Fly fishing

Wrong turns keep hunters away from ducks

Success exists in shades of gray.

My expectations of success were mixed on Friday when Roland’s Bob Snider and I met for a duck hunt in the Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area. It was 5:20 a.m., and we were much more excited than two men should be at such an early hour.

The ducks have finally arrived in Arkansas over the past two weeks and they’re concentrating heavily in the flooded woods. The hunt was very good in Bayou Meto, so Snider and I decided to catch him for a morning at his best.

Snider, a prominent artist well known for his impressionistic depictions of horse racing, fly fishing and duck hunting scenes, is an aficionado of major newspapers, folk music and classic rock, and he is also a lover of beautiful guitars.

“Philip Martin recently wrote a column about his guitar collection, and it sparked a lifelong desire in me,” Snider said. “I have good guitars, but I always wanted a really good guitar, so I went and bought one.”

The morning started with a mandatory toaster for sausages, eggs and cheese and coffee at McSwains Sporting Goods. Virtually all duck hunters in central Arkansas stop at McSwains en route to Bayou Meto and the Golden Triangle private duck clubs between Humnoke, Humphrey and Stuttgart. It is the most reliable source of duck hunting scuttlebutt in the area.

The next move was a false move, specifically a wrong turn at Wabbaseka. A brown sign on the freeway directs you on the train tracks to the WMA, but like a siren it leads you into a void and strands you in a graveyard. There is no other clue to show the way.

“I’ve made that mistake a dozen times. You think I’ll learn,” I growled. “We are supposed to shoot in Altheimer, but I know their dirty tricks! I know a way back!

A few minutes later we arrived at the Long Bell Access. A good number of vehicles were present, but not as many as I expected given the excellent duck hunting lately.

The sun was already well up, but I had planned a late arrival. I like to go to Bayou Meto after other hunters are in the woods. I listen to the shooting and I go elsewhere. This usually works for me, but hey, more on that later.

I wanted to go southwest into the woods, but it looked dry. I reported a hunter leaving the WMA.

“How far do you have to go back there before you hit the water?” I asked.

“About 150 yards,” the hunter said, “but I recommend going the other way.”

“Lots of people there,” I said, noting the barrage of gunfire in the distance.

“Not as much as you think, and they’ve all come back. You can stop and call a few birds.”

It’s never a good idea to disregard advice from someone who knows what they’re talking about, but sometimes I get stubborn that way. My compass pointed to the southwest.

We actually hit the water within 150 yards, but it was only ankle deep, and the distance didn’t make it any deeper.

“Looks like a pretty good little hole here,” Snider said, reporting that he’d walked as far as he wanted.

A few ducks flew low from time to time. I turned them but couldn’t land them. After a drake turned away, I suspected I was too close to the hole. I retreated about 20 yards and then watched disdainfully as the drake flitted through the trees and into the hole, protected from gunfire by limbs. When I turned around, the drake came out of the hole, and it was the last good chance we had.

After about an hour, Snider said, “I think we all killed those.” In other words, he was ready to go.

“I haven’t done my due diligence to know in advance how much water there is here,” I said. “It’s a party fault. I apologize.”

“I’ve been on this hunt many, many times,” Snider said with a laugh. “The main reason I wanted to come was to rediscover what duck woods look like in winter. I wanted to reprint the exact shade of gray, but I had forgotten about the subtle shades of red and green. Those little details are So, I’m glad we came in. I didn’t want to clean ducks today anyway.