Got a redhead fetish? Then scratch your itch way, way out in Atchafalaya Bay.
Over the years, with each generation, there always seems to be a good-looking redheaded actress that captivates audiences everywhere. OK, perhaps male audiences, which may or may not be that difficult, but captivating nonetheless. There was screen legend and Academy Award winner Katharine Hepburn, who’s scintillating roles left film-goers spellbound. There’s X-files Gillian Anderson and Spice Girl Geri Halliwell. And, who can forget Kirsten Dunst of Spiderman fame?
All of these gals sport hair colors that range from auburn to deep red.
The funny thing about color is it’s what we guys are attracted to. We are visual beings, and tend to place all intellect on the shelf when faced with things that grab our eye’s attention. None of this “she’s got a great personality” stuff for us. It probably wasn’t a woman who first coined the term “greenhead” when referring to a mallard. Now there’s a complex name for you.
When Patterson resident and good friend Shane Wiggins called me in late January last year to make a diving-duck hunt out in the Atchafalaya Bay, specifically for redheads and canvasbacks, it was definitely the color that grabbed him.
Hopefully, his wife Tiffany didn’t misunderstand our conversation over the phone. The way we kept discussing redheads and their beauty, well let’s just say it could have been misconstrued, if not heard in the context we were discussing them.
“I just want to do something different,” he said.
“So where are these redheads?” I replied.
“Way out, where Jed and them go, past the management area. It’s about a three-mile run; we’ll take my little Pro-Drive and set up for when the tide comes in.”
“Jed and them” happened to be a couple of other duck-o-holics — Jed Inzerella of Lafayette and John Falterman of New Iberia — who frequent the Atchafalaya Delta WMA, and have enjoyed tremendous success over the years.
“What do I need to bring?” I said.
“Nothing, I got everything ready — decoys, gas, water. I got everything; I’ll pick you up at your house.”
I have to admit, initially I wasn’t exactly excited about taking a 17-foot flat-bottomed boat so far out in the Gulf where you could barely see the shoreline, and of all times, in the late afternoon, when the tide boils in and the wind picks up. I mean if Wiggins was so interested in redheads, certainly he could have hinted to Tiffany to try a Clairol product. But it was feathers and not hair my friend was fantasizing over.
Interestingly enough, Wiggins and I were fortunate that redheads and canvasbacks were within our reach out on the Delta.
According to Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist Robert Helm, the largest concentrations of these two species of waterfowl are somewhat localized.
“Redheads and canvasbacks are sort of site-specific,” he said. “Both deltas — the Mississippi River and the Atchafalaya — you have a chance of shooting cans and redheads.
“Our largest concentration has always been the Chandeleur Islands. Catahoula Lake in Central Louisiana is also another area, probably one of the best for shooting canvasbacks. We’ll have in excess of 50,000 canvasbacks on Catahoula Lake.
“Diving ducks tend to be later migrants, and as the season goes on, they’ll get more abundant. So Catahoula Lake and the two deltas will be the best places, if you want to go out and target those birds.”
Wiggins and I managed to take a couple of gorgeous redheads and one canvasback during our hunt. But I realized right away that I had a thing for redheads too.
Inzerella and Falterman hunt the Wax Lake side of the Atchafalaya Delta WMA. What’s more, Inzerella isn’t ever in a hurry when making the three- to four-mile trek out into Atchafalaya Bay at the outer edge of the WMA. There’s no 4:30 a.m. wake-up call. There’s no sealed-beam headlight probing every bank attempting to ensure he stays in the channel.
When we got together the day after Thanksgiving to do a diver hunt way out in the bay, Inzerella was in no hurry at all.
“Don’t worry about meeting me at the camp too early,” he said. “I’d hate to see you make that run in the dark. We’ll plan to leave after good daylight. We’ll see plenty of ducks, don’t worry.”
Inzerella utilizes a low-profile Go Devil floating blind that he tows out onto the WMA. Via the Calumet spillway, he’ll take the main channel to the outskirts of the management area, and anchor his boat in one of the smaller natural channels. Following a quick gear transfer, the blind, pushed by a 23-hp long-tail Go Devil motor, is moved several hundred more yards out into the Gulf to one of several sandbar locations he has learned that produce birds.
“This is a good area,” Inzerella said, while making last-minute concealment adjustments to the blind. “I don’t know the names of all of these flats, but this is the area where we traditionally find the birds. The feed starts in the flats behind us where we parked the boat. Out here, there aren’t a lot of people because they can’t get to it. There’s nobody in front of us, that’s for sure — unless there’s a crew boat out in Eugene Island.”
With the wind to our backs and the front of the blind facing south, I looked out into the expanse of the Atchafalaya Bay. I could see the rigs off in the distance, and immediately thought about speckled trout. Had we come that far from the bank? But I also could see rafts of ducks — perhaps thousands.
Rafts were what we needed to simulate with our decoy spread.
