Big Water Diver Duck Hunt
On a cold December day, my friends John Ward of Camillus Knives and Al Gallagher of Camp Chef and I pulled into Mitchell's Bay, Ontario. This unassuming community is home to the legendary Mr. Red Fisher and is located on the east shore of Lake St. Clair. If you know duck history, this place is what legends are made of. Lake St. Clair is a true duck factory and produces some of the finest wing shooting on the planet as hundreds of thousands of birds pour down through the annual fall migration. Although not an official great lake it is still massive in size and is located between Lake Huron and Erie. The feeding and roosting grounds allow for birds to stage here and feed and rest.
The legends of Lake St. Clair date back over 150 years, it has drawn in waterfowl hunters from around the planet including many influential people. There is much to be said about the old tales of these hunts and the many iconic hunt clubs that were formed along these shores. But of most importance is the conservation efforts that began in these areas recognizing commercial duck hunting had no place and proper bag limits and care for the ducks creating conservation initiatives were the future.
We settled into Parkside Cottages and Restaurant upon arrival and met our guide Mr. Robert Stanley. A 35-year duck guide on this lake and a wealth of knowledge and stories. What a treat to sit in camp and hear stories of great people, epic migrations and the evolution of decoys and boats as styles and knowledge increased over the decades.
Morning came early and we met Robert at the launch. It was a calmer morning than he had been hoping for but he had enough breeze to strategically place a fleet of 100 diver decoys. The plan was to trick a flock of Canvasbacks—also referred to as the King of the Lake. The boat itself was a true treat, a 19-foot custom built flat bottom boat with 3-foot walls, with welded shelved frames that stood 4 feet with us sitting in a comfortable channel down the middle. The motor and us were surrounded by heavy grasses and cedar covering us like a floating island, as we tucked in beside a small reed clump Robert deployed the Bass fishing tools. Yes, giant power poles on a remote on the front and back ends of the boat, once deployed they put a giant pole down into the water and held us tight. We were truly sitting in the dream duck hunting machine.
The sun rose and distant birds started to fill the skies. Robert got on the call with a flock of four that was flying across us a few hundred yards out. They turned, and our heart rates went up, and without circling we had a four Canvasbacks cupped and headed for the hole in the spread. They cut the distance really quick and then we heard, “Take 'em.” The guns roared and birds fell and we were thrilled to see two giant bull Canvasbacks and two hens. The guns were warm now and we were all excited. The day was everything we dreamed up, birds flew all hours and we pulled in flock after flock shooting singles, pairs, triples and even flocks decoying flocks of 20-30. The species varied and that made it so exciting. After compiling a 5-man limit made up of many diverse species we sat in appreciation of what we had just experienced. Stunning drake Canvasbacks, Redheads, Blue Bills, Ring-necks made up the bulk of our limit. But a few beautiful mallards and even a pintail made for a day to remember.
Back at camp we headed to Parkside for wings and Caesar salad, told more stories, poked fun at those of us that maybe missed some shots and enjoyed great company.
The next morning brought the same set up, same location and high anticipation as we now knew what we were in for. At first light ten blue bills charged into the mojo and hot powder left the gun in the early minutes of the day. It was another remarkable hunt. We harvested another 5-man limit and experienced some fast and furious wing shooting.F
Robert was a treat to hunt with—his boat, location, calling, and decoy placement was a show in itself. His 30-year-old prized decoys were something to witness. He has restored them all himself with a glue-based paint filled with crushed walnuts. They are something to behold.
That night we headed back to Parkside to enjoy a tasty dinner. To enhance the meal, our good friend Al treated us to an appetizer of Asian-style duck on rice. Eating fresh duck with good friends in legendary waterfowl area was special for me.
If you haven’t had the chance to go hunt ducks on Lake St Clair, you have to do it! And when you’re there talk nice to those old decoys, see if they can bring some flocks nice and close like they did for me.