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Texas Sportsman
East Texas Big-Water Ducks
The major reservoirs in this region can draw ducks in a big way, and you can cash in on that attraction by following this expert advice.

Kyle Rowe took this pair of mallards from a decoy spread on a wide flat at the upper end of a big East Texas reservoir.
Photo by Robert Sloan

The open water of the big East Texas lake was full of flooded timber, lots of logs and tons of aquatic vegetation -- all of it attracting ducks like a magnet draws iron.

Jim Copeland and I were easing out into the middle of the lake, where big ducks like gadwalls and widgeon like to work. We were in Jim's 14-foot Skeeter bass boat, which was rigged up for open-water hunts. At the time -- several years ago -- it was a new rig. It had the pointed bow, and the swivel seats had been removed for the duck season. With two hunters, two bags of decoys, and assorted other gear, it was loaded. But that boat made a great blind for the type of hunting Jim liked to do.

Once we were in the right area, the decoys were tossed out. We used long sheets of burlap to cover the boat. For a low profile on the open water, we sat back to back in the bottom of the boat. It was one of the best ways to hunt from a boat that I've ever experienced. The combination of Jim's calling and a well-camouflaged boat made for plenty of great hunts. Typically, those hunts resulted in limits of gadwalls, a few widgeon, and the occasional mallard.

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Hunting from a boat is still one of my favorite ways to hunt ducks at the big East Texas lakes like Rayburn, Toledo Bend and Richland-Chambers. That threesome of lakes will tend to draw lots of ducks throughout the season. But being a successful waterfowler at those lakes is not always as easy as you might think.

Kyle Rowe and Denny Copeland have figured out how to make it worth their while: They hunt out of an 18-foot War Eagle boat that's made to handle big water. "It's perfect for our type of hunting," said Copeland. "It'll carry lots of gear like decoys, camouflage, guns, dogs and up to three hunters. The main thing is that it's big enough to cross open water safely. And it's dry."

Copeland and Rowe don't always go to the same lake to hunt. They wisely move around from one lake to another depending on where the ducks prefer to be. If they're having slow hunts on a lake that previously held plenty of birds, they scout other nearby lakes.

"Scouting is the No. 1 thing that keeps us on birds," said Rowe. "We don't mind trailering our boat from one lake to another. That's where a lot of hunters mess up. If you limit your hunts to one particular lake, you're setting yourself up for some very slow hunts. Birds move around from one lake to another; good hunters will stay with them."

An apt example of what Rowe was talking about occurred one day when we set up on a big East Texas lake that had been holding big numbers of mallards and pintails. We'd made a Friday hunt that delivered easy limits of mallards capped off with a pair of bull sprigs. We went back on Saturday and had a slow hunt. After picking up the decoys, we made a run up to the north end of the lake and found birds rafted up in the back of a big cove. We set up in that cove the next morning. As expected, those mallards and pintails came into that particular cove, and were totally surprised.

One thing that's sure to move birds around on a big lake is shooting pressure. And that can be a problem on some of the more popular East Texas duck-hunting lakes.

On one particular hunt with Copeland and Rowe at Richland-Chambers Lake, we discovered a huge buildup of birds on a wide-open flat that we'd found one afternoon while scouting. We got there well before daylight the next morning and set up a spread of seven dozen decoys.

We were putting the finishing touches on the boat blind when two boats rounded the bend and headed our way. We waved them off, but to our dismay they went past our spread and set up 100 yards downwind.

As the birds began filtering in, those guys would blow something akin to a Halloween whistle and then sky-blast at anything wearing feathers. That type of pressure will move both ducks and hunters out of an area.

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