“Lot’s of activity here,” Wagenfehr says, eyeing the abundant baitfish and numerous diving pelicans while securing the anchor rope to a stern cleat.
We begin wading again. Wagenfehr has switched to a soft-plastic bait and soon hooks an 18-inch speckled trout. He picks up another trout on the next cast, followed by a small redfish. On my first cast to the “sweet spot,” I also tie into a keeper trout. Many casts and several small fish later, I feel a thump, and there’s no mistaking the surge on the other end of my line. “I’ve got a nice redfish on,” I announce.
Redfish don’t jump. They run and pull drag. And pound for pound, they outpull any other fish in my book. This one isn’t that big, maybe 22 inches, but it’s a good representative of the local redfish population and well within the legal slot limit. I bring the fish to within reach, slip a hand under its belly, and thread it onto my wading stringer before unhooking it. We continue to catch trout and smaller reds until we have our fill. It’s been a full, satisfying day, and I’m fairly relieved to see my motel bed.
The following morning, DU Regional Vice President Bill Ansell hosts us on a second teal hunt. His property, the Buckeye Ranch, contains several intensively managed impoundments filled with smartweed and other desirable natural vegetation. Also joining the hunt is DU volunteer Alan Neighbors and his Lab, Shotgun Spot.
Ansell is from Galveston, and his home was one of only a few in the area spared from Ike’s wrath. He still has a lot of cleaning up to do, however, especially at his accounting business, which didn’t fare as well as his home. Still without power, Ansell will drive back to Galveston after our hunt to continue the cleanup.
Right at legal shooting time, a couple of hundred teal flit over the decoys, but with the birds’ silhouetted shapes barely visible in the dim light, we delay shooting. The delay is costly. We take only two birds before the teal flight ends as quickly as it began, and we’re left watching empty skies except for the occasional flock of white ibises. A black-bellied whistling duck is the last bird to decoy during the hunt.
“That’s a product of weekday hunting in Texas,” Soderquist says. “With no pressure to keep them stirred up, these teal find a place to sit and just stay there.”
The following morning is the final Saturday of teal season. An hour before daylight, I meet Kevin Kriegel, a biologist and manager of the Guadalupe Delta Wildlife Management Area (WMA), at the WMA headquarters near Port Lavaca, Texas.
Kriegel is swatting vagrant mosquitoes and directing a few hunters to various spots on the WMA’s Mission Lake Unit. Mission Lake is open only on weekends during teal season. “Usually, there is a little larger crowd here than this,” Kriegel says. “But with the hurricane, gas at $3.50 a gallon, and a slow season up to this point, people aren’t focused on teal hunting. I’ve got to be honest with you; I haven’t been seeing many birds. But we’ll try it and see what happens.”
A heavy fog shrouds the landscape as Kriegel pulls a sled carrying two dozen decoys, mostly bluewings with a few black ducks mixed in. The latter decoys closely resemble resident mottled ducks and provide a little more visibility to the spread.
We set the decoys in a small impoundment. Occasional flocks of teal trade back and forth, but picking shots is difficult in the fog. This isn’t a barnburner, 10-minute teal shoot. Rather, we get chances at workable birds every 15 minutes or so—a pace I could get used to.
The sun finally burns off some of the fog, giving us slightly more time to acquire our targets. One large flock of bluewings approaches directly in front of us and wastes no time circling. Kriegel knocks down three birds from the decoying flock, completing his four-bird limit with a triple. I add one more teal to our tally, and Kriegel’s retriever, Gunner, seems pleased with the retrieving work. Though it takes a few more shots than planned, I soon have my limit of teal as well.
“I’ve fished and hunted in a lot of nice places,” I tell Kriegel later as we’re cleaning our birds on the tailgate of a pickup. “But South Texas is one of my favorites. I’d consider moving here. You guys have a lot to do, and the country is beautiful.”
“We do,” he says. “And other than the occasional hurricane, the weather is pretty nice, too.”