There is no doubt fall has arrived. This morning we had our first good frost. Everything I have been hearing is the deer woods are starting to come alive. It seems you wait so long for these fall months to roll around and if you blink, next you will be on the ice fishing in January and wondering how hunting season is coming to a close. We all have a love for the outdoors but as many hunters can attest, there is something about those crisp mornings in a deer stand or duck blind that cleanse your soul.
For some time Matt England with England Expeditions and I have been discussing getting together for some crappie fishing on Lake Shelbyville. Lake Shelbyville is my favorite lake in Illinois. Where I live in Washington there really isn’t many large lakes that you can use an outboard on. So, if I am taking a weekend trip you can bet Shelbyville is on the top of my list.
Back in early August Matt and I set a date to hit the water in late September. I have fished Shelbyville a few times in early September but usually by the 3rd week of September I am setting my sights on hunting. I was excited to meet Matt at the ramp and hit the water for a day of relaxation and checking out his livescope. I can understand why they say it is a game changer. It really does give you real time information that you can use to your advantage. I did notice one thing though. I caught myself watching the screen and instead of watching my tip or line. I know you are waiting for the tug but many times I catch crappie when I see the slack in the line. After watching these fish come up the bait and not be aggressive, I started to change colors. We had fish everywhere we stopped and usually caught a couple pretty easily. After a couple were in the boat, it seemed harder to get them to take the bait. Oh, they look at it and it makes you want to take a swim and starting catching crappie by hand. When you see 100 fish and they just look at your bait it could get a little aggravating.
Matt was an absolute delight to be around in the boat. Very down to earth and can talk about anything. He has immense knowledge of the lake and it shows. Every spot we stopped there was fish. He has it down to a science. One thing I really liked about Matt is how he shares his knowledge with everyone. If you haven’t checked him out on Facebook you are missing out. He gives you daily updates on what’s working and what is not. He will also be honest with you if the bite isn’t that great. Fishing is fishing some days you can’t keep them off your hook others they won’t even sniff it. If you are looking to head down to Lake Shelbyville I would give Matt England a call at England Expeditions and schedule your trip now. You won’t be disappointed. Check out his monthly article on page 86 for the current conditions on Lake Shelbyville.
You all know what is coming next. It’s almost November and that means my annual man-cation to North Dakota is in the books. I must say I didn’t know for a while if this trip was going to happen but as soon as I knew it was on, the excitement got me. After a great trip fishing with Matt England it was time to load the gear and get ready for the 15hr drive to duck grounds. For the first time in several years we had six people going. We hooked up the trailers and headed down the highway towards the great state of North Dakota. By mid-afternoon on October 1st we had arrived and were shocked to see that many of the trees had already changed colors and the leaves were falling quickly. Usually when we arrive it still seems like their summer. This year it seemed like fall was in full affect.
Friday morning rolled around and we were all pretty excited to see if and where the ducks where this year. To our amazement it seemed like every slough and pot hole had ducks on it. I am not saying every hole was full of ducks but it did seem like most of them had at least a dozen. One thing about going in early October is you don’t usually have the full color in the ducks quite yet but this year was going to be different. For the first time in our 13 years of hunting North Dakota it seemed like there was greenheads everywhere. Usually we see a few mallards but nothing like this. We were used to seeing a lot of blue wing teal, gadwall, red heads, a few wigeon and pintail. Not this year. The blue wings were for the most part gone. We had our fair share but nothing like past years. The gadwall were there as usual but there was a lot more divers and mallards then I have ever seen in North Dakota. It was looking like it was going to be a good year.
There is one thing we have learned is do not hunt big water. Find a slough or small pothole that you can set up on. We have tried the big water and it sure has never worked very well for us. I am not saying you won’t shoot birds but having them come into a pothole or slough is so much more exciting. Just my opinion but too many people see the land of 10,000 ducks and think they are going to hunt it and you are not doing yourself or anyone any favors. Leave the roost alone and hunt around it. It is much more enjoyable.
