Ep. 525 – Great Lakes Hunting and Habitat Update

Chris Jennings: Chris Jennings, Joining us today once again is Jay Anglin, Waterfowl 360 Great Lakes Migration Editor Now, I do know that the North Zone in Indiana is open. I think maybe the central zone is open as well, or at least it was last weekend. But before we get into any details of your specific area, we really want to touch on Michigan. Just recently, you wrote a migration alert for Michigan. It was kind of mixed results back and forth. Some people had some ducks, some people didn't. So what's the lowdown going on in Michigan?

Jay Anglin: Well, I think Michigan, well, first of all, it's a huge state. So you have the Upper Peninsula is basically very similar to Northern Wisconsin and most of Northern Minnesota. And then downstate by me, 10 miles away is basically like Indiana and Ohio and Northern Illinois. So you have this broad range of things going on. So I think the takeaway for Michigan for me just to start out is there are certain areas that are just chock full of habitat, great marshes, open water, big water, great lakes, rivers, you name it, plenty of food sources, resting habitat. But sometimes, just by luck of the draw, pushes and birds, the significant migration period for a day or two, it just goes right over the top of these certain areas. And that's been kind of the theme, really, for a lot of these places around the Great Lakes the last few years. And it seems like in Michigan, in particular, the Upper Peninsula and parts of the Northern Lower Peninsula, There's no birds, there's no migration. In the meantime, south of them, three hours, guys are just laying into migrants. So really, that's probably the crux of the matter. Also, it's been a warm year. When I lived in the Upper Peninsula for six years when I went to school, And I could have stayed there if I could have figured out a way, but it's been a lot warmer than average up there. And that's pretty significant too. So I think a lot of times birds, they migrate, they settle in for a day or two, feed, and then they just don't do a whole lot. So you're not seeing a lot of movement. And certainly that could be said for a lot of areas right now, but that's changed a couple of times when we had those big cold fronts come through, guys got into them. But we're definitely, I'd say in Michigan and in general around the Great Lakes, A little behind on our big pushes of big ducks, for sure.

Chris Jennings: Now, you mentioned in your alert several of the really popular public hunting areas, Harsin's Island. And in that, they weren't real… I mean, the habitat appeared to be really good. They just don't have the duck numbers. You think that's what's happening up there? They're just kind of passing by?

Jay Anglin: No, no, that's not the case there. We had that full moon last week that definitely the birds really become very nocturnal. The one thing they do there at Harsens, for example, and some of the other federal and state properties in that area, Saginaw Bay and Lake St. Clair, is they have refuges. And so they survey the refuges, in some cases daily, they go out and do a count where they just drive the truck down a levee and they're really good at it. Apparently, they're just not holding a ton of birds. The hunting's been pretty darn good though overall. And that suggests, like John Darling from Harsin's mentioned, that with Canada right next door, Walpole Island, I mean, we're talking huge, huge flooded corn areas and moist soil areas. And so a lot of times birds, if there's not a lot of pressure over there, birds We'll go roost over there. So that's probably a little bit of what's going on there around Harsin's Island and Lake St. Clair. Now, I've hunted there extensively, and I've seen that happen before, where you watch literally waves of birds coming out and going east over there to roost. So there's probably a lot more there than they realize. But that said, they've had a pretty good migration. They always do. I'm not gonna sit here and tell you that birds came out of the Prairie Pothole region and piled into Lake St. Clair. As far as mallards and some of those, gadwallet, for example, pintail. But there are a lot of local birds, say for maybe a couple hundred mile radius in that area, especially in Ontario, that kind of go there and actually winter there in a lot of cases. So I suspect a lot of the birds they have are not long range migrant birds, but the divers are in there good, as I alluded to in the alert as well. But again, they're just behind a little, and I think a lot of that, again, has to do with this ongoing warm periods of weather that just kind of locks birds in, and they're not making those big pushes, you know, those big jumps down here anyway.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, you mentioned it's, you know, in mid-60s up there. you know, low 60s, high 50s. And that's pretty warm for this time of year. And that's really probably causing those birds to not have to be as active in some of those areas. So, you know, some of the areas that you mentioned, not harsens necessarily, but, you know, kind of mentioned that the hunting was a little slow. Do you feel like that's kind of playing into it as well?

Jay Anglin: Oh yeah, definitely. And I think also, you know, we've been so dry and now we have some water and you have these huge, vast marshes that were dried up. And that's significant moist soil growth throughout the Great Lakes region in a lot of these wetter basins. And now they have water on them. And so birds can utilize those. I think also you have an abundance of food. And so you have birds that are moving into an area. Maybe they get pushed a little on a really cold, windy night with the West Northwest and birds end up in a spot where they're comfortable and then the temps are in the 50s and 60s and they just stay there. They don't do a whole lot of movement. We just need a really good cold front with like temps in the 20s, a little bit of ice to kind of sweeten the deal. And I think you're going to find there's a lot more birds around than people realize.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. And I think, I'm no weatherman here, but I'm assuming that you guys are probably have multiple cold fronts coming in the near future up there.

