Rockfishing failure becomes successful sea duck expedition

OUTDOORS

November 06, 1994|By LONNY WEAVER

"Enough of this foolishness!," Dick Broderick said in disgust as we reeled in our empty lines after another fruitless day of rockfishing.

"How about next week you and me going after a couple of limits of all those sea ducks we saw this morning? I've drug and cast for ghostly keeper rockfish enough and need a break in the boredom."

That's how we got ourselves into a great day of shooting that anyone with access to a boat can share.

Sea ducking is, quite simply, just about the most fun you can have with a shotgun while bobbing around in the Chesapeake. The best description I ever heard of the sport said that it is "like dove shooting while standing in a rocking chair."

Before first light, Broderick and I put out about two dozen decoys within sight of Cook's Point. These were hand-carved and painted decoys, though my wife insists on describing them as plastic milk cartons hacked in half and assaulted with black paint from a spray can. To a sea duck, though, they look like a duck and that's all that counts.

When the low-flying speedsters got within 25 yards, we stood, causing them to put the throttle down and fan. Broderick's Remington 11-87 autoloader boomed three times, and I shot my Ruger Red Label. The ducks disappeared intact across the Chesapeake.

The 12-gauge Ruger ate nine rounds before I figured a lead correctly and matched it with the bob of the anchored boat. Before we could collect the scoter, a string of six appeared out of nowhere and zoomed past Broderick's side of the boat.

He, too, managed to sort out the math and when his gun went boom, the lead scoter splashed down. As the string fanned at the shot, I managed to push my 30-inch barrels past the new leading duck and brought it down.

The shooting was steady the first hour of morning light, hectic the second. We needed part of a wild third hour to reach our individual limits of four scoters and a single oldsquaw.

Howard Gillelan, author of "Gunning for Sea Ducks" (Tidewater Publishers), says, "Common scoters are the first arrivals, usually at the end of September and October. Surf scoters move in a few weeks later . . .

Whitewing scoters move in next. Oldsquaws are the last to appear. The peak period in the Chesapeake [for all species of sea ducks] is usually the middle of November."

A number of guides specialize in sea duck hunting. A few that come to mind are Harrison's Sportfishing Center on Tilghman Island, Bob Haddaway, also out of Tilghman, Rich Manning operating out of Kent Island, W.D. Wheatley, who guns around Taylors Island, and Gibby Dean works the Choptank around Cambridge.

Norm Haddaway introduced me to the sport a number of years ago. He likes to work the area around Poplar Island. If you never have tried the sport, I suggest you book a guide the first trip or two and gain from his experience and knowledge.

The sea duck season continues through Jan. 20, though I have never gunned it past late November due to severe weather. Historically, I have enjoyed my best gunning around Veterans Day.

Popular gunning spots around the Bay area include the mouth of the Chester River, Eastern Bay, the mouth of the Choptank near Sharps Island, off James Island, Holland Point and the lower Potomac River.

Maryland has set up "sea duck zones" where hunters are allowed five per day (only four scoters). During the regular 40-day duck season, sea ducks taken outside of those zones must count as part of the three-duck per-day limit, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

To get a free sea duck zone map, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to the Wildlife Division, Tawes State Office Building, Annapolis, MD 21401.

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