OUTFITTER REVIEW ON:
Part 1:THE HUNT
Diver Hunting On Lake St. Clair
With St. Clair Ducks
By Dan Wennerlind
Growing up in the Midwest, the big northern Greenheads and Giant Canadas were king! An occasional diver duck was just considered to be a “Bonus Duck” to fill the daily bag limit.
After evolving past the traditional field waterfowl hunter mind set and becoming a more well-rounded waterfowler, the diver duck species have now taken on a new and added enticement and have brought me to new regions of the continent, not typically as attractive prior to my new found passion.
In planning my next waterfowling adventure the big question was-
Where is the best diver duck hunting destination found in North America?
After much research and discussion with the old timer diver duck hunters, and some not so old, but avid diver hunter friends, one of the names that kept coming up over and over again was Lake St. Clair, Ontario. I couldn’t deny that I had heard a lot of positive feedback from that area and thus a hunt with professional diver duck outfitter Blair Ellison was put on the books!
After a short drive north across the border from lovely Detroit, my compadre and favorite Chesapeake Bay Retriever Trainer / Breeder Tom Lind of Grand Oaks Chesapeakes and I arrived in Mitchell Bay, Ontario- Home of the infamous Lake St. Clair!
Looking across the “Big Lake” from the wharf on the north end of the lake, I was very surprised that the area overall reminded me a lot of the region around the Delta Marsh in Manitoba. Not so much the look of the big open water, but the down home feel that this was an “old time” duck hunting marsh with all of the mystique and long-time tradition built into the fabric of the community. It sure didn’t feel like we were only 26 miles due north of the urban jungle of Detroit, Michigan that was for sure.
It was mid December and the temps were still in the mid 40’s. Looking out across the lake we could see the big rafts of divers staged up on the bay. Every so often we would hear a barrage of gunshots in the distance, as we waited patiently for our outfitter and friend Blair Ellison to arrive and show us to our accommodations.
It wasn’t long before Blair and his trusty lab Emmitt arrived. After over 5 years of promoting Blair’s fantastic Ontario diver duck hunts it was great to finally put a face to the voice I had talked to on the phone for so many years.
We made our way over to the lovely little cottage that would be home for the next few days, not more than a couple blocks from the marina. It came fully equipped with kitchen and laundry facilities, as well as a very nice, interior,whirlpool bath and of course satellite tv- rounding off all of the comforts of home.
From there Blair took us across the street to an enjoyable and delicious All You Can Eat perch fry for dinner. There we had a chance to hear all about the area and what was expected on the upcoming hunt.
Outfitter Blair Ellison and
his trusty companion Emmitt
Blair shared with us that normally, throughout the entire season it is common for his hunters to expect flocks of all sizes, many of which are Canvasbacks and Redheads, to dive bomb his spread of up to 8 dozen Restle Brand diver decoys throughout the hunt.
In fact, Blair went on to say, on many days his hunters elect to pass on the many other species of diver ducks that commonly decoy into his spread. Those include: Bluebills, Buffleheads, Ruddy ducks, Goldeneyes and Mergansers, due to the fact that Ontario offers such a liberal limit of up to 6 Canvasbacks and / or Redheads in a daily bag limit.
Blair went on to say that the hunting had been excellent all season long up until the big freeze hit the entire Midwest a couple weeks back and snap froze the lake overnight.
At that point they lost about 3/4 of the ducks that had been staging on the lake, totaling well over 200,000 birds, truly amazing numbers for sure. Normally when the lake does freeze over like that, Blair went on to say, the birds will all congregate on the St. Clair River, just a few miles north and the hunting even gets better all the way until the end of the season, in early January. However this year for some reason Blair stated- the bottom fell out and he couldn’t remember in the last 20 years of hunting this lake where there were this few birds and thus the hunting was considerably slower. In fact now that the lake had recently reopened, he had expected to see more birds return than what had recently showed up, making for some very tough hunting conditions all the way around.
To Blair’s credit, he did warn us a week before our arrival of the situation and urged us to reschedule our hunt due to the conditions, as he did with all of his hunters scheduled for this week. But being a purist of the sport and not wanting to wait another year to experience the area and the hunt, we elected to take our chances and ride it out.
The next morning we arrived at Blair’s lake place located on “The Cut” on the north end of Mitchell Bay. Truly a duck hunter’s paradise. His boat house / garage was located right on the water and made for the perfect little duck hunter’s workshop. Blair is able to work on all of his decoys and gear throughout the season with his boat right in the water and just minutes from the big lake. His set-up was absolutely perfect. This is the kind of stuff die hard waterfowlers dream of!