Jay Anglin: Yeah. So as a steelhead guide, I'm watching this carefully because I'm booking trips well into December right now. We'll get locked down with Arctic temps every two or three years right now. I've seen many times where the first week in November, we're locked down and I have guys calling me, I don't want to fish at 17 degrees. Well, guess who else doesn't want to fish? Yours truly. So I'm used to rescheduling a lot of trips this time of year. But right now for the foreseeable future, I looked at the long range and in this area, it's kind of a malaise. I mean, it's 50s and 60s and no super cold nights. Relatively, you know, the winds are a little bit, you know. It's getting sporty out there today and tomorrow we're going to get some wind and that's good. I might go tomorrow. But the bottom line is, is that this is sort of this whole region. It's just kind of flat. The diver guys are doing pretty good though. There's plenty of divers around of all species, no matter what species you mentioned that's around throughout Michigan, Wisconsin, Northern Indiana. And those birds are going to move no matter what, especially on days like today, for example, that's really kind of breezy and crappy out there.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, you mentioned all the diving ducks, all the diving duck hunters are doing really well, but one consistent theme throughout most of your alerts this season in the Great Lakes, especially in Michigan, is the Canada geese. Everybody seems to be doing pretty well, and even areas that are not seeing a ton of ducks, They're getting the geese. So at least there's some opportunity out there. Is that pretty much all across the board? And what do you think that kind of attributed to?

Jay Anglin: Well, you know, it's funny. We had really good local hatches this year in a lot of areas. Okay. So there's a ton of locals, um, you know, a lot of geese start moving in, in September, even down here, you know, we'll see occasionally. I mean, heck, I saw a speck back in the first week of September here in LaPorte County, Indiana, mixed with Canada. So we get some early pushes down here that kind of mixes things up. But I would say crops coming out are key, of course, for Canada geese. In some areas, they don't have near the corn harvest right now. And when it gets a little cooler, that's going to be much more critical. But right now, you have plenty of grass, it's growing green. You've got cover crops, winter wheat, all these food sources for these birds to graze. And once they settle into an area, unless there's a lot of hunting pressure, they're just going to be here. So yeah, I would say anybody that isn't hunting geese, that can hunt geese right now should be out there looking around for geese if they're not having any success with ducks, because there are a lot of geese around. Now, I should mention here in Northern Indiana, we just went into our little split we have where we're closed, it closed Sunday. I was sitting in a tree stand Sunday and the field behind me was picked the day before that I can of course hunt, and about 800 geese piled into it. So there's always that little antagonistic way that they kind of tease us during these, because most states have splits now. So it seems like during these splits, They'll come into an area. That certainly happened here. We are absolutely loaded in Northern Indiana and Southern Michigan. They're still hunting in Michigan. I believe it's still open. But the bottom line is that those splits are doing a really good job of holding birds. As much as they drive me crazy, they do help because birds settle in for a week or two or three. And then next thing you know, you've got another opener coming and you can kind of get after them again.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, definitely take some pressure off of them. That seems to really help keep those geese around. Now, let's go ahead and focus there in Indiana. Are you hearing any good reports out of Indiana? What are you hearing there?

Jay Anglin: I would say based on, and I've been hunting quite a bit when I can, and the guys I'm around, there's always this sort of your local a cadre of good guys that you talk to and hang out with and hunt with, and everybody's been doing really well. Even like, for example, Sunday, I was laughing. I mean, it was super foggy. I'm like, who would go out today? Everybody I talked to was like, oh man, we got into the greenheads today. And so we've had some pretty good pushes that have come into this area. And it started all the way back at the opener a couple weeks ago, where my son and I went out and we hit redheads and ringnecks. Of course, it's getting into that prime diver migration zone. But a lot of options, I mean, pretty much anything. I mean, we saw pintails, blacks, mallards, tons of gadwall, wigeon, tons of green wings, you name it, shovelers. And so that's really a good thing. Now, a lot of those birds have moved on, of course. into, you know, southern parts of the state and others nearby. But bottom line is, is that I would say, all things considered, this was one of the better, you know, they pushed our opener back a week, which I, you know, it's later. So I actually really like it. And, you know, even with our youth veteran season, the prior weekend, which usually really puts a whooping on some of these areas, it was very good. for our opener and it still is. I was out yesterday, it was probably the first significantly slow day that anybody hadn't seen since the opener. So I went to Michigan on Saturday, it was pretty darn good, saw a ton of ducks. So we're doing pretty well here. And I would think, I haven't dug into Ohio, I would think it's similar over there. And I've heard some pretty good reports out of Illinois as well and Southern Wisconsin. So this whole area, we're pretty hooked up right now. And again, that's really good for the guys down South because These birds will push down there the first nasty weather we get, especially the softer ducks. I call them soft ducks, of course, but sort of your mid to early season migrants that are still kind of hanging around here, they're going to boogie. So those guys down south waiting for openers, I mean, you're looking And pretty good, you're in a good position right now. You've got a lot of ducks stuck in this, you know, range here that's not that far away and it won't take much, you know, of a push for them to show up. So.

