4198352956_a74e0b9538One of my favorite things about cold-weather fishing is seeing the many species of migratory waterfowl in the Chesapeake Bay. Although numbers have fallen in recent years, there are still plenty of sea ducks, tundra swans, and snow geese around.   There seem to be more this year than I’ve seen in my previous four winters fishing the Bay.  Today I joined my neighbor Mark for an early morning outing onboard his Parker 2520, Fischadler II.  Protected from the sub-freezing temps by the shelter of the pilot house, we launched from Queen Anne Marina on Kent Island and turned south in the direction of Bloody Point Lighthouse. There was no chance to bird-watch in the pre-dawn darkness, so we put that off for later and set our sites on rockfish.  After a little running we managed to find a fishing spot and catch and release some respectable winter stripers.

DSC06352Returning about 10 AM, we encountered snow geese, tundra swans, buffleheads, scoters, canvasbacks, and one huge flush of old squaws.  Now called longtail ducks, these are one of my favorite species because of the drake’s striking long tail-feathers and contrasting black and white plumage set off by a bright pink bill band.  They’re swift and graceful in flight, but somewhat slow to rise when spooked by a passing boat.

Although most people don’t eat them, sea ducks are hunted in the Chesapeake.  I don’t really get that, but apparently it’s considered sporting enough that there are frequent gunning trips booked by Eastern Shore guides.  I’ve read some interesting recipes for sea duck breast, so I won’t rule out trying it someday.

TIP:  Pay close attention to places where you find big braces of winter sea ducks.  They eat muscles, clams, and other shellfish which are associated with oyster beds.  Sea ducks have no problem diving twenty or thirty feet and can go as deep as sixty. They’re almost always rafted together over lively hard bottoms.  Since these are the same places stripers like to feed, mark the location and you’ll add a good striper catching area to your arsenal of summer jigging hotspots.

There are an amazing number of rockfish wintering over in the Bay this year.  The Department of Natural Resources had to close down the commercial gill net season for a few weeks due to over-harvest.  We  fished the east side of the Bay Bridge one evening this past week where we marked hundreds of suspended fish on the sonar below 45 feet.  Some of those fish will occasionally venture into the pycnoclines around the rock piles to feed.   Stripers don’t eat as frequently during the coldest months of winter because their metabolism slows down.  Most of the time they just lie still near the warmer water close to the bottom.  The trick to catching them is to be at the right place at the right time, and aggravate them with a vertically presented jig.  I prefer 6″ soft-plastics like Bass Kandy Delights  that are hotrodded with lots of color contrast.  This can be an especially effective method in the deep holes in the western rivers where the water is typically warmer in the winter months due to all the industrial discharges.  Fishing after a few warm days in a row can be especially rewarding.  Water temperatures are in the mid 30s. It might seem a little early to be jigging trophy stripers, but since they’re here,  who’s complaining!


Posted Saturday, January 23rd, 2010 at 3:26 pm
Filed Under Category: Fishing Reports
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Responses to “Old Squaw”

  1. biazzio says:

    I love to fish and try and make a couple of trips each year to the bay bridge from Delmar De.. The fish on my profile pics were caught at the Hampton road tunnel rocks, with my son, on his boat! My real passion is hunting,shooting waterfowl and retriever dogs.

  2. Shawn says:

    I like your interests, Biazzio. I have to admit to never fishing the Hampton Roads area, but would love to try. My chesapeake bay retriever Crockett was bred near you in DelMar.

  3. Daniel says:

    can’t understand why you’d hunt a bird when you can’t even clean and eat it……and, dang, I hate them gill netters had to knock it off this winter. plum tearin’ me up inside.

  4. Phil Kerchner says:

    Nice report Shawn, thanks for sharing it. It is such a pleasure to see the rafts of sea ducks over the winter. Those Old Squaw are beautiful ducks.

  5. Mike says:

    Great report as always. Did you pick up any at the bridge when you were there? I’ve tried sea duck before and won’t shoot anymore, it was nasty.


  6. Shawn says:

    We didn’t have much current to work with and the fish never moved up on the corners. I didn’t try for perch but I bet there are some there. I’m hoping to get back out there one evening this week.

  7. Creig says:

    Stick with Striper! You can bake it, broil it, fry it, or grill it and you want go wrong. Good lookin pics. Looking forward to spring reports and a chance to hear that line sang’ in the wind.

  8. Don says:


    Nice report! Thanks for the tip about the sea ducks and the rockfish as well. Bird watching while fishing is something we partake in as well. My wife introduced me to birding, and I introduced her to fishing. You can always bird when the action is slow with the fish.


  9. Roger says:

    Beautiful Fish, good to see you

    getting out and catching .

  10. Alex says:

    I’ve tried this marinade for sea ducks and it has proven pretty good. I’ve used it mostly on mergansers and now my wife eats them where as before I couldn’t even get my lab to eat them.

    worcestersire sauce
    greek seasoning
    meat tenderizer
    black pepper
    garlic salt

    Try it if you find someone who shoots sea ducks pass it along to them. It’s worth trying rather than wasting the ducks.

  11. Dave says:

    Old Squaws are definitely my favorite Chesapeake Bay Sea Duck.

    I was about 20 miles south of you hunting Scoter and Old Squaw from a two man layout boat on the 23rd. It was a beautiful morning on the Bay for sure.

    This season started off slow for most waterfowl hunting, but the sea duck numbers in the Bay by January were higher than most hunters I know can remember.

    Sea ducks are definitely edible, they just take a little more effort than a chicken breast. When shot they should be laid on their back to keep the blood from collecting in the breast meat. Take care to remove any and all fat from the meat when cleaning. The fat generally holds the bad flavors that most have heard about.

    All wild waterfowl meat varies in age and taste, and lends itself well to sausages and jerky.

    Like anything, you get out what you put in!


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