sand and grass.

That’s our cherished school fishing, and it’s often within reach of the nearest duck hunt.

Email Joe Doggett at [email protected]

 

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