By Mike Marsh
“We usually don't get a big push of trophy birds like mallards or gadwalls in the places I hunt,” said Scott Kennedy, a fishing guide who lives in Orange Beach, Alabama. “My favorite places are the marshes of the Mobile/Tensaw Delta on Mobile Bay."
Last year, Kennedy had one of the best hunts he's ever experienced there. At night, the gadwalls rest on open water south of Interstate 10. In the morning, they pick up and fly to the grassy marshes to the north of the highway.
Kennedy was set up at dawn, sitting in his kayak blind. Any waterfowler who sees ducks is confident that sooner or later, the birds will drop in for a look. However, this was the first time everything came together. It was one of those gorgeous, sunny mornings when everyone loves being out in the marsh. The area does not typically produce big bags of waterfowl and yet it still receives a lot of hunting pressure. Kennedy considers it a great day if he shoots a single bluebill.
“It was later in the morning when I looked up and some gadwalls were falling out of the sky right on top of me. I finished them off, calling, and they landed in the spread.”
After that, gadwalls swooped in steadily. Flock after flock decoyed so fast that he hardly had time to pick up ducks, reload and reposition his boat to shoot again.
“In 10 minutes, I decoyed eight or 10 flocks (he didn't shoot into all of them) with 10 or 12 gadwalls in each flock,” he said. “My kayak blind worked perfectly. It was a true test of its effectiveness because most of our ducks are residents that stick around a long time once they get here. They really get pounded.”
Kennedy is 26 and has been hunting ducks for nine years. He operates Whistlin’ Waters Kayak Fishing (whistlinwaters.com). He shoots a Stoeger M3500 stoked with 12-gauge, 31/2-inch No. 2 steel shot. He uses a mix of decoys, mostly GHG mallards, gadwalls and bluebills.
His boat is a Hobie Pro Angler 12 bought as an inexpensive alternative to a bigger duck boat. It has foot pedals and a deck, making it a “sit-on” style, but the deck is sunken enough to keep his profile low. He could have rigged his 20-foot guide boat, but prefers hunting alone. It also cost much less than outfitting the bigger boat with a blind. His kayak layout blind cost less than $200.
“It’s easy to throw it in back of a truck, put a few decoys in and go. My fishing guide business usually winds down by December. That’s when I take a vacation, using the kayak to get away from everything and connect with nature," he says.
The kayak blends right into the environment. It’s no more prominent than a pile of grass or a muskrat house. It also gives Kennedy the option to float hunt on the many finger creeks off the big rivers in this area.
"I also use it on a little wood duck hole on a deer hunting lease,” he said.
The kayak has a factory camouflage finish, so painting it was not necessary. His first attempt was simply cutting some bamboo and rigging the blind with a few tree limbs coming up from the deck. When that left too much open area for good cover, he looked through the hunting gear he had stockpiled over the years and found a huge Delta Wildfowler layout blind. Although it was just the basic rails with a canvas skin, he figured he could rig it on the kayak.
The first step was cutting and refitting the frame to create the proper height and opening. He shortened the door arms until they no longer overlapped, leaving a 12-inch gap in the center. Although most of the kayak’s propulsion is via foot pedals, he uses a two-bladed kayak paddles for maneuvering and positioning it in grass beds. Sitting in the boat with the blind frame in place, he kept opening and closing the doors while working with the paddle, eventually fitting the frame to the most efficient dimensions.
The Hobie Pro Angler has arm rails running the full length of the kayak. He used Bungee cords to attach the modified blind frame to the rails. It takes only 5 minutes to put the blind on or take it off the boat. That allows him to convert the boat for fishing easily.
Over the original fabric skin, he added military surplus camouflage netting that trails down to the water level when the blind is set up for hunting. Tied to the frame permanently with parachute cord, the netting folds into the blind for transport and when the boat is underway.
Four grass mats are stowed in the boat. Two full-sized 4’x4’ mats cover the bow and stern. The other two mats are cut to 2’x4’ to drape over the gunwales. Once the boat is set up, they are tied to the frame with parachute cord. When the doors are pushed open for shooting, the camouflage netting and grass mats on the doors slide down to the water level.
The water he hunts is no more than waist deep. To anchor the boat, he uses two push poles. A commercial fiberglass anchor pole is thrust into the bottom at the bow. At the stern, a bamboo pole is poked into mud. Both poles are tethered to the boat by an anchor trolley system that keeps the boat from swinging.
“The only thing I might change is adding a lean-to roof to give me a little more protection,” he said. “A roof would prevent any ducks swinging overhead or circling from behind from seeing me.”