Blair started up the motor and within a couple minutes we were out of the canal and headed across the big lake. With a light fog that morning and low to no wind, the conditions were a little less than optimal. Blair elected to set up on a weed bed, just off of the infamous Walpole Island for our first set. Not 20 minutes into the hunt a nice drake Bufflehead buzzed the spread. My partner Tom tried his best to connect with the little bugger but he was just a little too fast! Less than 5 minutes later a Redhead banked in from my side making for an easy shot and we
were on the board! Another aspect of Blair’s hunt that I really appreciated was that he runs a very nice and easy to shoot out of 18’ custom boat blind that comfortably seats up to 4 hunters, making for a VERY personable hunt. He also has a second boat and guide for larger groups.
Now Tom was up again as a beautiful drake Redhead lit right in the middle of the spread and with a single shot Tom too was on the board!
All at once we heard an eruption that sounded like a freight train across the marsh. Over 20,000 divers of all different species got up at once. It was truly a sight to behold. The only thing I could compare it to was the huge clouds of spring snow geese migrating north, but seeing and hearing that many divers in one spot was honestly no comparison.
Now that the main flock had moved in to feed in the shallower waters located a mile or so down the shore, the hunting slowed down considerably. The fog had also lifted and we could see the big rafts of divers from across the bay. We had 2 pairs of Ruddy ducks swing through the spread during the next hour but that was about it and Blair made the call- we were back on the move!
Making our way across the main lake through an area that Blair refers to as “Ruddyville” due to the fact that early in the season Blair can’t keep the Ruddy ducks out of his decoys all day long, we continued south. We ended up setting up next to a big downed tree located about 1/2 mile off of shore. I asked Blair what species we could expect to see in this area. He replied- “Pretty much anything”. In fact the previous week they harvested a nice drake Old Squaw and a Common Scoter in the very same area, but that isn’t common he explained.
The afternoon went on and the lake was flat as glass. The hunting was about as tough as it gets I had to agree. Normally Blair’s clients are limited out in just a few short hours when the birds are there and the weather is more conducive, but that’s why they call it hunting. Lucky for us Blair had a hot stove and a cooler full of all the makings for a wonderful breakfast and lunch to keep our stomachs full and our spirits high.
Throughout the afternoon we managed to suck in a couple, nice fat Greenheads into the spread to keep things interesting but by 4:30 we were all ready to call it a day.
On the way in, I reflected on the day. Although it wasn’t as fast and furious as we had hoped, the boat blind was very comfortable and easy to see and shoot out of and we did harvest a handful of nice late season birds. I thought to myself, there really wasn’t anywhere else that I would rather be right now- spending the day overlooking a spread of antique decoys, on a lake with so much waterfowling history and a couple good friends, just waiting for the ducks to arrive. It doesn’t get much better than that!
A Shot Of Blair's Custom 18' Boat Blind
(We Found To Be Very Comfortable
And Easy To Shoot From)
That night Blair invited us back to his place, after a hot shower. Blair and his gal Leslie treated us to a wonderful dinner and showed us numerous photos and video footage of the recent hunts from this past season. It was incredible watching the big flocks of Cans and Redheads bank into his spread over and over again. I had to admit I was a little envious of what the hunters earlier this season had experienced. Nowhere else can I remember seeing the diver hunting as incredible as that. And Blair said that is the norm when the hunting is good At that point I knew without a doubt I would be back!
The next morning’s forecast called for a thick fog and light winds. All we could do at that point was hope that the dense fog would confuse the ducks enough to bring them over to our end of the lake, as by now they were all VERY educated and patterned, being they had been hunted for the past few weeks. It also didn’t help that with the mild temps no new birds had recently moved into the area.
It was just our luck, the fog lifted early and the lake was smooth as glass again. We all knew we were in for another long day.
On our way across the lake we saw several huge rafts of divers out in the middle of the bay. Mostly made up of Cans, Redheads and Bills, with many other species mixed in. Heck we even ran into a pair of Black Ducks feeding quietly along the shore as we were setting up. Blair was right, you never know what you’re going to see on this lake.
Today Blair set out the entire spread, throwing everything at them but the kitchen sink, in hopes of luring the wary divers into the shallow feeding area where we were set up. There was no lack of effort that was for sure. As we enjoyed another warm, calm December day on Lake St. Clair watching the big flocks of divers trade back and forth across the bay, we all decided to just sit back and enjoy the scenery. Big flocks of Tundra swans and Canada geese kept us entertained throughout the morning as they worked the shoreline, just out of range. Then, finally after another fantastic hot breakfast of pancakes and bacon we had a nice 5 pack of Redheads swing right into the decs and we were each able to cap off the trip with another trophy from the infamous Lake St. Clair to go home with. And of course as it always happens, while we were chasing down one of the crippled Redheads 2 flocks of Cans dropped right into the spread.
