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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Diver Quest

A layout-gunning adventure for diving ducks in southern Ontario
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On the Road Again

After two days of gunning bluebills and dabblers on Lake Erie, my hosts decide that for a change of pace, we should hunt nearby Lake St. Clair, where we would have a better chance of taking canvasbacks. The bag limit on canvasbacks in southern Ontario is a generous four birds a day. One of Rongers’ customers, Jack Newman, has reported good numbers of canvasbacks on the famed St. Clair Flats and has offered to guide us there the next morning. 

“One of the biggest perks of running this tiny company of ours is that we get invitations to hunt all over the country with some remarkable people,” Rongers says, as we tow The Bill Collector and two layout boats toward Lake St. Clair well before dawn. “We’ve made some great friends and have had some amazing hunts in places that we never could have hunted any other way.”

We meet Newman for an early breakfast in the community of Mitchell’s Bay on the northeast shore of the lake. He has hunted ducks in southern Ontario since the early 1950s and has gunned Lake St. Clair for more than three decades. While now well past retirement age, he still hunts almost every day of the duck season in good weather and bad. We follow him to a nearby public ramp where we launch the boats, and soon we’re motoring through “the cuts” toward the open waters of St. Clair Flats.

At daybreak, we set our decoy rig in a pass between two large stands of bulrushes that form a natural bottleneck for trading diving ducks. Standing in waist-deep water on the windswept flats, we have a much easier time deploying the decoys than during our previous deep-water hunts on Lake Erie. Reder and I will once again shoot first, this time from one-man layout boats spaced about 15 yards apart on the upwind edge of the decoys. Newman, Rongers, and Bires wait just around the bend in the tender to help retrieve downed birds.

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