Ducks Unlimited: A Leader in Wetland Preservation

As a result of waterfowl and wetlands management, hunters and people enjoy

Today, engineering and science are the focus of study to achieve balanced waterfowl and wetlands management at the Ducks Unlimited headquarters in Bismarck, North Dakota.
  • Waterfowl and Wetlands Emerge as Conservation Heroes
  • Cooperation and Passion feed Understanding and New Science
  • Ducks, Geese, People…all need Wetlands

by Bob Holzhei

     The novel, The Grapes of Wrath, written by John Steinbeck, was published in 1939 and two years earlier, at the height of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl, dried up wetlands across North America, resulted in plummeting duck populations.

     The novel described the story of human unity, love and the need for cooperation.  However, the effects of the stock market crash in October 1929 lasted long and the Dust Bowl created a sense of desperation as folks moved across the country and away from their homes.

     In the midst of hopelessness and despair, an idea for an organization was conceived in New York City when waterfowlers met in 1930. They saw a need to raise money to preserve and maintain wetlands across the United States.  The original organization was called More Game Birds in America Foundation, which established a 10-year plan for increasing upland game bird populations.  The Federal Government created many wildlife refuges at that time focusing on flyways and refuges, thus creating breeding habitat in the North as well as migration and wintering habitat in other areas.  Eventually the flyways became super flyways.

     Discussion of the future of wildfowl led to wildlife management which was in its infancy stages.  State and federal agencies became involved as a new science began, which was pioneered by Aldo Leopold, a professor of game management at the University of Wisconsin.  Other colleges and universities also began developing courses in wildlife biology and management.

     Suggestions for modernizing the name from More Game Birds in America Foundation to simply Ducks was made, however in Canada, corporations are legally designated as “Limited.”  So the name didn’t fit perfectly, as the organization did not want populations of Ducks Limited.  Thus, the name Ducks Unlimited came about.

     In 1934 the first duck stamp was issued and the money generated was earmarked for duck habitat.

     Ducks Unlimited was established in North America in 1937 as dried up wetlands during the Dust Bowl resulted in decreasing duck populations across the country.  Ducks Unlimited emerged as a grassroots organization which was volunteer based consisting of members who were conservation-minded and outdoor enthusiasts.

     The vision seemed unattainable as the idea was conceived.  Perhaps the thought would settle in the dust and become buried. That did not happen. 

     As of 2017, the Ducks Unlimited annual report indicated 14 million acres of land have been conserved since the founding of the organization.  The “Rescue our Wetlands” campaign was funded by donations from supporters and organizations across the United States.

     Wetlands are crucial for many reasons.  According to Ducks Unlimited, “Wetlands filter drinking water and refill ground water sources, prevent flooding, protect coasts from hurricanes, and provide recreational opportunities for birds, hunters, anglers and boaters.”

     The despair from the years of the Dust Bowl described by Steinbeck transformed as a need for cooperation and led to the emergence of Ducks Unlimited. 

     Over time, The Grapes of Wrath became a beautiful vineyard, thanks to the efforts of Ducks Unlimited.

Fishing the Gulf of Mexico

  • Fishing Fun, Seashells, Sightseeing and Dolphins near Port Sanibel, in Southwest Florida 
  • Bobbers, Shrimp, Speckled Trout and FEW SUPRISES made for a VERY RELAXING DAY
  • Screeching Drags, Fully-arched Rods, Tight Lines & Good Knots

By Bob Holzhei

Dolphins followed the boat, surfacing numerous times, as three 250 horsepower Yamaha engines powered the 36 foot Contender.  Shirley Holzhei Photo

The 36-foot Contender was impressive as we walked down the dock right after sunrise.  There were three 250 horsepower Yamaha outboards on the stern and we were met with a giant warm greeting from Captain Ryan Kane of Southern Instinct Fishing Charters.  The targeted species for the all-day charter included Kingfish, Mackerel, Barracuda and Cobia, according to Kane.

I had fished the Gulf of Mexico for the first time, years ago, as one of a dozen outdoor writers selected from the United States.  The group was chosen from the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers and included a writer from Outdoor Life Magazine in New York.

The opportunity to fish the ocean out of Port Sanibel, Florida, was exciting.  Fellow outdoor writer Dave Barus, his wife Rose and my wife Shirley, all joined up for the all-day charter fishing trip.  The trip had been cancelled twice due to high seas and on this day, the winds did the same, but we went anyway.  The seas started at two feet, but eventually rose and crested to five-foot levels, which resulted in pulling the lines and fishing the shelter between two islands closer to shore.