“I like to put out at least 10- to 12-dozen decoys,” Inzerella said. “That’s why I got them rigged up the way I do. In 10 minutes we’ll have them put out and picked back up when were done.”
Inzerella uses 5 to 6 feet of heavy plastic decoy line. He passes the line through a hole he drilled in the keel of each decoy. On one end of the line is a lead weight and the other end is a large loop that is too big to pass through the hole in the keel. All of the loops are placed in an aluminum C-clip and when picked up, a dozen at a time, are tied using a slipknot for easy redeployment.
“There are always rafts out here,” he said. “Sometimes they don’t fly, because the conditions aren’t right, but you always see big rafts. It’s a great place to hunt, but it’s conditional. The best conditions will have a 15-m.p.h. steady wind in ankle-deep water. I like a good, gusty breeze. The worst conditions are a low tide, hot weather and no wind.”
With the blind resting on a mud flat, I wondered how in the world we would kill a duck. All of the decoys were lying on their side, the tide was still falling and the birds that were flying seemed to be heading inland. Inzerella began calmly and confidently discussing divers.
“You hear a lot of reports from the crew-boat captains seeing 5,000 scaup rafted up way offshore,” he said. “When the water starts to come up, they’ll start moving in.”
It didn’t take me long to become a believer. As if on cue, the water began to rise, and it wasn’t long before we were shooting at flights of teal and widgeon. Though these weren’t the target birds we set out for, they were welcome additions to our bag.
“A lot of people think redheads and canvasbacks are by themselves in a certain area, but they are with all these other ducks,” Inzerella said. “We’re going to shoot teals. We’re going to shoot redheads. We’re going to shoot canvasbacks, and we’re going to shoot mallards.”
The trick was identifying the birds accurately. Inzerella is a master at it.
“Everyone knows teal and their crazy flight,” he said. “Redheads and canvasbacks are steady — straight as an arrow, even as you shoot them. They don’t flare like puddle ducks, and don’t veer off. Size-wise, canvasbacks are big. I mean, they’re big, and the males have a big, dark chest. Canvasbacks are also usually in big flocks. You’ll get them in ones or twos, but more times than not, you’ll see five, 10, 20, and they fly in a V, but the biggest thing is they fly straight.”
Over the course of two hours, we picked out our birds — staying off the teals that buzzed our spread throughout the late morning. Noticeably, as the water rose, the birds began to fly farther away from our blind.
“What happens is you’re only in the right conditions for a short time,” Inzerella said. “Once the water comes up, things change, and it’s hard to hunt when the water is deep.”
Helm explained the nuance further.
“Out in the open bay is simply a resting place — there is no feed out there for them,” he said. “They’re just resting and getting away from gun pressure. We’ll take a plane out over the open bay and sometimes see the canvasbacks rafted up by the thousands.
“So rough seas will often force diving ducks into the marshes. What you want is a windy day to hunt the Delta.”
Our only adjustment to the changing conditions was Inzerella deciding to cook up a few pancakes.
“A sure-fire way to get ducks to come into the blind is to mix up a batch of pancakes,” he said. “Pancakes hit the spot when you’re out here duck hunting.”
I wasn’t about to argue with him. Every call he made so far was right on the money. I decided to stand watch over the decoys rolling in the waves of the Gulf of Mexico that now surrounded us, and take in the aroma of “delta cakes” that rose up out of the blind.
The attraction of the Wax Delta to a variety of waterfowl, Helm says, is the delta duck potato and other plants they can root up right in the tidal zone (places exposed during low tide and flooded during high tide).
“I think the delta duck potato is the primary food source and other tubers down there really,” he said. “We’ll see canvasbacks and pintails feeding shoulder to shoulder, which is real unusual. Pintails are shallow-water feeders and canvasbacks are divers, but we’ll see out on the delta where that potato is most abundant, and they’re out there digging for that little plant.”
For many hunters across the country, redheads and canvasbacks are highly sought after.
“They are real trophy birds,” Helm said. “We have some guides up in the Catahoula Lake area — commercial guides — and they tell me they get quite a few bookings from out-of-state folks, particularly the Atlantic Coast, who come to Catahoula Lake just to shoot a canvasback.”
It wasn’t long after we finished our pancakes that we managed to finish up our limit of ducks that also included our limits of redheads.
Hunters should take notice that the limit on canvasbacks has been increased to two this season.
“Canvasbacks are a nice bird,” Helm said. “This is the only time that I can remember we have a bag limit of two canvasbacks. So if people ever want to shoot two canvasbacks, they’d better do that this year because that will be one of those unique opportunities.”
Inzerella mentioned that a lot of his friends’ spouses get mad at him sometimes for taking them duck hunting so much. I can understand why, if the overheard telephone conversation happened to be misunderstood.
After all, I’ve kind of taken a liking myself to “good-looking redheads and delta cakes.”
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