By David A. Brown
Special to BassFan
Built for whacking waterfowl, structures of assorted design and detail collectively known as “duck blinds” offer tremendous bass fishing opportunities; particularly during the winter period.
Some hunters make use of natural timber, branches, etc., for a rustic, decidedly non-fancy creation that does little more than conceal the hunter; while others go all out with carefully constructed shacks complete with duck-boat slips, doors and sitting areas. Whatever the case, Bassmaster Elite Series pro Keith Combs never saw a duck blind he didn’t like.
Having boated solid fish off blinds in Sam Rayburn, Toledo Bend and the Red River, Combs said the structures south of New Orleans (Lac Des Allemandes, Lake Catouache) played a role in his 2012 Bassmaster Classic strategy.
So convinced of this habitat feature’s fish-magnet potential, he follows this simple rule: “I never pass up a duck blind.”
Why They're Good
Consider what duck blinds offer bass:
> Cozy digs: Thick with bunches of brush and layered limbs – often with solid wooden frames/bases, blinds hold heat.
> Dining room: Such comfort gathers baitfish and crawdads, while providing the ambush angles and feeding stations bass need.
> Made In the shade: Elite pro Greg Hackney notes that the blind’s substantial cover offers ideal shelter during harsh post-frontal bluebird conditions.
> Geometric gold mine: “Duck blinds are typically square, so you have four corners – or even six, because a lot of them have an area where the hunters pull their boat up inside,” Combs said. “So you can work around and around a duck blind and catch fish.”
A squarebill crankbait is a good bet for tracing a blind’s perimeter.
> Truck stops: “A lot of times, these blinds have deep water and they’re set up (near) the spawning areas,” Hackney said. “That puts them right along the fish’s (late-winter) travel lanes.”
What to Look For
Expounding on that last point, blinds are typically located in backwater areas and are often one of, if not the outermost structure. Therefore, Hackney points out that duck blinds built at the edge of backwaters can prove highly attractive for fish staging in the first quarter.
Combs agrees and adds this: “Typically, duck blinds are set up good for the pre-spawn. They’re in the backwaters, but they’re typically the furthest thing out. It’s almost like saying I’m going to fish pre-spawn fish on a point."
A blind all by its lonesome can be "the bomb."
“If you have one that’s jumbled in with a bunch of other cover, it could hold ‘em because it’s probably the thickest cover around; but the ones I like are the really isolated blinds,” Combs said. “A duck blind usually overlooks open water, so a fish can sit around a blind and dart out to get anything that’s going into or out of his area.”
Does size matter? Yeah, more cover could hold more fish, but a big blind will also attract more fishing pressure. Conversely, a little sneaky one could hold something worth catching.
In any case, Combs suggests frequent stops at any structure that just looks right.
“A small, isolated blind can hold a good one – and it can replenish,” he said. “I’ve stopped on them at noon and not caught a fish, stopped on them at 2 o'clock and not caught a fish; but then come back at 3 and caught a limit. It’s a timing deal, but I can’t say that shape or size really matters – it’s more about where they put it.”
Treating a duck blind kind of like a big laydown or a cluster of stumps, Hackney said these structures are prime targets for flipping his Strike King Hack Attack Jig with a Strike King Rage Craw or Menace trailer. Combs agrees and offers a three-stage plan for maximizing a structure’s potential.
Isolated blinds often hold the type of fish that can transform a day from mediocre to great.
“Typically, I’m going to work around the outside first,” he said. “I prefer to have my boat sitting farther away, so I’m going to start with a spinnerbait, a squarebill like the KVD 1.5 or 2.5 or a Strike King Redeye Shad lipless bait and pick up a few. If I can’t get them to bite that, then I’ll pick up a 1/2-ounce jig or a creature bait and pitch that to the corners and the inside.
“After that, I may set back off the blind and throw a finesse bait like a shaky-head or an unweighted stick bait. That’s something a lot of those fish are not going to see (often). Most people fishing duck blinds are going to go 100 percent power-fishing techniques. That’s what I’m going to do 90 percent of the time, but if I think there’s a good one in there, or if I need a limit, I’ll slow down and just soak something.”
In tidal fisheries, consider how the daily ebb and flow can impact access for your boat and the fish. Look for waterlines, topped-over vegetation, etc. for cues. No sense pitching into a mud pie.
Other points to mind:
> No encroachment – If hunting and fishing seasons overlap, respect hunters’ space and avoid obvious hazards by steering clear of any blinds with decoy spreads, dogs running in and out and shallow-draft boats tethered nearby. (That is, if the sound of shotguns has not already dropped a little hint.)
> Off-season guests – Just be aware that even after hunters have vacated, an empty duck blind may not always be empty. Beavers, otters and other critters might occasionally crawl onto the dock or walkways and an angler’s sudden proximity might lead to a tense moment if the critter’s course of escape becomes your front deck.
> Easy on the approach – “A duck blind may be back in a stump field, so you may want to approach with caution," Combs said. "I usually come in to a duck blind very slowly because that’s all I’m going to fish in that area.”
This also applies to any unseen debris that may sit just out of sight on the perimeter of an older blind. (Drawdowns may reveal some of this.) Annual maintenance and weather events occasionally leave random construction materials in the water; while anchoring ropes and metal foundation elements can present snagging/entanglement hazards.
> Exit strategy – Combs adds this closer: “In the colder months, it’s always easier to land a fish because their metabolism is lower, but you want to have a plan for getting them out from under a duck blind. It’s a high-risk, high-rewards deal, so when you make your cast, try to think about how you’re going to get a fish out and position accordingly.”