Few things are more uniquely American than the road trip. Typically it’s a summertime thing — beach run, weekend in the mountains, that kind of thing. Every fall and winter, anglers and hunters also flock to where the action is best. Anglers follow big rockfish along the Atlantic coast until they swim into the Chesapeake Bay. Waterfowlers make treks to duck nirvanas like Canada, Arkansas and Louisiana.
Recently, I accepted an invitation from my longtime hunting companion Kevin Colbeck to hunt bottomlands out west. I’d made the trip previously as his guest, and in the intervening years he’s become as familiar with the terrain as some of us are with Tolley’s Bar. (I mean the southern shoal off the Severn, not the tavern in Locust Point.)
Crossing the Missouri River near St. Louis at nearly 70 miles an hour, I reflected briefly on the arduous and dangerous journey undertaken by the Corps of Discovery Expedition. Led by Lewis and Clark, members of this first U.S. government sanctioned road trip snaked 8,000 miles up the Missouri and across the Continental Divide, ending up in present day Pacific northwest. That sparked an attempt to recall why I read Steinbeck’s, “Travels with Charlie: In Search of America.” Ah yes, requirement for a college course. I prefer his “The Log from the Sea of Cortez.”
My adventure wasn’t even remotely similar to those epics, the only comparable connection being that I went from one place to another. Still, if a road trip is a mini-expedition, and it is so I approach it as such, then it also requires planning, navigation and provisioning. These days reliable routes are easily mapped by GPS, though take care your satellite companion doesn’t lead you onto the path less traveled, especially if you’re not up for wandering. Also integral to any successful road trip is music. Again, technology can satisfy that, but I still bring CDs. (Young bucks, look that one up.) To break up the mind-numbness inevitably caused by traversing interstates, I recommend tuning into the local radio once in a while. Be forewarned, however: There are a some really bizarre concepts wafting through the airwaves.
Anyone who doesn’t think seriously about snacks is clearly an amateur roadie. A heretic, even. Some travelers regularly stop to eat when they refuel, while others push the limits of fuel range while foraging on snacks from home. I’m in the second camp, and take great care in this regard. It is a veritable cornucopia of crackers, chips, cookies, nuts, jerky, nature bars, the works.
After 18 hours in the truck I was out of snacks, fueled solely by black coffee and adrenaline, the latter hi-octane. Hours lay ahead before daybreak, and the prairie air was crisp and dry. I dropped my bag at the hotel room, and met Colbeck for our first hunt. I was in mallard country, where the greenhead is king, and success is measured by four-bird limits. I was happy to shoot teal, spoonbills, and even gadwall.
Once the rig was set, the birds flew. It took a few tolls to get my rhythm, while Colbeck shot lights right out of the gate, as he did throughout most of the entire four-day hunt. He displayed Kershaw-esque accuracy, painting the birds’ breast plate with lethal pellets. On one toll he downed three teal with a single shot. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I too would be skeptical.
Day Two brought similar success. Highlights included a four-drake mallard for Colbeck, going four-for-four, and a mixed bag of hens and drakes for me, though I wasn’t as proficient. What really stood out, and not is a good way since it shall forever remain entrenched in my Hall of Fame of blunders, was whiffing on a pintail at eight yards hovering over the spinner decoy. In fact it was worse than a pure miss. Think Ernest Byner’s goal line fumble 30 years ago. I bet there’s not a week goes by when that haunting memory doesn’t interrupt his day. So we have that in common.
Prior to the third hunt, we joined local sharpies at breakfast singing about how it was going to be an epic hunt. The wind was right, ice covered the ponds, and it was brutally cold further up the flyway. All of pieces were there. Game on. Except nobody told the birds this; they evidently had other plans. We never popped a cap.
Afterward, while milling around the ramp everyone choked down their chunk of bitter crow. Not even the hardiest of the hardcore locals scored, and none could conjure up a sufficiently logical explanation as to why the ducks sat on the refuge all day. Skunks are part of fishing and hunting, and this was ours. Some folks whine about it ad nauseam, as if that’ll change the outcome. Not me. It can’t always be oysters and bacon. The occasional goose egg keeps me grounded and humble, reminding me wild animals do what they want, when they want.
If you believe in such mystical things as Duck Gods then they did indeed save the best for last. On our fourth and final hunt, we got the spot we wanted, and weather conditions were exceptional, though hunters crowded the grounds. I wondered if the ducks would pull another “No Show Jones” routine as they’d done the day before. I was clueless as to what to expect, as it should be. If you already know the outcome, then where’s the game?
It wasn’t long before we had our answer. Birds tolled into the decoy spread as if lead on a string, enamored by Colbeck’s feint of plastic replicas. Some came so close you could’ve scratched their bellies with the gun barrel. I was fortunate to score another double on a hen and drake mallard.
With each of us one shy of a limit, Colbeck set the plan. “OK, if a single comes in, you take it. If a double comes, I’ll shoot first and you take the second,” he offered. He literally hadn’t stop talking for a minute when…cue music, roll tape! Two teal made their last mistake, as the echo of our dual report capped an outstanding ending to an exceptional road trip.
Jan. 3: Free State Fly Fishers meeting. 7:30 p.m.-9 p.m., Davidsonville Family Rec. Center, 3727 Queen Anne Bridge ROAD, Davidsonville.
Jan. 13: 9th annual MSSA Frederick Chapter Fishing Expo. Expert speakers and fishing vendors. Frederick Fairgrounds Building 9, Frederick.
Jan.25-28: Progressive Baltimore Boat Show. Free daily seminars to increase your knowledge and confidence. Baltimore Convention Center. Tickets and details at baltimoreboatshow.com.
Feb. 10: Tri-State Marine Fisherman’s Flea Market, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Free admission, $50 per table rental. Call Dawn Yoder to reserve table, (410) 867-2398.
Feb. 17-18: Pasadena Sportfishing Group's 26th annual Fishing Expo. 8 a.m.-2 p.m. both days. $5 each day, 12 & under free. Earleigh Heights Fire Hall, 161 Ritchie Highway, Severna Park.
Feb. 24: MSSA Annapolis Chapter’s annual Saltwater Fishing Expo. Held at Annapolis Elks Club, doors open at 8 a.m.
Feb. 24-25: Lefty Kreh’s Tie Fest. Admission $10 per day, $15 for both days. Anglers 16 and under and active military personnel admitted free. Lowes Annapolis Hotel, 126 West Street, Annapolis. Contact Tony Friedrich, (202) 744-5013.
March 10: The “Mid-Shore Fishing Seminar,” American Legion Post #18, 2619 Centreville Road (Rt. 213) Centreville 21617. Featured speakers include Capt. Mark Galasso, Capt. Jeff Lewatowski and Joe Bruce. Hosted by CD Outdoors and Tacklecove.com. More details at email@example.com.