Blair's Lab Emmitt Making
Another Fantastic Retrieve!
Everyone has had “Those days” where the hunting conditions are just tough, there is no way around it. But the big question I always ask myself after a hunt like that is- Would I go back? First off, to Blair’s credit, we were forewarned not to come and given the chance to reschedule. Secondly after what I experienced over the past 2 days it was VERY evident that this is one of the top diver duck hunting lakes on the continent, that was perfectly clear. And the fact that Blair runs a first class operation from start to finish was also evident. So the answer to my question was an absolute YES! In fact, I was already making arrangements to return for my next trip before we even left. After seeing what the other outfitters in the area were offering, rebooking with Blair was also a no brainer!
On our way out, while saying our Good byes and Farewells, one of Blair’s regulars Scott from Ohio pulled in. He hunts with Blair about 5 times every year. We were able to hear first-hand from an avid waterfowler just how great the duck hunting really is and what we could expect on our next adventure with St. Clair Ducks! This just reconfirmed what we already knew. Until next time…
Part 2: THE REVIEW
|OUTFITTER KNOWLEDGE / PERSONALITY: ||Score||5 / 5 |
Throughout our trip, we found Outfitter Blair Ellison to be an upstanding outfitter across the board. The first significant reason for that statement is that Bair knew the hunting was going to be extremely tough the week prior to our hunt and he notified us well in advance to cancel or postpone the hunt. We graciously declined… From the minute we climbed into Blair’s incredible 18’ custom boat blind we could tell the overall operation was top notch. Blair not only knows the lake like the back of his hand but also knows what it takes to hunt the lake safely which is the most important thing. Blair is a top notch outfitter and knows how to hunt these ducks inside and out- 5/ 5!
|QUALITY OF |
|Score||5 / 5|
Blair’s custom built 18’ boat blind was not only extremely safe for the big water lake 21 miles wide and 26 miles long, but also very comfortable and easy to shoot out of. His decoy spread was first rate as well. Blair runs a spread of over 10 dozen Restle brand magnum, foam diver duck decoys. For this lake, his spread is ideal. He also has another 15 – 20 dozen decoys in his boat house ready to go as needed. Blair also spoke of having a couple layout boats that may come into play in the upcoming seasons which would be another bonus for those looking to add a little more zest into the hunt. But that’s not for sure. Definitely a 5 / 5!
|Score||3 / 5|
Although we did not have the hunt we had hoped for as far as the harvest goes, we were fore-warned about the tough hunting conditions with plenty of time to reschedule. That being said we still shot several trophy caliber Redheads and big northern Mallards, so the hunt was not a total bust. It was very evident that the infamous Lake St. Clair IS all it is cracked up to be and under normal circumstances this is a "Lights Out" hunt for all species of diver ducks. After the hunt, Blair showed us video after video of how incredible the diver duck hunting had been all season prior to our arrival. We would rebook in a minute. Unfortunately we are obligated to down score this area for our trip only to a 3 / 5 but with an * after it.
|QUALITY OF MEALS |
|Score||4 / 5|
Blair has a very nice and comfortable cottage he rents for the season for all of his hunters to stay at just minutes from his house and launch site. The cottage was very comfortable and can sleep up to 4 hunters easily. With full kitchen and laundry facilities on site as well as cable tv we had everything we could ask for. Although dinner are not included in the hunt package, there is a very good restaurant right across the street from the cottage and Blair cooks an amazing hot breakfast and lunch on the boat with his coleman stove. For this hunt, the accommodations and meals were perfect- 4 /5!
HUNT PACKAGES AND
|Score||5 / 5|
Blair’s standard daily package is $250 per hunter and he caters to smaller groups of 2 – 3 hunters max. This makes for a very personable hunt. Again Blair includes a Hot breakfast and lunch on the boat and for a little extra Blair includes lodging at the Parkside Cabin we stayed at. For the price, this hunt package is well UNDER PRICED Hunt in our opinion so don't expect the pricing to stay that low for too much longer- 5/5!
|OVERALL QUALITY |
OF THE TRIP:
|Score||5 / 5 |
After reflecting on a hunt, good or bad, the big question I always ask myself when everything is said and done and I get home from a trip is- Would I go back? Even though the hunting conditions overall on this trip were very tough, with no wind and a lack of birds, I am already planning my next trip back with great enthusiasm and would not hunt with anyone other than Blair. We saw what the other outfitters in the area had to offer and the choice was obvious! 5 / 5 for sure!
|Overall St. Clair Ducks Scored A 27 Out Of 30 Giving Them An "A" Rating. We Would Not Hesitate At All To Refer Blair For His Spectacular Ontario Diver Duck Hunting Adventures!|
|27 / 30|
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