Venice is widely known as one of the most productive outdoors playgrounds in the United States, if not the world. And Capt. Chris Thomas, who runs River's End Outfitters out of Venice Marina, knows that reality first hand. When he's not taking clients on a fishing trip, he's spending time with friends in the marsh hunting ducks.

Thomas said he's been catching plenty specks in recent days, but the duck hunting hasn't been even close to what many expect from the tried and true wetlands surrounding the end of the Mississippi River.

And it's the latter part of that fact that has him upset.

"In Tiger Pass, Grand Pass, I'm just not seeing the birds," Thomas recently reported. "Down the river at Head of Passes, usually there are birds flying all over right now. I think I saw two batches of birds. Everybody (I talked with) is saying the same thing. It might have been the worst teal season ever down here. I'm not sure (the birds) even got here. North of Baptise Collette, I think we jumped four in the mudboat. We went over to Riverside Bay and I think we saw two. We had a few fronts that brought some birds and we had a cool September. I just don't know."

Thomas hasn't exactly been skunked on his trips into the marsh since the regular season opened Nov. 10. He killed a limit on two separate hunts, a harvest composed of greys and widgeon, as well as a few teal and pintail. But it's the large groups of birds that are missing to date that concern him.

"Usually there a couple thousand birds at Tiger or Grand Pass now," Thomas said. "This year, none, none."

Thomas has heard reports that areas west of Venice have seen more birds. He has his theories why he's seeing fewer birds in his general area.

"The grass is terrible," he said. "It's very spotty. It was awesome earlier this year. There was a lot of new sediment and things were growing where I've never seen them grow before. Then this summer, the river stayed low for so long, things got really salty and it all died. There were chunks of hydrilla and widgeon grass floating away. And then the hurricane came and finished it."

Thomas has hunted out of Venice long enough, however, to believe the season will remain the same for him.

"It ought to pick up," he said. "Something's got to happen. You hear a lot of geese flying around when you sit on the front porch of the camp. That last big front moved them in. But I'm not sure with the ducks. The river is really low. That may have something to do with it. Maybe they diverted."