Changing weather patterns, changing animal patterns
The first pintail decoy I tossed across the shallow Wharton County pond Tuesday morning bounced and slid across the ice. The first group of real pintails that worked the same pond at sunrise did the same thing.
Two days later, the first group of chocolate-headed sprigs banked and hovered at 15 yards in the stiff southeast wind. We easily took a pair in short sleeves and mesh hats.
Ahh, to live in Texas.
"It was tough hunting in all that ice," said guide Bill Sherrill, of Wharton. "Very few ducks moved. Most stayed huddled in open water."
Sherrill said all of his prairie ponds were covered in at least a half inch of ice, some ice thicker on deeper ponds.
"Those birds finally flew about noon after the temperature rose to 40, and things began to thaw," said Sherrill.
Hunting picked up later in the week with the return of southerly breezes. Few hunting days, enough to count on two hands, have endured south winds during the first 10 weeks of the season. Waterfowl work so much better with a south wind - decoying in to the sun with shade and shadows blanketing blinds, helping to conceal hunters.
The predominant wind this waterfowl season has been from the north, which has put hunters looking in to the sun and working birds backwards (since most blinds are set up for a south wind). Though duck and goose season has been steady, birds just don't readily work decoys in a north wind like they do in a south wind.
"They (duck and geese) just act funny," said guide Matt Sbrusch. "It is hard to seal the deal on a north wind. You have to take more passing shots than decoying shots, and that means longer shots."
Though late-season geese are traditionally harder to hunt, the attitude of goose gaggles has been more conducive for decoying action over white spreads.
"When those geese get on the green like wheat and rye grass fields, hunting always gets better," said Sbrusch. "The hunting has been steady though better with the south winds."
Sbrusch said specklebellies have been fickle to calling and decoys.
"One day, the dark birds turn their noses to you, and the next, they work like it is November," he said. "It all depends on the field you are hunting."
Specklebelly season will close Jan. 12, and only snows and Canada geese will be legal to harvest through Jan. 26. Then, beginning Jan. 27, the Light Goose Conservation Order (e-caller season) begins and runs through the middle of March.
On the bays, redheads and redfish have been the most consistent producers. Redfish have been steady in holes and guts with the low tides the coast has experienced with cold front. Water temperatures dropped to below 40 degrees in some parts of the bays Tuesday but not confirmed gamefish kills have been reported.
Normally, when water temperatures dip below 42, some mortality of shad, mullet, speckled trout and flounder occurs.
Duck hunting on the bays has improved with an influx of pintails finally hitting the middle coast around Port O'Connor and Rockport. Hunting there had been fair at best for the first two months of the season.
Bink Grimes is a freelance writer, photographer, author and licensed captain (firstname.lastname@example.org).