Here's a little something from Chesapeake Bay Hunting and Fishing: Tales of Wing and Water which is coming out in early November. BALDPATES AND SEAHORSES Sitting in Wolf’s Sandwich Shoppe in downtown Atlantic, VA my mind was firmly focused on the cheese steak sub that Ronnie was whipping up. It’d been a long morning, resultant from a long prior night, and this concoction he would soon produce at the service window should be the key to surviving the afternoon. While waiting for my ticket to be called, I chatted with the usual suspects about recent hunting or fishing exploits. As my number was called our conversation took a hiatus. They could see that my priorities, at the moment, had shifted. Their conversation continued as I devoured the sandwich. With the first half of it consumed, my day took a turn for the better. Offhandedly I asked Benjy Thomas if he’d seen any baldpates. He revealed that he had a good number of them using in one of his freshwater ponds bordering Boggs Bay. I knew of this pond he spoke of, and had longed for the opportunity to gun it. After a little conversation we planned for a afternoon hunt the following day. I finished my sandwich, paid my bill and set out on my way. The following afternoon we met at his farm at the appointed time. Temperatures had dipped into the low 20’s the night before. The daily high hadn’t gotten much above freezing. Overcast skies and a gentle north west wind set the scene for a memorable day on this little seaside pond. He’d had a fairly busy night and morning as his chickens had just gone out. I asked if he’d been down to check it out but work had prevented it. We both were excited to see what the afternoon would bring. The gear was loaded in his truck and we eased down the farm road to the north side of the pond. Having no idea what lay in store, I just followed along. I was on his turf, and I was a guest. Arriving at the pond we tossed our gear into his 15 ft handmade wooden skiff. The old Johnson Sea Horse 20 outboard would provide the push to get us to the blind located on a island in the middle of the pond. The cold temps had left a layer of window pane ice across most of the pond. We felt this should only help us. His blind was located such that the ice had pushed off from the island. We tossed over a dozen decoys and settled in the blind for the afternoon’s activities. It didn’t take long to get started. The first customers came as a pair. The two mallards, a fat drake and a chatty hen, circled once and fell right into the decoys. Benjy claimed the drake. Two blasts from my double failed to find the hen and she escaped just as she had arrived. Quacking loudly as if to rub in my poor shooting, she was last seen crossing the tops of the loblolly pines bordering the pond to the east. As I was getting shooting tips from my partner, practicing shouldering my gun, and chastising myself what had just happened five baldpates materialized from nowhere. We didn’t even get to enjoy the aerial display that they normally provide. They were on us quickly. There were two survivors. The temperatures steadily dropped over the afternoon and the increasing moisture in the air beckoned the coming snow. Ice steadily knitted around our little island. Our shooting hole got increasingly smaller. As we began to discuss how long we should stay, we were interrupted by three black ducks that back peddling over the decoys. The right and left ducks fell simultaneously. We double teamed the middle bird, thwarting this escape. With the three blacks on the water it seemed like a good time to get out of there. Ice had surrounded our outside decoys. It was only going to get worse. We fired up the old Sea Horse and made our way to the decoys. They were cleared of ice and gingerly placed in a wooden box in the bow of the boat. Floating feet up, the three black ducks were placed neatly across the decoys, joining the mallard and bladpates. It had been a very eventful hour. With our gear properly stowed Benjy turned the boat towards its home. Knowing the pond was full of stumps it would be a slow ride. The ice introduced a variable that neither of us had planned on. The window pane glass that we skirted on the way out had gotten noticably thicker. There was noticable concern on Benjy’s face when we began to slowly push our way thought the sheet ice. The chunks of ice made by sharp bow tumbled below the floor of the boat. The small board strained and jumped as the lower unit and prop came in contact with the hardened ice. Our worries about the ice eating through the wooden hull of the boat were quickly outweighed as the motor began to rev at a high rate put provided no forward propulshion. Outboards of this generation had a metal pin that provided the linkage from the gear case to the prop. In the event that the prop got hung on something the pin would break rather than doing major damage to the gear box. Sure enough we’d broken one. Quickly Benjy produced one and replaced it with the skill of a master mechanic. In less than five minutes we were back in business. As the boat edged forward the ice began to take it’s toll on the wooden hull. It was inevitable that the ice would find it’s way inside the boat before we got back to the truck. I manned a five gallon bucket just in case. Another shear pin broke. We sat stranded one hundred fifty yards from the warmth of our truck searching for another shear pin. We had none. With a pair of pliers I began to fashion one from the wire handle on the five gallon bucket I was holding. After some sizing issues we got it installed and began to slowly make progress. The soft metal of the bucket handle wasn’t the ideal material to use, but it was all we had. The first attempt failed after about 50 yards. Yet another was cut from the handle and installed. As the boat lurched forward the first piece of ice appeared on the inside of the skiff. With it water began to trickle in. Another 50 yards of progress, another shear pin failure. A third was cut from the wire handle. Now we began to wonder if we’d have enough metal in the handleto make it to the bank. As he spun the hub on the thrid pin installed we made the decision to get to the nearest land rather than back to the truck. Turning to port ice not pushed it’s way thorugh the starboard side of the wooden skiff. Our situation was now grave. Water was coming in the boat quicker than I could evacuate it. Pushing through the ice with increased force resulted in another shear pin breakage. We still had another 50 yards to get to safety. The last of the “five gallon bucket handle” shear pins was installed a I pumped the cold water and ice of the boat with a feverish pace. Benjy was getting pretty good at installing shear pins. In seemingly no time he had us back running and heading for the nearest dry land. Somehow the last one held until the boat’s nose met terra firma. The decoys, gear, ducks, gas tanks, and finally the motor was removed from the boat and tossed hurriedly on the bank. Benjy hightailed it to the truck as the boat began to fill with water. Upon his return the bow line was attached t his trailer hitch and the water laden boat was dragged out of the pond. Though we were certainly aware of the perdiciment that we were involved in for the last 30 minutes, we were too busy trying to keep moving and stay afloat to think about the danger we were in. It wasn’t until we had everything loaded in the back of his truck that we took stock of what had just occurred. It could have been bad. It could have turned out very bad. A little redneck injinuity combined with the mechanical skills of a man who had grown up fixing things on a family farm had combined to save our skins one more time. Bouncing along the old dirt road back toward his house we re-hashed the events of the day. The discussion didn’t revolve around the peril we’d faced, the ice cutting through the wooden hull of the skiff, the old Johnson outboard, or the shear pin issues. We spoke of the baldpates dancing in the gray winter sky. We heckled each other about shots made and missed. We spoke of the preparations we’d have to make before our next adventure, and how lucky we were to live on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.