Sep 10, 2014

Early-Season Goose Hunting Adventure

By: Chad Cason

My son, Sam, and I headed up the river again this weekend.  After hunting the same location the previous weekend, I wasn’t sure if any geese would still be using the spot, so we decided to bring our fishing gear along. I figured if there weren’t any geese, we should be able to catch some smallmouth bass that would make the arduous canoe trip worthwhile. I have paddled this little river many mornings in the pre-dawn darkness in pursuit of wood ducks and mallards, but for geese, I wait until the sun comes up before making the trip.  Geese are not early risers like ducks.  They don’t subscribe to the “early bird gets the worm” school of thought.  They prefer to lounge on the roost until the sun is above the horizon before heading out to the nearby picked crop fields to feed.  Our goal is to sneak in after they have left to feed and get set up before they return – usually 2-3 hours later.  Being able to start paddling in daylight allows us to take in the scenery along the river.  There is something unspeakably beautiful about this little river.  I know that Sam feels it too.  We paddle silently, soaking up the morning serenity.

Because it is a flatland stream, the river meanders fiercely through marsh and around islands of oak, ash and tag alder.  From a road bridge, the stream doesn’t look like much. With its banks hidden by overhanging reed canary grass, but paddle it for a while and you begin to realize that there is a tremendous volume of water moving along its channel.  The river is deep, muscular and sinuous, and it commands respect.  The strong current creates numerous deep undercut banks that smallmouth bass call home, and shifting sandbars upon which geese seek refuge.

The stream banks are lined with burreed, arrowhead, marsh milkweed and vibrant pink Joe-pye weed.  Last weekend we jumped a pair of whooping cranes at close range.  They were absolutely spectacular!  It was a sight that I never thought I would witness.

Sam and I stop at every sandbar and muddy bank to read the daily news – written in the form of animal tracks.  We find an abundance of sandhill crane tracks, raccoon, muskrat and one enormous beaver and also the tracks of one human hunter and his dog.  They appear to have been made within the last 24 hours – not a good sign.  We grow increasingly discouraged at the lack of goose tracks.  We check every bar, but there is just no sign of geese.  After an hour of paddling, and just when we are about to turn back, we find a few goose tracks at the very tip of a sandbar.

There are so few tracks that I am giving serious thought to breaking out the fishing gear, but after a quick discussion with Sam, we decide to set up our decoys for geese.  After all, we did go to the trouble of hauling all the gear this far upriver.  Maybe we would get lucky and a couple of geese would show up, we told ourselves.

No sooner had we set out our decoys and made ourselves a quick blind among the tussock sedges than a lone goose shows up.  I pluck him out of the air with a single shot before he has time to evaluate our decoy spread.  The bird splashes into the stream and our lab, Daisy, launches herself after him.  The bird is huge - a resident Giant Canada goose.   Sam hadn’t even loaded his gun yet.

We are thinking this lone goose was the owner of the few tracks left on our sandbar, and that this was going to be the extent of our goose hunt.  But before we can get too discouraged, we hear some honking in the distance.  I try to blow some life into my goose call and the birds turn and cup their wings.  We both pull up and shoot, dropping three out of the air.  Four geese already!  I am ecstatic.  However, we then proceed to spend the next couple of hours scanning the horizon, but fail to see any more geese.  We are just beginning to pack up our gear when we hear some distant honking.  We quickly hunker back down in our blind.  A flock of about a dozen geese fly over our decoys.  We hold off shooting, because it looks like they are going to circle and land; instead they land on the next sandbar upstream.  There is not enough cover for us to sneak up on them, so we decide to just sit and wait.  After about 45 minutes we hear some more honking and see a pair of Canadas heading our direction.  It appears that they prefer the flock of live birds to our decoys, but we don’t let them get there.  We now have six geese on the ground!  What an excellent morning of hunting, but by early afternoon we are tired, hungry and thirsty, so we decide to pack up.  But first we must fish!

Because the temperature has climbed to 85 degrees, we strip off our waders and wade barefoot around the sandbar.  We cast crayfish-colored tube jugs to likely fish-holding spots.  We each catch a few little bass, then I hook into something with some size.  The fish is a bulldog of a bass and knows how to use the current to its advantage.  Even with 14 lb. test line and a medium action rod, it is a battle to extract the fish from his undercut lair.  The fish is a robust, bronze-sided, 16 ½ inch smallmouth bass.  Even though this is a pretty decent bass by most standards, I am perpetually amazed at how I expect to see a much bigger fish on the end of my line due to the tremendous battle these fish put up.  In all, we catch 16 smallmouth bass and four largemouth bass by the time we reach the road bridge where the truck awaits.  The bass aren’t real big – probably averaging about a pound, but the hard-fighting fish are a blast to catch.

The six geese in the bottom of the canoe add a significant amount of weight, and make dragging the canoe back over and around the numerous deadfalls that we negotiated on the way up all the more challenging.  But hey, six geese and some fantastic bass fishing make it all worthwhile.  It was a red-letter day, indeed!