Years ago when I was first introduced to waterfowl hunting I started to read everything I could get my hands on that was related to the pursuit of ducks and geese. Many of these old articles and stories I would come across centered around specific species targeted in idyllic locations. Greenheads in the Arkansas timber, giant Canada’s in the Minnesota corn, canvasbacks and bluebills from rowboats in the Delta Marsh of Manitoba…..and the list goes on. As time has gone by, I pride myself in appreciating a genuine mixed bag of multiple species of waterfowl in the same day. Numerous trips to 9 states, 2 Canadian provinces and the pampas swamps of Argentina has ingrained in me a deep appreciation for a true “mixed bag.” In my opinion, few of the areas I’ve been fortunate to hunt can deliver a genuine mixed bag on a consistent basis. Sure, the California and Arkansas rice pits can put up huge numbers of puddle ducks, specks and snows, but they leave a lot to be desired on the diver side. While occasional pit blinds in these states may produce solid numbers of cans or ringbills, the numbers are pretty limited in my experience. And then there is Lake St Clair and Walpole Island.
Walpole Island First Nation in southwestern Ontario is in a league of its own. Situated on Lake St. Clair and surrounded by the St. Clair River, Walpole is a waterfowl hunter’s paradise, especially for those who thoroughly enjoy counting multiple species at the end of a great hunt. Walpole is an ecological gift from Mother Nature consisting of thousands of acres of marsh habitat, making it a duck hunting destination that is hard to rival. Migrating birds from multiple flyways put their feet down in these waters every season. It stands to reason that hunting and fishing tourism are one of the largest industries on the island. Fortunately for duck hunters, JR Wetlands has taken the waterfowl experience to a whole new level.
I first heard of Walpole 5 years ago from a Canadian hockey player that lived with my family. Turns out the hockey players cousin was an avid waterfowl hunter from the Chatham-Kent area in southern Ontario. After being introduced to said waterfowler I was asked if I had ever been to Walpole? “Been there? I’ve never even heard of it!” was my reply. After listening to stories of the thousands of migrating birds that stage in this part of the Mississippi flyway each season, all I can say is that I was hooked! Add in the fact that the destination was a mere 5-hour drive from my home town and you had a match made in heaven.
The only problem, however, is that Walpole duck hunting was somewhat enshrouded in mystery at the time. A Google search revealed a single web-page pertaining to duck hunting on the island. When I tried the number provided it resulted in the obnoxious “you’ve reached a number that has been disconnected” message. Luckily for me, the extended hockey family was able to get me a number for the best guide on the island.
Fast-forward 6 months and I was sitting in the Lake St. Clair phragmites marsh with 3 great friends, my 11 yr-old black lab Murphy, and Josh White, one of the best waterfowl guides I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Josh was born and raised on Walpole and knows the island like the back of his hand. The very first afternoon we saw more ducks and geese than most guys will see in a lifetime. The most awesome part was the diversity of species. Redheads, canvasbacks, bluebills, mallards and black ducks, wigeon and pintails……all crisscrossing the decoy spread like nothing I could have ever imagined. The duck calling ability displayed by Josh was outstanding and unparalleled in my experience. This was actually the first time I had heard some make guttural calls at diver ducks. I sat in awe watching ducks, that I had long thought wouldn’t bat an eye to a duck call, turn and bank to the impressive decoy spread before us. My group experienced two amazing hunts with Josh before the weather changed and a full moon with no wind made the 3rd day a dud, but that’s waterfowl hunting. We could not have dreamed of the shear number of ducks encountered, or the first-class treatment we received from Josh and JR Wetlands.
In early 2017 I joined up with Lake Effect Decoys as Vice President of Marketing. Lake Effect was a newcomer to the decoy industry with a product unlike anything else on the market. As we looked for ways to increase our presence in the decoy market, I couldn’t help but think of Josh and JR Wetlands. What better way to expose a large number of passionate waterfowlers to the best decoys going? I subsequently reached out to Josh only to find out that JR Wetlands had recently undergone a massive makeover.
In 2016-2017 JR Wetlands secured a 2,200 acre lease encompassing the southwest corner of Walpole Island. 2,200 acres of prime waterfowl habitat in a major concentration area for the Mississippi flyway. With phragmites being the invasive pest that it is, JR is going to great lengths to not only cut and spray large swaths of Phragmites, but they are investing heavily into diking roughly 600 acres of marsh to allow for water control and crop planting for additional forage for migrating ducks. I am told they expect to be able to have well over 300 acres of corn available for flooding next season. To make it even more interesting, JR had been busy creating camp infrastructure that rivals the best outfits in the US or Canada.
If the weather cooperates, a quick 7-minute boat ride whisks you to the oasis that JR Wetlands calls “Camp.” During inclement weather a 20 minute ride from the ferry dock is what awaits. Whether by boat or truck, what you arrive to is a 3-acre parcel of immaculately manicured earth in the middle of an expansive duck marsh. This is what JR Wetlands calls home. Since early 2017 they have added 3 cabins that can house 18 hunters and a separate cook house / community building where many tall tales are spun after a hard days hunting. I have slept in many places in my 42 years and I can honestly say the accommodations at JR Wetlands are first class, hands down. For table fare, I can promise even the most discerning palate that they will never go hungry! Wild game and local fish are staples of the dinner menu and the late morning breakfast will leave you longing for the nap that awaits before your afternoon hunt. If these things aren’t good enough, then the meatball sub delivered to the duck blind while still warm will completely raise the bar. I can promise even the most experienced hunter that JR is a destination worth your time. First class service, first class accommodations and food, and duck hunting that one would typically consider reserved for royalty and dignitaries. JR Wetlands is without question one of the premier waterfowl destinations in North America and that is why we at Lake Effect Decoy are happy to serve as the main decoy sponsor for this superb destination in the Mississippi flyway.
Amazing waterfowl hunting over the best decoys in the business…..what are you waiting for?
Jason C. Fowler
Vice President of Marketing
Lake Effect Decoy Company, LLC