By Wade Bourne
Anchors and line are the main ingredients in any decoy-rigging recipe. But hunters can use these components in almost endless combinations to suit their specific needs and preferences. To rig effectively, a hunter must consider type of line, style and weight of anchors, water depth, bottom content, exposure to wind and currents, and whether decoys will be picked up after each hunt or left out indefinitely.
After 45 years of waterfowl hunting in a wide range of settings, I have some definite rigging preferences based on simplicity and dependability.
For instance, I like to hunt freelance style and follow birds as they move around on their wintering grounds. I hunt backwaters during wet periods and large rivers and lakes when it's dry or when shallow waters are frozen. As a result, my decoy spreads must be portable—carried in mesh bags and gathered up at the end of each hunt.
I keep two separate spreads of 36 decoys bagged and ready to go: one rigged for shallow waters and another for deeper rivers and lakes. All are rigged straight-line; that is, each decoy has its own line and weight.
Shallow-water hunts typically occur in soft-bottom areas where there is little wind or current. Thus, I can get by rigging with shorter lines and lighter weights.
My shallow-water decoys are tied with 4-foot lines and 5-ounce lead strap weights. I use heavy tarred (black) nylon line (size 48 or 60), which is very strong and will not rot. I use slipknots to tie line to decoy keels and weights. (To keep the line from unraveling and to prevent the knot from slipping, tie a simple overhand knot in both ends of the line before tying the slipknots.) I wrap the line across the decoy's back, under the tail, and around the neck in a crisscross pattern, and then wrap the strap weight around the decoy's neck. I prefer this system because it's simple, and I can set out and pick up decoys in a hurry.
Though I stick with this old-school rigging system, I also like the newer combination of PVC line with a length of rubber tubing and an L-shaped lead anchor on the end. With this system, line is wrapped around the decoy's keel, and then the rubber section is stretched until the L-shaped weight can be hooked around the keel. This system is also very quick to use and eliminates wear on the decoy's paint.
When freelancing on rivers and lakes, I never know how deep the water will be where I want to set up, so anchor lines must be adjustable for depth. Again, I rig with heavy tarred nylon line, tying a 20-foot length to each decoy's keel and then attaching a 12-ounce neck-ring anchor. I wrap the line around the keel and drop the anchor around the decoy's head for transport.
When I pick a hunting spot, I check the water depth and then unwind line from the keel until I have about two feet more line than the water depth. (I unwind even more line if the wind or current is strong.) Then I twist the line to form a loop, hang the loop over the front of the decoy's keel, and pull the line snug, taking out any slack around the keel. Now I'm ready to set the decoy.
The flat neck-ring anchor usually holds fast even on hard bottoms and in high wind or current. But if a decoy starts dragging, I let out extra line for a more exaggerated angle of pull. With this rigging system, I can hunt in up to 15 feet of water in heavy waves or current.
Over the years, I've set many large permanent decoy spreads around floating blinds on open water. In this situation, I like to use salvaged electrical wire for lines (won't fray) and concrete poured into large milkshake cups for weights. I set eyebolts into the freshly poured concrete for line ties. These concrete anchors dig into the mud when strong wind threatens to drag the decoys.
Many hunters prefer using swivels, crimps, and other hardware to rig decoys. Some tie decoys onto trotlines. I've tried spring-loaded reels epoxied to the bottom of my decoys for pulling out varied lengths of thin steel cable. The cable rewinds automatically with a quick shake of the decoy. I like the idea, but the reels I've tested proved unreliable, especially after extended use.
So I've gone back to my old standby system: heavy tarred nylon line, strap and neck-ring anchors, and slipknots. It's not fancy, but it gets the job done.