Fog. Dense fog. Dense Tule fog. If you’ve lived in Bakersfield as long as I have, you know what I am referring to. Can’t-see-across-the-street-in-the-morning fog.
When I was younger, there were always times when we would get 10-12 straight days of dense fog. The last few years, hardly any at all, I guess mostly because of the drought.
Hunting waterfowl in the fog is a two-edged sword. Feast or famine. The famine was the first two hours of shooting time, when you couldn’t see 50 feet. You could hear the wing beats of the ducks overhead and the Pintails whistling, but they were too skittish to come down through the haze. Then there was the cold. Thirty-four degrees and a slight breeze, and it felt like zero.
Steve Merlo used to call me the night before a hunt and say, “Barnes ... It’s going be socked in in the morning. What do you want to do?” He wanted me to decide whether we should go early or late. I usually said early, because I always thought I would miss some great flock of birds barreling to my spread of decoys out of the soup, but it rarely happened.
The feast of the fog was when it started to clear and you could see about 100 yards hazy on the ground. The ceiling was about 200 feet, and the ducks would just come right in with maybe one turn because they were tired from flying around all morning without rest. Really awesome shooting sometimes.
Like most hunters, I pride myself on always knowing where I am and where I am going to be. When I was guiding in the mid-1970s, my clients were always amazed that we could be driving on a road in dense fog and I would always start slowing down to make a turn with no guide marks to be seen. Little did they know that over the years, I memorized the mileage between roads and turns and was using my odometer all the time.
That all changed one morning when Steve and I were hunting the Wilbur Flood area in the Tulare Lake basin. On wet years, the state would flood this huge area with excess water, and it would become a duck hunter’s paradise. There was a huge levee running east and west across the north side with a road on it. We parked our truck and put our boat into the water and headed due south to a smaller levee with a break in it that we knew was there about 300 yards out.
The fog was super-thick. I was in the front of the boat and Steve was driving very slow. After about seven or eight minutes I could hear voices ahead of me, and I thought it was just other hunters ahead of us. Then I saw a pickup truck and some guys putting their boat in the water. We had just gone out about 200 yards and made a huge U-turn and headed back to shore, about 50 yards from where we started. We both started laughing as we blamed each other for leading us astray.
Slow waterfowl season
This will be my 64th straight season hunting waterfowl, and I swear I have never seen it this slow. And it is not just locally but most of the San Joaquin Valley. I have hunted the past three Saturdays on my little duck pond and have yet to see one flock of ducks in the air after sitting for about two hours each time. Nothing.
I spoke to some members of a couple of clubs in the area, and they all say it is slow and most of the ducks they are taking are Green-Wing teal and Spoonies. Very few Mallards, Pintails or Gadwalls. The Kern Wildlife Refuge has been averaging about three birds per hunter on shoot days, which is a long way from a seven-bird limit but still as good as others in the state.
We need some cold, cold weather up north and a little rain and fog locally. It can only get better.