by Tom Keer
Every 6 hours and 38 minutes, the Northeast oceans drop from high tide to low tide. After another 6 hours and 38 minutes pass, it'll be high tide again. What does that mean to a Northeast-ocean-oriented duck hunter? It means that your boat, blind and your decoys can go from sitting in 12 feet of water to high and dry. Working in synch with Mother Nature is important for a successful hunt, and picking your spots requires some homework.
Still, there are two routine issues that can frustrate any hunter's day regardless of diligent scouting, and they both typically happen when the tide goes from slack low to incoming. First, the water comes in. On a quarter moon, the tide will rise slowly and steadily, somewhere about a foot every half hour. On a full or new moon, the tide stays out a bit longer, and then comes in faster. During those tides you might see the water rise up to two and a half feet per hour. The second issue that happens when the tide turns is that the wind picks up. The wind always picks up speed when the tide turns. Sometimes the amount is subtle, as from 5 mph to 7 mph, and other times it is from 10 mph to 25 mph. It all depends on the weather.
As a result of the dramatic water and wind changes, ocean duck hunters can find themselves with a few common problems. First, when the tide rises and the wind increases in strength, their decoys can shift from shallow water into deeper water. Second, their boats can do the same. No hunter likes to swim for decoys or boats, particularly in the cold, so here are two tricks will help keep you hunting for ducks instead of your dekes.
- Rig one decoy weight with very long decoy line. I use a one-pound H anchor and will rig it with 20 feet of line.
- Choose a decoy that you can easily recognize as the go-to bird. It's critical to find the bird with the long line so that you can use it to retrieve your other stranded birds. So, when hunting black ducks in a saltwater estuary, I'll bring one bufflehead block that I use in the spread; and since it's different from the others I know it has a long line. Make certain that this decoy is always reachable when the tide comes up.
- Position and launch. Completely unfurl the line from the anchor. Wade as close to the deep-water bird as you can and pitch the H anchor across the stranded bird's bill. Pause for a moment or two to let the anchor settle across the decoy line of the stranded bird. Retrieve your rescued decoy hand-over-hand and repeat as necessary.
- Another common method is to rig a spinning rod with a snagging hook. While it is extremely efficient and makes long distance retrieves a breeze it results in packing additional gear.
- Ocean duck hunters don't always hunt out of their boats. Many times, we use our boats as transportation to a barrier beach, sand spit, rock pile, or break wall. Then, we'll climb ashore and hunt out of coffin or ground blind or hide in between the rocks of a break wall or an inshore island. With the incoming water and wind, it's common for our boats to change direction and get blown into deep, unreachable water. A second anchor mounted off the stern solves the problem.
- Eliminate guesswork by determining mean low tide levels. Scout your hunting spot at low tide to determine the best place to anchor your boat. Look for ocean holes which are recesses in the ocean floor, that offer deeper water for your boat while still being close to land. If the area isn't heavily trafficked, attach a buoy to an extra anchor or old scrap iron and mark the anchor spot for when you arrive the next morning.
- Set your primary anchor in the designated spot. If you've set an anchor and buoy, attach to your bow ring. If not, set your anchor. Use a length of anchor line two times the depth at high tide.
- Attach a second anchor line to the stern eye. Run your tag end through an eye snap swivel and tie an eye splice before you hunt. Clip the swivel to the stern eye. With your anchor line set, put your outboard in reverse to get you into shallow water to disembark. When you're clean, push the boat back into deeper water, and carry your stern anchor high up on the beach. When your hunt is over, and the tide is high, simply grab the stern line and pull the boat towards you.