What a week in hunting!

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Special to the News-Herald

What a week! It was so cold and miserable that only a few sportsmen ventured forth — and then there’s the duck hunters who are not known for having an excess of sense anyhow. But the weather may be freezing, but the duck hunters are in tall cotton, if they can get to the birds.

There’s a lot of ice on the water right now. On the tidal Rappahannock, above Port Royal, Chris Hicks tells me that the ice extends 20 feet out into the water. One morning late last week the entire river was crusted with ice at low tide, but it was pretty much gone when the tide came back in.


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There is some open water in the lower reaches of the Chickahominy Lake, but Jill O’Brien-Jones at Eagles Landing says the upper reaches of the lake are frozen over. Despite the ice hunters are busting through and are finding enough open water to enjoy great hunts. One party of three; Charles and Andy Wade of Mechanicsville and Kevin Clifford of Richmond bagged eleven ducks in one morning. They had two ringnecks, eight gadwalls and a wigeon. Mark Shornak of Hopewell had a pair of gadwalls. Other hunters had wood ducks, black ducks and a goose or two.

Down at West Neck Creek in Virginia Beach hunters collected a few woodies and mallards while up on the Rappahannock, Gordon Holloway at the Fall Line Orvis Shop in Fredericksburg said they did very well with ringnecks.

It appears that ringnecks and gadwalls are the most plentiful species in our area right now. With the marshes and swamps frozen, we should be seeing more birds on the open water, if you can get through the shore ice to reach the open water blinds.

A word of caution. You don’t need me to tell you that the water and the air are very cold — colder than we are used to. If you go overboard you are in deep, deep trouble. Considering the stuff duck hunters carry — dogs, decoys, guns and shells — many boats are overloaded. The best thing to do is to tow a second boat and distribute the load. By all means WEAR, don’t just carry, your life preserver. Bring a cell phone and don’t be ashamed to call for help if you need it. Be very, very careful during the pre-dawn runs to the blinds. There are big boats on the James River and they don’t have brakes. Be especially alert in fog. Actually, the birds won’t decoy well until the fog lifts and they can see your decoys. Better wait a bit and give the fog a chance to burn off.

If you read this column regularly you know that I have frequently complained that we had few ducks locally because of mild winters. Not this year. We are having pretty close to an old fashioned winter and the hunting is a bit better than it has been — at least that is what I have been hearing.


The striper fishing in Virginia’s ocean waters is about frozen out. Water temperatures are near 40 and falling and the stripers are expected to seek the warmth of deeper waters which is generally in the verboten waters beyond the three-mile limit.

The striped bass season has just opened in Albemarle Sound and there is still plenty of action in the ocean off of North Carolina. Boats running out of Oregon Inlet are doing very well and occasional stripers are being taken at Cape Point and at Hatteras Inlet. The jetty area at Buxton has had some pretty speckled trout lately along with some puppy drum and big sea mullet. Even a few shad were reported caught. The striper season in Albemarle Sound opened last week.

The Hot Ditch on the Elizabeth River in Virginia has been good for puppy drum and some trout and we hear that the warm water in the ditch at the Amoco Plant at the mouth of the York has also been good. Cut bait seems to be most popular, but grubs are also sometimes productive.

I did see where party boats running out of Point Pleasant Beach, NJ are catching lots of large Atlantic (Boston) mackerel. Perhaps we will see more than a few of these down here before the winter is over. It’s not all that far as the mackerel swims.

Nuthin’ Lower Than a Dog Thief

Any hunter who has a good hunting dog can appreciate the relationship that exists between a man and his dog. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be a hunting dog. Good men and good dogs establish bonds that this poor scribe can never hope to reduce to a few words on a piece of paper.

But the relationship is even greater when it’s a hunting dog. When you get a dog as a pup and you bring him along to become a fine hunter, tracker, retriever or whatever, you take as much pride in that dog’s achievements as you do in the achievements of your children.

The only mistake I have ever found in the Scheme of Life is that dogs aren’t allowed to live long enough. Several times in the life of a person, we have to go through the grief of seeing our dogs grow old and die. It’s even worse when a dog is accidentally hurt or killed and it is a most bitter pill to swallow when your dog is stolen. This is what Chris Hargrave is going through right now.

Chris is an avid hunter. He lives in rural Prince George County and he has recently lost a dear friend, his black and tan deer tracking dog, Ajax. Just before Christmas Ajax and two companions were seen just a few yards from Chris’s property. Somehow, Ajax never made it home. The other two dogs did, but not Ajax.

Ajax’s specialty is tracking and finding wounded game. The problem is Ajax is a friendly pooch, a big muscular black and tan with white paws and a white tip on his tail. The letters &uot;CH&uot; appear on his left flank.

Chris has put in many, many hours looking for his dog. He has searched through much of Southside Virginia- through Prince George, Sussex and Surry. He has contacted animal control officers and game wardens in all of these counties, and he is still looking. He asked me to get out the word. Chris misses his buddy who used to sit on the front seat of his truck with him.

Driving the back roads Hargrave has logged 3,000 miles of searching since Christmas. He still has faith that God’s Will and a good sportsman will bring Ajax home to him. If you see Ajax call Chris at 804-732-6310.


Fishing is slow, but a couple of catfish, 30 and 20 pounds, were weighed at the Castaway Sporting Goods in Dutch Gap. I have had some good reports of striped bass action at Smith Mountain Lake. A 24-pounder was weighed at Campers Paradise among several more. Bobby Fowler, who lives on the lake, puttering around with a trolling motor caught seven stripers in the six- to seven-pound range. He also had a couple of bass to four pounds.

A bass weighing just shy of seven pounds was caught at Lake Anna, but the bottom line on most waters is slow fishing. If you must fish, fish deep and fish slow and use large baits.