Chesapeake Bay's Independent Newspaper ~ Since 1993
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Volume XVII, Issue 52 ~ December 24 - December 30, 2009

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Fish are Biting

But so is the weather. Deep snow and bitter cold have curtailed most fishing on the Bay, but it will undoubtedly be clear and warmer within the next week or so. When it does, pickerel and white perch should provide sport and sustenance for those braving the elements.

In Season

The weather has also made the hunting difficult, but those braving the thigh-deep snows are limiting out on geese in short order with countless flocks of the birds moving over the countryside looking for food in the freezing temperatures. The snow has also made deer tracking easier for bow hunters and those shooting muzzleloaders, but getting any animals bagged out of the field can present its own challenge. Four-wheeler ATVs and toboggans are at a distinct advantage in these conditions. Goose, duck, deer and small game remain in season at least through January.

Hundreds of Geese A-Honking

In the early winter cold, airborne shows and early limits

There were over a hundred of the big, powerful, Canada geese. Cupping their wings, they sailed around and behind our half-pit. The birds had approached near enough that, though they had passed out of our sight, the whistling of their six-foot wingspreads was clearly audible. Our hands reached out to touch the stocks of our shotguns.

Then the large flock of graceful birds banked back into view, low out front, slipping across and into the wind, toward our decoys. We could see them clearly now through the screen of grass that brushed out the front of our hide. The cacophony of the honks, clucks and throaty cackles as they made their final approach magnified their already substantial numbers.

“Darn it boys,” our friend and host Henry Stinton whispered between clucks on his goose flute. “I hate to do this, but we’ve got to let these guys go. There’s just too many of them. Educating this many birds just isn’t a good idea so early in the season.”

Buddy, Kevin Sullivan, and I didn’t mind. It was the third big flock of Canada geese tolling into us that morning that we were passing up, and by this time we were just enjoying the attention.

We three had already grassed a number of birds out of smaller groups that had decoyed earlier, and it was obvious that we were going to get ample opportunities to finish out our limits.

I was trying to get a photo or two of the close overhead air traffic, when some of the nearer birds realized something was amiss. Calling out in urgent alarm, they began to climb in frantic exits. That action brought a panic-level mix to the scenario, while the back end of the flock blithely continued to arrive.

Confused geese twisted and turned and complained loudly as numerous mid-air collisions were narrowly avoided. After a long minute of noisy, skyborne bedlam, the air finally cleared of birds. A calm quiet reclaimed the winter landscape, and we took stock of what had become a particularly successful day.

The True Wealth of the Eastern Shore

Having hunted the Canada goose on and off for over 30 years I know you get few hunts, anywhere, like the one we were enjoying. The land around us made the experience even more interesting. We were on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, just outside of the small town of McDaniel.

Specifically, we were shooting on the original McDaniel farm, where the family that founded the nearby community first put down its roots. A tiny cemetery on the farm has a number of weathered headstones, most too worn by wind and time to be legible. Later in the day when I got further opportunity to examine them, I read one dated 1653.

The farm had passed on to the Lothrop family sometime in the 1960s, and the well-maintained grounds comprising over 300 acres on the Chesapeake Bay is still as beautiful as when the land was first cultivated some 350 years ago. Orchards of chestnuts, apples and other fruits cover the areas around the renovated and expanded manor house. Tall pines border the Bay, and fields of soybean and corn stretch out across the low-lying Eastern Shore landscape.

Our friend Henry has maintained the landscaping and orchards for Eben Lothrop for over 20 years and has also enjoyed the privilege of hunting the game- and waterfowl-rich farmland and Bayfront property. He was sharing this treasure with Kevin and me, and we were having a fantastic time.

Born and raised on the Shore, Henry said that some of the people he grew up with were leaving the rural areas for cities to pursue better incomes. He said that for himself and his family, that would be a great mistake.

“My friends don’t seem to realize that the true wealth of the Eastern Shore is in the ducks and the geese, the rockfish and crabs and the wildness and the colonial heritage that can only be found here in the country.”

DNR Notes

Maryland Department of Natural Resources Boating Services is considering an initiative next season to focus on excessive wakes and behavior that endanger other boaters as well as causing needless shoreline erosion. I heartily agree with this effort, having experienced and witnessed thoughtless actions like that all too often on the Chesapeake.

Maryland law requires that anyone born after July 1, 1972, must have completed a boating safety class and have a Certificate of Boating Safety Education on board while operating any powered watercraft (first offense $25; subsequent offenses up to $500). However, it is also my experience that the law is rarely enforced with anything other than a warning, and few boaters are even aware of the requirement. Perhaps it is time to finally publicize and enforce this law. Call Bob Gaudette, Director of Boating Services, at 410-260-8462 to voice your opinion.

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