Christmas Eve 2003 – Stuck in the Mud
When Joe and I learned a cold front would move through Louisiana on Tuesday December 23, 2003, we decided to make a morning hunt the next day – Christmas Eve. With the temperature in the upper 40’s and a decent north wind, we met up at 3:30 a.m. We loaded our gear into the mud boat and off to Venice we went.
Joe had already fueled the boat so we didn’t have to stop until we got to the launch. The lauch was deserted – no cars, trucks or trailers. We launched and headed to the blind and quickly realized the tide was extremely low and there was not much water in the marsh. But because we were in the mud boat, there wasn’t much cause for concern. When we pulled into one of the canals, there was no water, only mud, but the mud boat had no problem plowing through it. The trick with the mud boat and running through mud is to never stop no matter what. We didn’t stop until we got into the pond. And there was no water in the pond. This was cause for concern. Joe had dug a hole behind the blind with the mud boat on previously trips so there was a pot hole of water behind the blind. As we sat in the pot hole, Joe wondered out loud if we should try to hunt the other blind on the lake and if there would be water there. I told him it didn’t matter to me.
He decided he didn’t want to risk running out of the pond and getting stuck in the mud going to the other spot, so he pulled the mud boat into the blind and we unloaded our gear. Now the problem was putting out decoys. Instead of risking getting the mud boat stuck, Joe threw out a few decoys in front of the blind and into the mud. Joe then backed the mud boat out of the blind and set up RoboDuck behind us. RoboDuck with its motorized wings would have to be our best hope to attract ducks. We’ve seen ducks try to land in the mud before and we’ve had a few successful hunts with no water but it’s always a challenge.
The wind blew out of the north but not real strong. It didn’t feel real cold and Joe brought hot tea in a thermos to warm us up. We settled comfortably into the blind waiting for the sun to rise. It was 5:45 a.m.
As it started to get light in the east, we kept hearing ducks quacking occasionally here and there and several teal peeping in the marsh but we didn’t see any ducks. It would be a slow morning.
We didn’t get any early morning flyers and we soon realized it was not going to be a great hunt. Eventually two big Gadwalls made a sneak attack over the pond from behind us, we jumped up to shoot but because we didn’t see them coming, they were almost out of range, so we let them go hoping they would turn and come back. They must have spotted RoboDuck because they turned, swung around and came right over RoboDuck giving us a shot. Joe nailed one with a great shot and I hit mine but he didn’t fall, Joe finished him off and we were not to go home empty handed.
With the sun shining and what would be a nice day in the marsh, it was too nice for the ducks to fly. We watched as a lone Mallard drake came toward the pond. Joe spotted him over the lake and we watched as he came near. But he was a smart ol’ greenhead and decided not to come visit us this day. We watched as he flew off. I have never shot a greenhead that I can recall and I’ve been waiting to bag one of these beautiful birds, but it wouldn’t happen today. We did have one more nice Gray duck come in and Joe made yet another spectacular long range over-head-shot to bring him down into the marsh. Since it was slow, Joe went ahead and brought the mud boat over to the edge of the marsh to retrieve the ducks.
There had been some discussion between Joe and me about when low tide was that morning. I had read where it would be low tide at 7:30 at Southwest Pass of the Mississippi River. Joe had read a report showing low tide at 10:30 in Venice. Either way, with the north wind further assisting the flowing of the water out of the marsh, we knew the tide was about as low as we had ever seen it. So at 8:30, we decided to head home. Because of the pot hole behind the blind, we knew from experience we would be able to get the mud boat moving fast enough to propel us out of pond. Before rocketing out of the pond, we decided we would ride out into the big lake to check the other blind and see if there was water there in case we need to use it the next time we had no water in our pond.