Our trip began with a slow troll out of Port Sanibel Marina and then the fun started, as Captain Kane increased our speed to 30 mph.  The three outboards roared, though they were just at half-throttle.  The scent of the ocean salt water, the memory of over-cresting waves and the spray from the wake slapping the boat was frozen in time.  As we arrived at the fishing grounds the lines were let out 90 feet behind the boat.

“I use 15 pound braid and 60 to 80-pound test fluorocarbon leader line spooled on the Shimano reels.  These are mounted on my Dan James Custom Rods that I use because of their ability to hold up under the challenge of big, bad, ocean fish,” stated Kane.

My wife, Shirley, landed a playful Bonnet-head Shark which was carefully released by conservation-minded, Captain Ryan Kane. Bob Holzhei photo

“The Dan James Custom Rods do exactly what they’re intended to do.  Other rods break under the pressure.  The Shimano reels are ergonomically correct and anglers have an easier time with these reels, they’re a step above other reels. The way the reel is made, the size of the handle and the ease of using it, is worth the cost,” added Kane.

Kane field tests several other Dan James Custom Rods that are in the prototype or development stage prior to these going into production.

The wind speed rose yet again to 35 mph and Captain Kane was forced to head for calmer waters.  We boated towards the safety of islands and dolphins surfaced, following us for the fun of jumping in the boat wake.  Time stopped again and I also became air-born, but unlike the dolphins, I would not reenter the ocean.  Rather, I would take flight on the never-ending memory of such an incredible experience. The dolphins were only three to four feet away!  Their eyes and expressions were talking to me.

Eventually, we stopped to fish in a sheltered and secret Captain Kane spot.  We caught speckled ocean trout and these have a slot limit between 15 and 20 inches under Florida fishing regulations.  In addition, Shirley caught a handsome Bonnet Head Shark and we released it unharmed.

“Fish on!” Rose Barus yelped from the front of the boat.

I grabbed the rod that was in a rod holder right next to me.  The drag was screaming!  This was a bigger fish as line screeched and shouted from the Shimano open-face reel.  I tightened the drag on the reel, but the fish was too green yet in its attempt to free itself from the hook.  After 15 minutes or so, my arms and shoulders tired and I asked Dave Barus to take over.  Barus moved from side to side of the boat as the fight continued bow to aft.

Outdoor buddy, Dave Barus, holds up a Stingray after the venomous stinger was removed, as I watch in the background. Shirley Holzhei Photo

Finally we saw the fish, it was not a fish!  It was a Stingray!  The 40-45-pound Stingray stretched over three feet in width.  When it first surfaced, I got my first look at it and it dove down deep again in an attempt to free itself.  It surfaced a number of times, going under the boat in an attempt to get loose.  Barus put his finger on the drag spool in order to add slightly more manual drag and keep the reel from burning up.  The spool holding the line was actually hot.  The battle lasted over 45 minutes before a gaff hook was carefully placed to bring the Stingray aboard where the venomous stinger was cut off by Captain Kane.  The captain provided us with instructions to place the stinger in an empty water bottle for now and then later, add bleach until the stinger turned white.  The venom would be neutralized then and safe to handle.  Another stinger would grow on the ray.

“Get over here Bob, and get in the picture,” stated Rose Barus.

Following some quick photos, the Stingray was released into the ocean and swam back into its natural habitat.

“Southern Instinct Charters offers a world-class fishing adventure off the waters of Fort Myers and Sanibel Island.  Tarpon, Kingfish, Redfish, monster Snook, Wahoo, Tuna, Red Snapper, Cobia and sharks are additional species that Captain Kane will target at your request.  Inshore and offshore fishing adventures are offered, in addition to shelling and sightseeing trips.

The memory of the day-long fishing charter will live on forever in my mind and I will once again experience fishing the Gulf of Mexico in the future to escape the frigid Michigan winter for this warmer climate.

Fishing the Gulf of Mexico was the fishing adventure of a lifetime and I plan now to return again and again to re-live the permanent memory of this experience.  I will fish with Kane another year and it is no surprise to me that his open date list is short.

For anyone from across the country, if you seek the fun of a new big fish adventure, choose Southern Instinct Fishing Charters. It’ll be trip of a lifetime.

For additional information:  www.southerninstinct.com phone 239 896-2341 and Lee County CVB/The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel Island www.fort-myers-sanibel.com 1 800 237-6444