Chris Jennings: Are you hearing anything? I know we did a Wisconsin alert, you know, about 10 days ago and it sounded like, you know, they were just starting to really pick up, especially the diving ducks on some of the big refuges up there. But are you hearing anything out of Wisconsin?

Jay Anglin: I think it's the diver pushup. There's always pretty, you know, it's a calendar thing. And usually this week is when like, for example pool seven, eight, nine, and on the Mississippi really load up with cans, you know, most significantly the canvas backs. But around Wisconsin, it's such a great state for waterfowl hunting, just absolutely just loaded with habitat. Once deer season really starts getting revved up in Minnesota and Wisconsin, you stop hearing a lot of reports, but I'm hearing some pretty good things out of Wisconsin. I will say, the one thing I have noticed though is we picked up a lot of redheads, I'm talking Indiana, Southern Michigan. Ringneck, we probably are just past our prime ringneck migration. We're starting to see some bluebells now and some cans. I got into the cans the other day. And a lot of those birds usually hit us right about in the next two weeks. And I think some birds got past Wisconsin, judging by what I'm hearing. Guys are like, we haven't seen any migration yet. And I'm thinking, well, yeah, they went right over you. So some of those areas in Wisconsin where guys are really used to seeing really good pushes of birds, they might've had birds just whistle on past. So it's going to be a non-issue here in the next two weeks when things start shuffling down, no matter what. So I should add too, one of my contacts in Northern Minnesota, he said that they're not seeing the late season mallards they usually do up there because they've had ice and snow a couple of times already. And he's talking to a friend of his in Manitoba who said they're still covered with greenheads, with mallards. I would say the first really significant blast that hits sort of that international boundary, you're going to see some big pushes of birds coming down into this region.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, and that sounds like pretty much the full roundup of all Great Lakes State really waiting on weather now. It just seems like everybody seems to be waiting on that next push. Although it sounds like you have some pretty solid numbers there in Northern Indiana. Now, I talked to a good buddy of mine that hunts down south of you about three hours or so down by Terre Haute, and they didn't fire a shot last weekend. They heard some shooting, but he said that they didn't really see a bunch of birds. you know, maybe they're just kind of stalled up there in northern Indiana waiting on that next, that next front, hopefully for those guys anyway.

Jay Anglin: Yeah, I mean, it's been, I don't know how warm it was, but it's been really warm. And so I think a lot of days they just don't do a lot. I know one thing, if I was down there, you know, in one of those areas where just not seeing a lot of mallards and other species, I'd probably just go to the nearest creek or river and find a bunch of oak trees and sit underneath and be happy with three tasty wood ducks myself. But most guys up here are talking about how there aren't any wood ducks. But last night, again, I was in a tree stand and I had waves of woodies coming over me to go to roost. They're still around, there's a bunch of them and no one's really capitalizing on them. So that's always a great option if you're open and you don't see a lot of birds, go find some woodies because there should be a bunch of them.

Chris Jennings: Should be a bunch of them along with the geese. Well, Jay, this has been good. Before I get you out of here, a question I always ask you with just about every update. How's the fishing?

Jay Anglin: You know, it's been kind of weird. It's, it's been, you know, hit or miss. I mean, we get a big push, push of fish and then it gets warm out. The water temps get almost, you're talking about cold water species. So it gets a little rough sometimes, but right now I'm coming into like, you know, the leaf hatch is over. I call it when all these deciduous trees drop their leaves, you really can't fish the rivers too easily. And if at all, so. Yeah, I've got muskie going, brown trout, steelhead, salmon are done, and life's good. So yeah, I'm trying to juggle all this stuff, and it's my favorite time of year.

Chris Jennings: Awesome, man. Well, I appreciate it. Thanks for providing this update for the Great Lakes region. And it sounds like everyone's just waiting on weather, which is about right for this time of year.

Jay Anglin: Yeah, I would say that's definitely the case. But get out there. For example, where I am, it's pretty darn good right now. You're not going to be able to form an opinion if you don't go out and give it a whirl.

Chris Jennings: That's right. You got to get out. Thanks a lot, Jay. I appreciate it. All right. Take care. See you. I'd like to thank my guest, Jay Anglin, the Waterfowl 360 Great Lakes Migration Editor for providing a little update around the Great Lakes states. I'd like to thank our producer, Chris Isaac, for putting the show together, getting out to you. And I'd like to thank you, the listener, for joining us on DU Podcast and supporting wetlands conservation.

Creators and Guests

Chris Jennings
Ducks Unlimited Podcast Outdoor Host
Ep. 525 – Great Lakes Hunting and Habitat Update