Now comes the most exciting day of the year for me, opening day North Dakota. Tim and Cliff Conover are my hunting compadres for most of the week so we decided to hunt a gadwall hole that has produced fact action in the past and easy hunting for the first day. We were setup ten minutes before shooting time and you could hear the wings overhead and then you would hear the splash on the water. We all knew we were in for a great opening morning. As I pulled my Remington Versamax to the shoulder the barrel begin to bark. The first bird got lucky. My first shot wasn’t true but unlucky for him number two put him to sleep. As we are being frantically attacked by gadwall and green wing teal, we each had a couple of birds. This is where all hell broke loose. I have struggled with my last two guns mechanically for the last 8 years. I have not had a working gun by the end of opening day North Dakota for 8 years. Sounds crazy but it is true. I was confident my versamax was ready for a good year. Just had the gunsmith go through the gun and make sure everything was in working order. After my 5th shot rang out I noticed my shell didn’t eject. It was lodged in the chamber. I took the gun apart and was able to get the shell out. I looked over the gun and it seemed everything was in working order. There was a cripple on the water so I said let me test fire this gun at this cripple to make sure its all good. Bad idea, very bad idea. I pulled the trigger and my face lit up like a Christmas tree. I dropped the gun and turned to drop to my knees holding my face. I wasn’t sure what had just happened all I knew was the fire came out the side of the gun and my face took the brunt of the flames. Boy were my ears ringing. Luckily after a few minutes I opened my eye and it seemed to be fine. My eyelashes where singed off and I had a little cut by my ear. I had blood everywhere because at some point I cut my finger and it was bleeding everywhere. So all in all I was pretty lucky. When I picked up the gun the shell was crinkled up and the brass was nowhere to be found. When I took the gun apart later there were chunks of metal. After further inspection both sides of the bolt were blown off. After eight years of dealing with broken guns I decided it was time to give Benelli a try. Just a side note, the barrel was clear of any debris and the bolt was shut. I wish I knew how it happened but I guarantee it was not something I want to happen again.
Well you see how day one went. Luckily the rest of the week went off without a hitch. We harvested a few birds each day, a few days with limits. After eating ducks every which way to Sunday we began to put our limits in the freezer for future consumption.
I have a good story about my baby girl Cocoa. She is not professionally trained but she loves to duck hunt. She is now seven and this is her seventh season hunting North Dakota so I knew she was up for the task. I worried a little she was getting older and I didn’t want her to get stiff and sore on us but there was no way you could stop that dog all week. She made some 250 – 300 yard retrieves that had my heart pumping. A couple of retrieves stood out from the others. We were hunting a big slough on day 5 and I was struggling hitting ducks. It seemed like I was hitting then I was needing to take care of cripples. As I was sitting there a wigeon busted in from my right. I pulled up pulled the trigger and down he came. Well that’s great he wasn’t dead and he was booking it away from us and he is already 80 plus yards before I even send cocoa out. So off cocoa goes and after about 150 yards she gets to the bird. I am amazed it didn’t dive but here she comes. The duck’s butt is in her mouth and the duck is looking straight at me. I am standing in knee deep water and I know Cocoa, as soon as she gets close to my hand, will drop it. Sure enough she is right in front of me I reach down to grab the duck I feel the feathers but then down he goes sinking into the water. I am searching for this dang duck cussing my way through the cattails trying to find this bird. I am now soaking wet down both arms from reaching in the water and I was none too happy. So there is a bird to add to the limit that won’t make it to the cleaning station. Oh well have to move on. I was standing there a half hour or so and Tim shoots a duck around the corner. I send cocoa over and she goes about 20 – 30 yards back in the cattails behind my buddy Al. I am yelling at her to get out of there and get to the water to get Tim’s duck. Next thing I knew I hear Al yell “Cocoa has a live bird”. I yell back “Is it a wigeon?” and sure enough somehow Cocoa found the sank bird. She had amazing week and I don’t think I would ever hunt ducks without a dog. Dogs like her make your life so much easier and so much more enjoyable. It was amazing watching her do her thang all week. Every morning she was tired but there was no way she would miss going with us.
It was a great week with friends. Until next month enjoy your time with family and friends and may you make memories to last a lifetime.
May your sunrises and sunsets be magical!