Joe mashed the accelerator of the mud boat. We lunged out of the hole and into the mud and off we went. As we came out of the pond, instead of heading straight out as he normally does, Joe decided (on his own I might add) that he would turn left into what is normally a canal and a shortcut to the other blind. Well, there is another thing one should always remember when driving a mud boat in the mud other than not to stop. And that is that the boat does not turn well and it is very hard to steer. Sweeping turns are all you can do. You cannot turn sharply when you have a head of steam in the mud. Joe knew this but obviously didn’t recall the time his younger brother Buck had come to pick Joe & me up on a similar low tide morning. Buck was going too fast to make the turn into the pond and ended up getting airborne over a small island before landing in the canal behind the blind. He was lucky because he made it over the island and there was a little more water in the canal on that day. But the turbulence caused by getting airborne knocked over the battery in the boat and it nearly caught on fire, but that’s another story.
So today, as we came flying out of the water-depleted pond, Joe tried to make the tight left-hand turn into the dried up canal. After a few seconds it was obvious to both of us that we might not to make it. Joe pushed hard on the rudder but the boat did not want to turn and we headed straight for an island. Because we were going fairly fast, I figured we would either glance off the island and have enough speed to keep going, or we were going to come to an abrupt halt. I braced myself for impact. As we hit the island sideways, the back of the mudboat jumped up on hard land and stopped our forward progress quickly. The boat jolted hard to the left. We weren’t thrown out but we were stuck – big time – 60 yards from the nearest water. This was not good.
Joe was very distressed that he had put us in this position. I could tell he was upset with himself and I tried to ease his pain by telling him stuff like “It could be worse. It could be raining”. I don’t think it helped, he was really mad at himself. He kept apologizing to me but he didn’t really need to. I could think of a million things that could be worse than being stuck in the mud at low tide on a nice sunny day in the south Louisiana marshland with my best friend Joe. It was around 9 o’clock or shortly thereafter when this happened so the timing of the low tide came into play. If low tide was at 7:30 as I had read, then the water should have started to come up by then. If low tide was at 10:30 as Joe was sure that it was, then we had another couple of hours before we would see the water rise. At the time, there no water coming in anywhere. Joe had been right about the tide. We knew we were in for a long wait.
For those that don’t know about the mud in the marsh, you can’t walk on it. It’s like quick sand. When you step into it you go straight down to your crotch. So it’s not like we could have pulled the boat across the mud 60 yards to water. That wasn’t going to happen.
With time on our hands we decided to see if we could walk to the other blind on the lake. It was a little treacherous and a lot of wasted energy but we did make it. There was no water in front of the other blind. We were glad we didn’t try to hunt there. So we walked back to the boat. Joe decided to try and take a nap so he laid down next to some canes to block the wind and rested. I didn’t feel like napping so I took pictures with my new Kodak digital camera and even took a video of the surrounding marsh. I sat in the boat and enjoyed the beauty of the marsh and watched the pelicans fly. Occasionally I’d see a couple of ducks flying too.
Joe couldn’t sleep so he came back to the boat. We tried to think of ways to get water to the boat. There was a small pot hole of water in the island where we were stuck so we dug a trench to allow the pot hole to drain under the boat’s propeller. Joe started the boat and tried to get it moving but it wouldn’t budge and it threw all the water out from beneath the boat. We tried to turn the boat around 180 degrees and use the water that was in the path we made through the mud. We got into the mud up to our crotches and pushed and pushed. We got the boat turned half way around and realized we were piling up mud against the side of the boat making it harder and harder to move it. At that point we had the boat pointed straight out into the canal and we knew it had to be in that position when the tide came in, so we stopped there. We resigned to the fact that we had to wait for the tide to come up, whenever that would be.
At 11:30 we noticed the water in the canal 60 yards ahead of us had started to come up. This made us very relieved and confirmed that low tide had indeed been at 10:30 as Joe had said. The water was very slow to rise in the first 30 minutes, but after that it came up quickly. At 1 p.m. we watched as water finally surrounded the boat. We secured everything in the boat, fired it up, let it warm up a bit and slowly inched our way out. In five minutes we were off again headed back to the launch.
It wasn’t a very good hunt and getting stuck in the mud was not much fun either. We relearned a valuable lesson about the mud boat and things could have been a lot worse. And Joe – don’t worry about it buddy. At least we have a story to tell and I’ll never again question you about the tide!