While this time of year hunters are intent on pursuing the ducks that have arrived in Texas, it is a good time to consider why your unit is attracting ducks or why it is not. Ducks will be attracted to your property either for food or shelter; therefore it is important that you have the right foods growing in your wetland units to consistently attract waterfowl. While farming such as growing rice or row crops under “normal agricultural practices” and then flooding the fields after harvest is what many Texas hunters hunt over, I will concentrate on those wetland units where farming practices are not utilized.
My experience has shown me two superior management techniques that will result in excellent food sources for ducks. One is something that I call permanent water that primarily grows aquatic vegetation and keeping water on the unit is required year round. The other is a technique that will grow terrestrial plants during the summer that will attract ducks after seeding out and flooding during the fall. Wetland units that have enough gradients can sometime utilize both techniques in the same unit.
For permanent water impoundments, it is critical that you have a water source that will keep water in the field year-round, especially in the hot summer months when aquatics will grow at astounding rates. These units will tend to be best in the early teal season and the first half of the regular season split. They are especially attractive to Teal and Gadwall as well as many of the diving ducks. The trick to making these units work is to have the proper aquatics growing in the unit, while staving off wetland plants that are not as attractive to the ducks that can have a tendency to take over the units if not properly controlled. The best aquatic plants to have growing in the pond are rooted or rootless submerged plants. The best in Texas seem to be Najas (naiad), Pondweeds, Sago, and Widgeon Grass. All of these plants form dense colonies that will cover the surface but tend to only send out flowers above water level keeping the unit looking open. All of these plants can be propagated by delivering large amount of the plant to your pond during the summer months. It is important that your water is clear and not turbid for these plants to do well. Once established these plants tend to shade out less desirable rooted emergent wetland plants that are not as attractive to ducks. If possible, it is also a good technique to try and keep about 18″ to 36″ of water on the unit in the summer to help avoid these rooted emergent’s from gaining a foothold. Should the emergent’s begin to prosper I have had some luck spraying with herbicides but you want to be careful to not kill the preferred aquatics. As hunting season approaches you can lower the water levels to further expose the masses of aquatics, which will further attract waterfowl.
The other technique that I have found very successful is to plan your water drawdown timing to create the best conditions for having barnyard grass (wild millet) and smartweeds prosper in the ponds during the summer months. These ponds tend to be best during the later part of the season when they begin to degrade down and fall over in the water after being flooded. I have found it best to leave water in the wetland unit until late May or early June before draining. This tends to keep species that are not as beneficial from gaining a foothold in the pond. I have also found that occasionally after draining we will get some emergent plants that are not desirable growing in the ponds and by mowing the field in July we often have the barnyard grasses and smartweeds take back over. These fields should be watered as late as possible to allow for maximum growth (although both species will continue to grow after being flooded) and to avoid have less desirable emergent wetland plants from cropping back up in the fall. The most common technique for preparing for hunting is to drag parts of the units with a roto-chopper to open up areas of the unit. As the season progresses and there are frosts or freezes, the units will also open up as the plants decay and as waterfowl feeding in the fields also further open up the unit.
While other techniques exist for preparing you wetland units, I have found these two strategies require the least amount of effort and create ideal foods for waterfowl. Should anyone have any questions please feel free to give me a call.