With the first event of the 2023 Bassmaster Elite Series right around the corner, I think about my offseason and how I do things. The truth is that my process might be a little bit different than some of the other guys. I use the offseason as a reboot for my mind while I’m preparing my body to compete.
The reboot to me is to not pick up a fishing rod, as I hunt instead. I bowhunt a little for deer, but my real passion is waterfowl hunting. Honestly, it’s the kind of thing that you either love it and you do it or you hate it — it’s a lifestyle that I just absolutely love.
My first hunting trips were around the time I was 8 years old, and I still love some of the old-school methods and details that I started out with. My father had friends that got him started in waterfowl hunting, and they used old school cork decoys that they hand carved from the cork insulation in old refrigerators. Some of my first memories of duck hunting were over cork, and this will be passed on to my kids as well.
Waterfowl hunting is an expensive sport, and growing up my father didn’t have a lot of extra money. But he did whatever he had to do to get us on the water, and I will be forever grateful for that. Every time I’m hunting over cork — the old school way — it reminds me of hunting with my dad, and I love calling them in over that set up. It’s really an amazing feeling that brings me a lot of joy.
There are some cool new decoys out there molded from plastic with motion and everything, but there is something about calling in ducks over old cork that just really gets me going. In fact, I often look for old cork decoys on the internet, and Jen has even purchased some for me as gifts.
My most recent find was four dozen on the Internet. It included two dozen Mallard, a dozen Black Duck and a dozen Blue Bill about 45 minutes away from me. I reached out to the guy, and they were available for around $400 which was a lot cheaper than they should have been, so I went to meet him.
When I got there an older gentleman walked out, probably in his 80s, and told me he was surprised I was interested because most people don’t really look for these kinds of things. He said they belonged to him and his brothers, and the trio had hunted over them for years. He went on to tell me that they were all Vietnam veterans, and he had lost his last brother to Agent Orange recently and it just wasn’t the same. He couldn’t hunt without his brothers, and he was hoping the decoys would go to someone who would care about them.
I told him these were not going to be wall ornaments, that I was going to hunt over them because I love the old-school ways, and he started to get choked up. We loaded them into my truck, I paid him the money and he quickly turned and went into his garage — I could tell he was crying. Then I got in my truck and started doing the same as I drove away. That’s the kind of passion I feel about hunting, and that story really got to me.
On the physical side, waterfowl hunting can be a lot of work and very draining. Trudging through the water, setting decoys in my Drake Waterfowl Waders is a lot of physical exertion which leaves me just about as sore as any workout. I also use this time to train my hands for fishing in cold weather. I don’t wear gloves when I’m waterfowl hunting, even when I’m wrapping up the decoys. Handling the twine in cold weather conditions helps my hands to make repeated casts without gloves when fishing in cold-weather conditions.
I find there are things in hunting that prepare me as an angler too. Picking out deer trails, following the movements of the animal and being able to pick where waterfowl will come through helps keep me in tune with nature which helps me when it comes time to locate fish. All of this helps get my mind and body right and keeps me refreshed once the season comes around. By the time I pick up my first rod this week at Okeechobee I’ll be fired up to fish.
Being an avid hunter has also been a blessing to my partner portfolio. My connection to hunting has brought me relationships that I don’t think I would have if it weren’t for that part of my life. Drake Performance Fishing Gear, Boss Ammunition, Mossy Oak Camo and of course Xpress Boats with their waterfowl boats and Yamaha outboards on that rig are all in part because of my passion for hunting.
Other than the reboot, now that we’re a week ahead of the season, I’m just getting my Xpress/Yamaha tour rig wrapped and ready to go with my Minn Kota Ultrex, Raptors and my Hummingbird electronics. I’ve loaded my Lew’s rods and reels with fresh Seaguar line and stacked the compartments my Strike King and Lure Parts Online boxes. The family and I are ready to go.