This time last year, we were in the midst of a drought that seemed to be unending. Week after week, we watched our lake levels drop steadily. The outlook for ground nesting birds such as wild turkey and quail seemed bleak. Moisture is important for a good hatch and possibly even more necessary for the survival of young birds. Last year, there was very little ground cover in many areas to conceal newly hatched birds. Our stock ponds which often serve as private fishing hotspots were drying up. What a difference a couple of months make!
Regular readers of this spot might remember a couple weeks ago when I met with my friend, fisheries biologists Bob Lusk to discuss stocking some gravel pits that I and several other guys have leased for over a decade for fishing. When Lusk came out to survey things, the deeper ponds were holding several feet of water but we were wondering about water levels during late summer. Would there be enough water in late August to sustain a late spring stocking of catfish, bream and baitfish?
Well, since Lusk and I met two weeks ago, the series of ponds have risen an additional 3 feet in elevation which flooded the more shallow flats or channels that connect them. I recently used my 12 foot Nucanoe which is a small shallow draft craft about half boat and half canoe, and paddled back into the more remote ponds that havenít seen water in over three years.
I remembered the serpentine route to the back ponds very well, I have paddled back there hundreds of time in past years while fishing and hunting ducks but things looked entirely different of this recent trip. Stands of two or three year old willows were growing in places that used to be barren, open water. A couple of times, because of the changed landscape, I lost my bearing and had to paddle around until I found a familiar landmark but I managed to get to the more remote pond through the connecting channels. I even paddled up into a feeder creek that was brimming full of water. Last summer it was dry as a bone! Eight or ten years ago, I buddy and I constructed a duck blind on a little island on the edge of the back pond.
For the past several years, this island and the surrounding area has been high and dry. I went back there a couple of years ago through a heavy growth of weeds and the old blind setting on what used to be an island was a sad sight indeed. I remember standing there reminiscing about all the great duck hunting we enjoyed at this spot a decade ago. A discarded old mallard decoy was laying on the parched ground, and I thought about that winter eight or ten years ago when we enjoyed some fast paced shooting there on a big flock of ring neck ducks that moved in on the wings of a blue northern. After a bit of searching, I found my old blind on this recent paddling adventure. The two by twelve seat which we fastened to some four by four post in the ground looked solid as the day we built it. A bit of work with a machete this coming August and the blind will be as good as new.
As I paddled out of the back of the lease, I felt totally rejuvenated. I was making plans for fall and winter duck hunts with each stroke of the paddle. I even found a new location, on the edge of some new growth willows that would be ideal for a new duck blind. With the blind backed into the willows, facing north it would be an ideal spot to shoot ducks this winter approaching from the rear with cupped wings, gliding toward my decoy spread with a stiff north wind in their face!
As I glided along, the willow limbs occasionally brushing the side of my boat, I began to contemplative the upcoming fish stocking that Lusk had planned. Back only a couple weeks ago, he surveyed only one body of water, the larger, deeper lower pond. Now the entire system of ponds was connected with water. We were thinking about only stocking catfish and bream but now, with water levels at or above where they were before the drought, I am anxious ask him about stocking bass as well. He committed that with a little more water, our ponds would be just right to reintroduce bass!
Back post drought, we enjoyed some awesome bass fishing here. I remember one morning in particular my son and law and I used top water plugs to boat 21 bass in an hours fishing, most in the 2.5 pound range but several 3 to 4 pounders mixed in. We also had a healthy population of crappie as well. Lusk shuns stocking crappie in small impoundments but this series of ponds might be an exception. From the end of the deepest pond, by water to the far end of the back pond is a good quarter mile in distance, possibly a little farther.
Yes, as the old saying goes, it takes a flood to break a drought. Our ponds and lakes are now chock full of water and as Iím wrapping up this week's column for you, itís pouring down rain outside. This fresh water will do much to replenish the dwindling aquifers in the central and western portions of the state as well.