A River Guides Thinking When Winter Is Coming

Cold weather and cold rains are coming and my float-fishing is winding down. Sure, I've still got a rod in the canoe and I know where the big girls are swimming, so, I'll still make a cast or two when the mood strikes. But, in reality, like the weather and the bass, I'm making changes and adapting to the conditions. Frankly, fishing's just not as much fun now and float-hunting becomes my passion. For the last couple of months I've been tossing a top water bait and catching big, sow bass. When the temperatures drop, top water fishing tails off and I've got to slow down and fish closer to the stream bed. So, like I said, fishing's just not as much fun, now! Fundamentally, for me, it's the solitude of a river that's the real attraction come November. Leaves are changing color and falling to crystal clear water. The Cardinal flowers and many of the asters are at the peak of color, too. Hen turkeys have their broods together and it's not uncommon to see a hundred of them along the stream-bank flats, scratching for acorns and clucking for reassurance. The big toms are all good buddies now and when you see a long beard, you'll often see a dozen of them together. Bucks are staking out their territories and running scrape lines. There are always some Does that come to estrus early and making sure they know the king of the woods is available, is vitally important. Moving along in my canoe completely hidden and in utter silence is my goal. I'll be rigged with a blind up front on the canoe. It takes a little extra skill to maneuver the shoals and to maintain the blind in the right position as you course the current: but, that's what 50 years of paddling experience can provide a river guide. When duck season comes along, I go to the next level on stealth. The novice may find it hard to believe; but, I actually know what it's like to push Mallards with my blind and to be close enough to a swimming duck to be touching feathers! For the individual that is setting in the front of the canoe, behind the blind, it can be a life-changing experience. The beauty of a drake Wood Duck can not be explained unless you are just ten feet away when he warily swims out from behind a brush top into the sunlight. Watching as drake Mallards climb for altitude 30 feet away, green heads glistening in the sunlight, has to be seen to be appreciated. When I learned the tricks required in blind construction and started easing along the rivers years ago to float hunt, I simply could not believe the things I witnessed. The thrills I've experienced would take a book to write, and no matter the words written, the inadequacy of description would be appalling. If you are a bow hunter, you understand what it's like in October to be silent and unobserved from your perch high among the leaves. Witnessing a buck, a coyote, turkey, bobcat, bear, wild hogs and numerous other birds and animals up close and personal is exciting stuff and makes bow hunting a thrilling outdoor experience. But, if you've spent time bow hunting as I have, you may find yourself day dreaming about what an advantage it would be to glide silently throught the timber from limb to limb like a Cooper's Hawk on the prowl for a Fox Squirrel a bit too slow to reach the den before the talons strike. Now that would be something, wouldn't it? Well, that is the defintion of blind hunting form my canoe! I'm gliding through the woods and fields of the Ozarks in total silence, completely unobserved. In my view it is hunting in it's most perfect form! Yep, it's something else, to be out there. I do have a few clients that have figured out what I do and they are religious now about making sure they get in on the action. Obviously, this outdoor experience is not for everyone because some just don't "get it". "You say you're out there in the winter, on the water, hunting from a CANOE?" But, that's alright because I'm not really looking for a lot of clients anyway, just those that "get it"! True too, it's just one of my favorite times of the year to be totally alone and in the midst of wildness on an Ozark stream. Float hunting is fairly basic. I'll be dressed in layers with either hip or chest waders, and a couple of PFD's, one self-inflating. I certainly don't expect to turn-over; but that's the whole point of "accidents". So, I'm prepared. I'll have a thermos of coffee along and a sandwich or two. We'll stop often on the gravel bars and stir up the circulation, perhaps build a fire and talk abut the things we've already seen, and whet the appetite about the rest of the day's float. Then, as we're easing along in stealth mode, we'll see a flicker of movement at the head of the next shoal, and the stalk is on. My paddle never leaves the water, no sound, no movement and the steady advance of the blind...............a hundred yards ahead, ducks are swimming.................steady.........then 50's close now. My client's got his shotgun up and ready at the tip of the blind, the greenheads are getting nervous now, and an old Suzy finally blows off the water in a shower and the whole bunch is climbing for the sky just feet away. My client cuts through the noise of the quacking Mallards with three quick shots from his automatic and one drake tails back into the river, down; but, not out. "How did I miss?.......I should have dropped THREE as close as we were!" I've said the same thing myself more then I like to admit, so I just encourage.... "At least you've got one down and you'll do better on the next bunch"! Yep, it's exciting stuff. A good friend dropped a drake Mallard on a float-hunt this past season with a "Duck Band", number 1637-02253. He's gotten the "certificate" in the mail and I'm looking forward to reading the tale of it's travels. That's float-hunting for you and like float-fishing............there's nothing else quite like it.