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By STEVE MERLO, Contributing columnist
Watching a twisting and turning flock of low-altitude green wing teal work the decoys can really pump up a duck hunter's heart rate. They're fast, tough to hit and provide excellent table fare for hunters lucky enough to bag a limit of the speedy ducks. Although not large, the birds provide superb gunning for the hunting community when and if they arrive from up north. Fortunately, it appears the birds have finally made their annual showing across the Valley, along with flocks of other species.
Despite the extended drought, colder, wintry mornings and freezing temperatures to our north have forced thousands of these new waterfowl migrants, including teal, into the Southern San Joaquin Valley waterfowl hunting zone over the past few days. Most shooters aren't complaining about the godsend, they're just taking advantage of the situation.
The Kern National Wildlife Refuge opened its gates to approximately 78 hunters last weekend and most, if not all, enjoyed excellent shooting for a state-high 4.2-bird per-hunter average. Of the 350-plus ducks harvested, gadwalls were the No. 1 bird taken, with shovelers second and green-wing teal third.
Private clubs northwest of Wasco also saw a definite upsurge in bird numbers when big flocks of great-eating green-wing teal rolled into their ponds, providing fast shooting for most hunters willing to face the morning chill. A few hunters also reported a lot of new flocks of sprig (pintail) working their open water ponds with some shooters scoring two-bird limits of the graceful birds.
Hunters need to be aware that the general duck season ends January 26, but two-day junior hunts and an extended goose season can only add to their overall experiences. Consult the DFW for exact dates of both events.
Need a great waterfowl marinade for ducks and geese? This one is as good as it gets, believe me, and my wife and friends really enjoy birds barbecued this way.
Marinade: Mix together 1 cup soy sauce, two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, a half-cup of brown sugar, one cup of orange juice, one teaspoon of chopped garlic and one teaspoon of chopped ginger. Soak duck filets or whole birds overnight. Barbecue birds over high heat, basting often with the marinade, until medium rare. Serve hot with sauce.
Waterfowl sauce: In a saucepan, heat leftover marinade for 1-2 minutes, then stir in a tablespoon of cornstarch and a tablespoon of vinegar for a great sweet and sour sauce.
The Bakersfield Friends of the NRA group is inviting everyone to attend its first fundraising banquet and auction set for Feb. 1 at the Kern County Fairgrounds. The event raises funds to promote local hunting events and to provide funds to protect everyone's right to keep and bear arms. It's not too early to think about purchasing table sponsor and general tickets for the gala evening where sportsmen can win tons of top outdoor prizes, including guns, art, knives, ladies merchandise and more. Contact Dennis Bell at (661) 809-7510, Mike Barrett at (661) 3197050 or Coleen Morris at (661) 331-5273 for information.
Great Hangover Tournament
Despite freezing early morning temperatures, most anglers found excellent fishing for spotted bass on New Year's Day during the annual Cary Nasalroad Hangover Tournament put on by the Bakersfield Bass fishing club. Held at Nacimiento Lake near Paso Robles, nearly every one of the 19 teams weighed in a five-fish limit.
When the smoke had cleared at the 1 p.m. weigh-in, Bakersfield's Richard Spears and Kenny Sims walked away with first place for the year and more than $1,000 in prize money.
Their limit weighed 8.01 pounds and bested the second-place team of Jason Newby and Chad West by only .10-pound. Newby and West won $387. Jim Dobbs and Jim Beasely cashed in 6.89-pounds for third place ($215) while Randy McAbee, Jr. and Mason McAbee had 6.87 plus big fish of the tournament for fourth place and more than $400.
Nacimiento's famed spotted bass are in a recovery mode after most species took a solid hit several years ago from a clam- derived virus. However, the fish are healthy once again and growing by leaps and bounds. Anglers can look forward to some fantastic spotted bass, white bass and crappie action this spring as the lake carries an excellent forage base and lots of gamefish swimming in all parts of the lake.
During the tourney, hundreds of 12-inch- plus keeper fish were caught from waters as shallow as a foot and as deep as 30 feet on a wide variety of lures.
The Bakersfield bass Club meets the first Thursday of every month at Rusty's Pizza on Ming Avenue. Its first club tournament will be held Saturday, once again at Nacimiento. Contact Eddie Norris (661) 496-3060 for more information.