By Will Brantley
There are places in the southern Mississippi Flyway where ducks are thick, competition is intense, and hunters are hardened. Tennessee’s Reelfoot Lake and Arkansas’ Bayou Meto come to mind, as does central Louisiana’s Catahoula Lake. It takes tough hunters to stick with these places season after season, but those who do usually enjoy top-notch waterfowling. Most would be hard pressed to hunt anywhere else.
My first taste of Catahoula Lake’s famed duck hunting comes during a two-day hunt in mid-December. I meet my hosts, veteran waterfowl guide Greg Andrus and fellow DU staff members Jimmy Emfinger and Jerry Holden, before dawn at a public boat ramp on the lake. I couldn’t have picked a better group to introduce me to Catahoula’s unique brand of waterfowling. Emfinger is director of land protection at DU’s Southern Regional Office, and Holden serves as director of conservation programs for DU in Louisiana. Andrus has guided duck hunters on the lake for 34 years and hunts almost every day of the duck season.
I’m pumped about the prospect of bagging my first canvasback. The lake’s shallow, seasonally flooded flats are rich in chufa tubers, a favorite canvasback food that attracts thousands of the birds to this 25,000-acre wetland during the winter.
Reaching Andrus’s open-water blind—located in a proven area for canvasbacks—requires a lengthy ride in a johnboat powered by a mud motor. As we traverse the shallow water and flooded willows en route to the blind, several thousand ducks of various species take flight against a graying sky, while flocks of poule d’eau (coots) scramble to get out of our way.
Like many others on the lake, Andrus’s hide is a simple stake blind brushed with pine branches. It has no floor and is designed to conceal the boat; hunters remain in the boat once inside the blind.
“There are roughly 800 blinds on the lake, and most are covered with pine brush,” Andrus says. “A blind will stick out if you use a different kind of brush, like palmetto fronds. There are so many blinds and so much pine brush out here, you’ve got to look like the other blinds to blend in.”
With no wind and the temperature in the mid-50s, the morning starts slowly. We hear little shooting from other blinds and see few ducks in the air. But by midmorning, a brisk wind rises from the southwest. As Andrus’s mixed spread of several hundred decoys and painted 2-liter soda bottles begins bouncing and bobbing in the breeze, ducks start flying, and shots begin popping around us.