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Freshwater Marsh Decoy Spread

Tips to create an effective spread on a freshwater marsh
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Rick Nemecek of Port Clinton, Ohio, is a lifelong duck hunter and longtime guide in the Sandusky Bay marshes on the south shore of Lake Erie. Nemecek's grandfather guided here in the early 1900s. Today, Nemecek guides at the Winous Point Shooting Club, the oldest actively chartered duck club in North America (1856). He also hunts on local public shooting areas. A freelance outdoor writer and magazine editor in real life, Nemecek abandons his desk when the waterfowl season opens and hunts every day.

The Sandusky Bay marshes are a maze of cattails, reeds, and open-water potholes that average 50 to 100 yards across. Before a hunt, Nemecek will scout to learn where puddle ducks are working, then set up in a promising spot. Sometimes he hunts from a fixed blind or a punt boat, but usually he huddles in natural cover as he attempts to toll birds in.

In so doing, Nemecek uses a small decoy spread, but one that is assembled through experience to draw birds. "I'll use 12 to 18 decoys in the early season, and I'll increase this number up to three dozen in the late season. Early-season ducks aren't as wary, and they fly low over the marsh. But later in the season, the ducks are smarter, and they fly higher, so I feel I need more decoys to attract their attention."

Nemecek believes high visibility is a key to success in decoying ducks in the marsh, and he has a trick for making his small spreads stand out. "I'm a big believer in using black or dark-colored decoys," he confides. "Decoys have become almost photolike in their paint schemes, but hens, especially, are colored the way they are so they'll blend into their surroundings. This doesn't help when you're trying to draw ducks from long distance. Instead, you want decoys that'll catch their eye. Black decoys have a much greater color contrast than natural-colored decoys."

Nemecek continues, "I've talked to biologists who fly aerial waterfowl surveys, and they've told me the first thing they notice when they see ducks on the water is their black profiles. So my early-season spread will include a third to one-half black duck decoys, and by the later season I'll increase this number up to three-quarters black ducks. Then the next thing the biologists tell me they see is white, so I always set two to three pintail drakes in my spread.



"My typical early-season spread of 18 decoys includes seven to eight black ducks, three pintail drakes-and the rest mallards. In the later season, my spread of 36 decoys includes 24 black ducks, three pintails, and nine mallards."

Nemecek likes magnum-size decoys-not super magnums, and not standards. He explains, "I can carry more magnum decoys than super magnums. Also, I feel that in a marsh, numbers are more important than extra-large size." He rigs his decoys with Tanglefree lines and weights and keeps them in a mesh bag for transporting.

He allows the ducks to dictate where he sets his spread. "If I get to my chosen hole before shooting time, and I flush ducks off the water, I'll set my decoys where they got up. They were there for a reason. They may not always be on the upwind side of the hole, but I don't try to out-guess 'em. I just put the decoys where the ducks were." If he doesn't flush ducks, he sets his decoys at the spot that provides the best cover for hunting with the wind at his back.

He doesn't use standard patterns like a J-hook or U. "I believe these patterns become familiar to ducks that see them day after day. Instead, I set my stool in small family clusters with three to six decoys per cluster. Now the overall pattern may be a J or a U, but it's loose. The clusters don't run together to form long strings."

Nemecek sets his most natural looking decoys closest to where he's hiding. "I think when ducks get in close, detail can make a difference. I feel they come to the best, most realistic decoys, and I want these right in front of my blind. I always like to have a hen mallard closest to my calling location."

He also sets several motion decoys in this area. In the past, he has used three to four wobblers or feeding decoys, but now he uses a half-dozen H20 Magnets scattered throughout the close portion of his spread. These water shakers create a ripple on calm days that adds life to his spread.

Nemecek offers one other tip for hunting in marshes. "When I'm working ducks, I'll call 'em until it's time to shoot. I don't quit calling when they head in my direction. Now I may tone down the volume and change my cadence, but I still coax the ducks all the way to the water. I feel that too many hunters lose birds' attention when they quit calling."

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