Last Sunday after a week in the woods staring down trees in the pursuit of deer we went on one last duck hunt. To end our duck season we decided we needed to try something different. After chasing puddle ducks all season we decided a Lake Michigan diver/sea duck hunt was in order. Over the years we've hunted on Lake Michigan from time to time, but never in a layout boat. Layout hunting for divers on the big pond always seemed like it would be an awesome experience, but make no mistake it is very gear, labor (and cost) intensive! If you want to give this a try or if you only plan on going a few times a year, then a guide is the way to go.
Our plan was to go after Old Squaw on the big lake with a Green Bay duck hunt as a back up if the waves weren't going to cooperate. After researching guides we decided to go with Captain Ryan Engel, the owner and operator of Coastal Wisconsin Outfitters. Ryan has been hunting the big lake since the 1990's and has the know how along with all the gear for a fun and safe big water duck hunt. Just as important is the fact that Ryan runs hunts nearly everyday of the season and has the ducks dialed in under all conditions. This knowledge would come in handy since last Sunday's 20+mph winds made a deep water Old Squaw hunt impossible, so it was on to Green Bay. We met Ryan at the dock at 5AM and motored out to our spot. Once there was enough light on the horizon we started setting lines of Bluebill, Canvasback and Bufflehead decoys.
With the decoys set and the layout boat secured in the spread, I climbed in as I was the lucky first hunter of the morning. Once set the tender boat cruised about a 1/3 of a mile away to wait and watch. I was armed with my shotgun and a ship to shore radio to call in the tender to pick up downed ducks. Well, I didn't have to wait long! Within minutes a pair of Goldeneyes locked in on the decoys. As the pair set in the decoys I sat up and promptly missed my first shot, but he didn't escape my second. Before I could call in the tender a lone Red Head decided to make our spread her final resting place.
With two birds down I called back to Ryan on the tender and within seconds they were on the way fetch the downed ducks. This scene played out all morning long. Once I was able to get my limit of six, my Dad and I switched spots with him taking his turn in the layout. By the time my brother climbed in the layout the seas were building. Thankfully, The Mighty Layout boat we were using was amazingly seaworthy in the chop. By 10:30AM we had a three man limit of beautiful diver ducks consisting of Canvasback, Goldeneye, Greater/Lesser Scaup and Redhead!
None of us could have asked for a better trip. If you want to give this type of duck hunting a try I highly recommend learning the ropes from an experienced guide. Ryan Engel from Coastal Wisconsin Outfitters did a supurb job getting us on birds and he comes highly recommended! We can't wait for next year, hopefully the waves cooperate enough to get out for an Old Squaw hunt, but with a diver hunt like we had as a backup plan it really doesn't matter!!!