High Water Low Expectations
by Ambassador Wade Shoemaker
Last season was different for a lot of us. Whether it was the issue of “no ducks” or too much water, a lot of the country struggled with either one or the other. Some will say they didn’t, and they will in fact be part of the minority if that’s the case.
It was apparent early on that 2018/2019 waterfowl would be one to remember for reasons we’d rather not. The rivers we frequent here in Louisiana we’re so low that the boat ramps weren’t even considered safe. Some were blocked off with barricades by the ones in charge of those ramps. The idea of having your trailer fall off the end of one doesn’t fair well when you’re pretty much guaranteed a popped tire.
Lack of water was just the underlying issue. Our main river had a lock under repair. To repair it the engineers had to open them all the way to allow pressure to be relieved. In doing so, this also let’s all the water we would need for backwater to just flow right down without ever slowing down and without ever having the thought of backing up into what we would usually call our “spot”.
We struggled through September teal, which wasn’t as bad as we had expected so we turned our attention to the Fall. The outlook was grim. Public land water was up to Mother Nature (Mom), and while mom was putting out all the water and more that we needed, the locks being open kept our spirits low and our optimism on the fence. We wanna be enthusiastic about the opener, but facts are facts.
To our surprise, when that fateful opening weekend rolled around, “Mom” had dropped so much rain on us that even a wide open lock couldn’t stop her from putting water on those places that we depend on so much. So much so, that we had went from one worry to another. What was once a season to be cautious about unsafe boat ramps with the worries of falling smooth off, had now turned into a strong and swift river that forced us to launch in ditches on dirt roads or just on top of backroads with a wheeler. The funny thing about it is that we’d rather be in a ditch than on a ramp anyway. Can’t explain it really, we’re just weird like that.
We welcomed the water, at first. It quickly went from celebration to frustration. One thing we appreciate about high water is that it gets our trees wet. Flooded timber is a big deal here and most other places that have it, but there comes a point where it becomes a problem. Certain trees are better to hunt against than others and when the river passes a certain depth it also passes that magic number that keeps it “right”. Pine trees aren’t where you wanna be, and we had just about run out of real estate with oaks by the time the water had settled and slowed. We we’re forced out of our comfort zone and into places that we never imagined we’d be floating a boat into.
Each morning we woke up with optimism and enthusiasm that only comes from loving a sport that is no respecter of person. No matter how long you’ve done it or how many times you’ve been, you understand that there’s no understanding how you can bring yourself to crawl out of bed at 1:30 or 2AM just to get your butt kicked more days than you kick butt. It’s an honest answer to say that we just love it. It’s also an honest answer to tell you that we’re a little crazy.
I’ll go out on a limb and say it was probably one of the worst years that we’ve seen here in the South, as far as harvest numbers go, in a very long time. The amount of water we floated in made it extremely easy for birds to spread out. If we had 5k acres of water in one management area to hunt a couple years ago, we had 20k in that same one this past year. It was wild. If we had twice the amount of ducks we would have never known it. Too much water.
Maybe this didn’t apply to you or maybe it did. The coolest part about this sport is that we can all relate even if we’ve never had that experience. It’s funny to me to say that I’ve been at it hard for 13 years already and I still leave each hunt questioning some of the things we did or didn’t do. Even if the hunt was lights out, I sit in the seat of my truck on the way home and wonder how it could have been played better. We’ll never know it all.
I heard a guy put it like this one time. He said, “we’ll always be part time ducks and they’ll always be full-time ducks”. I can’t remember who told me that, but I can promise it’s one of the truest things I’ve ever been told.
I’m not sure what 19/20 holds for us down here, but i can assure you that it doesn’t matter. I’m still gonna hate the 1:30AM alarm and i’m still gonna be stoked to go. Last season was the year of High Water and Low Expectations, this one will be whatever it needs to be.