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Go With the Flow for River Duck Hunting

Small creeks and little rivers are magnets for ducks, but setting a decoy spread in moving water can be a challenge. Here's how to do it.

Go With the Flow for River Duck Hunting

The laws of physics dictate how water flows in small creeks and where sediment deposits. Both are critical considerations when placing decoys. (Shutterstock image)

While the still waters of lakes and ponds are cinches for setting decoys for duck hunting, the moving waters of creeks and small rivers require greater forethought and effort. It takes years of experience to sort out the many moods of a single flowing waterway under normal, drought and flood conditions.

While experience is the best teacher in waterfowl hunting, we’ve done some preliminary scouting for you. The following tactics will give you a jumpstart on deciding how, why and where to set up your moving-water spread.


SETTING UP

Creek edges have lower current velocity than the middle of the stream due to turbulence created by water contacting the banks. Therefore, setting decoys along the bank instead of in the center means they are less likely to drift or partially submerge. Knowing how to read a river or creek bend also aids in setting up.

The outside of a bend has the highest velocity and deepest water, while the downstream, inside edge of a bend has the lowest velocity and shallowest water. The inside is also the best place for sediment to accumulate to form a bar—an excellent spot to beach a boat and toss up a temporary blind.

Ducks flying downstream round the curve and, surprised at the sudden appearance of decoys, fall right in. If they have too much time to look over decoys set in the center of a straight stretch, they may spot something amiss and decline the invitation.


DECOYS, SPECIES AND NUMBERS

Ducks fly creeks like humans drive highways. They do not need large decoy spreads to attract them because the waterway is the draw. Six to 18 decoys are enough to entice them into range.

A dozen mallards, a couple of black ducks and a few wood ducks is an adequate spread. However, species selection should be tailored to ducks seen. On some river hunts, I replace a few mallards with ringnecks, teal or Canada geese depending upon the seasonal flight.

River Duck Hunting
The author's homemade decoy float outperforms traditional decoy poles challenged by current and deep water. (Photo by Mike Marsh)

RIGGING, ANCHORS AND LINES

Water depth and current flow are the main considerations when it comes to rigging anchors and lines. A gentle flow today may become a rushing torrent tomorrow with increased velocity and water depth resulting from heavy rainfall or dam releases.

The rivers I hunt run as deep as 50 feet. Even the small creeks are 20-feet deep in places. Certain conditions, such as overhanging trees or another hunter beating me to a favorite bend can require setting up in a deep area. While an 8-ounce pyramid sinker and 6 feet of line may work in the slack water inside a bend, a pound of lead with 60 feet of line might be necessary to hold decoys in deep water and heavy current.

River decoys must have enough line for any water depth encountered, and the most convenient way to store excess is winding it around the keel. A commercial fishing longline clip attached to a heavier anchor is a fast method of increasing holding power.

Fast current can partially sink a decoy when the line is tied to the standard front keel hole, making it appear rather un-ducklike. Some decoys have a secondary hole for river rigging, but a hunter can drill additional holes in most decoys without compromising them until they find the best line-tying location that allows the decoy to surf naturally on the surface.




MORE MOTION

Keeled decoys scarcely sway because they align with the current. However, a tandem courtship rig, with the lead decoy (a hen) tied to the anchor line and a following decoy (a drake) tethered to the lead decoy, allows the drake to swing back and forth with some sympathetic side-to-side motion imparted to the hen.

Keelless decoys, which are best for this purpose, have been manufactured but can be difficult to find. However, a hunter can cut off a decoy’s keel, leaving just enough for tying the line.

Spinning-wing decoy poles are not compatible with creeks where the bottom is soft or rocky, the water is too deep or the current is too strong to adequately anchor the pole. Floats work better here.


I make floats by cutting off the bottom several inches of 55-gallon plastic barrels, adding layers of foam board and sealing them with aerosol foam. Square aluminum tubing with a clip pin secures the decoy to the float.

I have seen other hunters make floats from hollow plastic pump tank lids, foam board insulation bonded to aluminum, cooler tops and PVC piping frameworks. Decoy companies now make floating spinning-wing decoys as well as spinning-wing decoy floats.

DEKES FOR MOVING WATER

Try these fakes to simplify your stream or river setup.

River Duck Hunting
MOJO Elite Series Floater (top), Banded Products Spinning Wing Decoy Buoy (right), Avian-X Topflight Backwater Decoy Pack (below)

The Avian-X Topflight Backwater Decoy Pack includes several unique feeding postures true to the natural dabbling behavior of mallards in shallow water. It includes two surface feeders, two drake feeders and two hen feeders. Ultra-realistic paint schemes boast very good paint adhesion and durability. All Topflight decoys feature an innovative weight-forward swim keel. Simply snap the line through the swim clip to give decoys natural motion on the water. ($84.99; avian-x.com)

Ever tried (and failed) to set up a spinning-wing decoy on a pole in a creek? The Banded Products Spinning Wing Decoy Buoy overcomes the problems of using a spinning-wing decoy in strong current and deep water. The Decoy Buoy’s pendulum-weighted design also creates more motion through wave action. ($99.99; banded.com)

Available in mallard, bluebill and redhead colorations, the MOJO Elite Series Floater does not need a support pole, making it an ideal spinning-wing decoy to deploy in small creeks and rivers. The decoy and its integral motor housing snaps securely into the float and operates on four AA batteries. It has a remote control with intermittent and continuous settings. The float has an optional 11-inch threaded stabilizer bar with a 14-ounce weight that allows the decoy to remain stable in rough water. ($139.99; mojooutdoors.com)

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