FINS, FUR & FEATHERS Hunters must be careful in wet weather

For most of us who cannot put away the shotgun just yet, we take to area fields and water to target waterfowl. Late season duck gunning is just a little different than the techniques we used early in the year.

One big difference is the amount of water we are hunting in. Earlier this year dry conditions made water hard to come by, but now there is an ample supply of it.

Granted if you hunt the Sound that amount of water will not change at all, but tidal fluctuations can still pose problems if you are not careful. It never fails the amount of water you are hunting in will be about two inches higher than the protection of your footwear. More than one person has been heard to utter the famous words of Dean “Three Fingers” Faris, the ever-popular phrase, “I know what I’m doing.” This is usually followed by words not suitable for publication as bone-chilling water enters your boots.

While this may be humorous to some, it can be downright life threatening if you are not careful. Once inside the boots the water is stuck there. This water will quickly rob your lower extremities of body heat. While this may not cause you to lose your life, it can quickly rob you of a couple of toes.

Where this situation can be life threatening is entering water that flows over and fills your chest waders. If you cannot remove them quickly, they will become an anchor.

It is a good idea to have some type of staff, so that you can gauge water depth, before you place your foot. Enough of the warning, here are some other tips that will help with your late season duck hunting.

Most of the northern ducks have left. This means that the ducks you’re shooting have been shot at for some time now. They have seen numerous decoy spreads and heard the best and worst callers this side of the Cascades.

While typical spreads might work for you, it is best to try and change things up a little. Instead of the normal fishhook or “J” formation, try making clusters or family groups with numerous little pockets for ducks to land in. In addition, try toning down the calls. A quick highball to get their attention and a few feeding chuckles as they pass overhead should be sufficient.

All of the usual places to hunt will still be good bets. Granted areas like the Skagit Refuge and the Farmed Island Segment will be crowded on the weekends, they will be great places if you are lucky enough to have a weekday off. Other areas to try would be Smith Farm, Lake Terrell and Telegraph Slough. If you have access to private land, try jump shooting ducks off secluded waters during our many blustery winter days.

Steelhead fishing not bad

Steelhead action has been fair to good, depending on which river system you try. Heavy rains tend to make the fishing difficult. A good couple of days of dry weather will help bring the water into better fishing shape.

An alternative would be to target mountain whitefish. The state is reporting good numbers of the salmonoids in deep pools all along the Skagit. These fish are not huge, averaging 15 inches, but with plentiful numbers than can save an otherwise slow day. Due to their size, smaller baits work best. Sparse flies, small grubs and spoons work well, but many feel maggots are the prime bait to use. Drift your baits in the deep holes along the bottom.

New fishing rules coming

February the new fishing regulations should be set. Two proposals that the Fish & Wildlife Department is looking at are restrictions on wild steelhead. One proposal eliminates keeping wild fish from all streams, no exceptions. The other allows for one wild fish per day with a yearly limit of ten wild fish. More meetings are to be held prior to the new regulations.

Remember, those of you purchase new hunting and fishing licenses; they are not valid until April 1 of next year. Your current license is what is needed until March 31.

Pete Sobotta is a frequent contributor to the Whidbey-News Times

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