Lake Christina, once one of North America’s finest canvasback
lakes, is back in the news. Christina is 25 miles northwest of
Alexandria immediately east of I-94. Once filled with sago, wild
celery, and other duck food, for the second time in recent years it
is overrun with carp and bullheads that root in the soft bottom and
kill the plants.
I learned to hunt ducks on Christina from 1944 through 1952. It
was in its prime, ducks were plentiful, and the limit was 10 a day,
20 in possession. Some biologists say up to 20 percent of the
world’s canvasbacks migrated through Christina, some put the figure
at 40 percent. On sunny October afternoons Christina sparkled with
sunlight reflecting off the backs of the drakes (called “bull cans”
because of their thick necks) gathered in huge rafts. Dad and I
went to Christina a half-dozen times each fall. Our pass was
between lakes Anka and Ina. They are located in a curve on the
south side of Christina, a 3,978-acre lake with a maximum depth of
14 feet, but mostly much shallower. Anka is 139 acres with a max
depth of 10 feet, but averages deeper than Christina. Anka did not
contain large areas of feed, and few ducks rafted on it. It is
closest to Christina, and the best hunting was pass shooting
between Christina and Anka. Ina is southeast of Anka, covers 202
acres, and the maximum depth is 48 feet.
Our hunting group usually consisted of Chris Nelson, his two
sons Jim and Brooke and Dad and me. We could legally bring back 100
ducks, but rarely did. Sixty or 70 was the usual bag. But we always
had a goal: 100 bull cans. We never came close, but the first
person who shot another duck was supposed to do the dishes. One
reason we never reached our goal was that we hunted on what Dad and
Mr. Nelson called the Sucker Pass, alias Poacher’s Delight.
Our pass and the cabin were between Anka and Ina. Dad and Mr.
Nelson happily got a long-term lease on it after they hunted it
once in November. Shallow Christina was frozen tight, Anka had some
water kept open by cripples but Ina was wide open. Late migrating
northern ducks passed over Christina, dropped lower over Anka, then
flew low over Sucker Pass to Ina.
They had their limits in less than an hour. Going to the small
nearby town of Melby, they found the owner. No, no one was leasing
it. Yes, he’d give them a long-term lease. The happy hunters now
possessed the world’s greatest duck pass.
Wrong! There was almost no feed in Ina; it was not a duck lake.
The only time it was good was at freeze-up. The rest of the season
a few ducks flew over in early morning or evening, but the rest of
the day usually was a blank. But Dad and Mr. Nelson were personable
men who soon knew the owners of every quality pass, and we were
invited to hunt their passes often.
But for three boys in their teens, the Sucker Pass was a
fantastic base of operations. Their were many potholes with a
puddle ducks worth a sneak, and we shot mallards and teal. There
also was a high ridge on the tree-covered south shore of Christina
pushed up by ice. It was perfect for sneaking up on canvasbacks,
redheads, wigeon or other ducks, plus the half-million coots that
covered the lake. We watched the ducks, saw coots and wigeon grab
feed from canvasbacks when they bobbed to the surface. Then we
would rise and shoot.
Our retrievers, and we had good ones, were not so enthusiastic.
There were 20 yards of thick weeds and oozing muck along the shore,
and we sometimes knocked down 10 birds, including a few coots.
After retrieving six birds, the dogs were exhausted. We often had
to let them rest before sending them out again.
Brooke once grew impatient and stripped down to his underwear
and retrieved a few birds, carrying one in his mouth by the neck.
Then he agreed with the dogs and quit.
While Christina was famous for canvasbacks, it also attracted
large numbers of redheads. We also saw many western ducks not
commonly shot in Minnesota: wigeon, shovelers, a few pintails, and
ruddy ducks. Ruddy ducks don’t fly often, but we got a few every
trip; they are excellent eating.
Pass shooting canvasbacks is tough, especially if you are a
young hunter still learning to shoot. We sometimes hunted the
Evansville Pass between Christina and Anka. It was cleared of trees
and high on a hill. When a flock of cans came over, they were high.
Supposedly our fastest duck capable of going 70 mph, at 40 yards
and pushed by a northwest wind, they required large leads.
One of my favorite memories of Christina is hunting with one of
the many Scandinavians who hunted the lake. We were hunting over
decoys on Christina, and when he loudly whispered, “Hare dey come,
boys, hare dey come. Two in front, one behind. Plenty ducks for
everybody, I shoot first.” Then he dropped all three with one shot
from his full-choke, Winchester pump with a 32-inch barrel. His
“plenty ducks for everybody, I shoot first” became the rallying cry
when Dad and I were duck hunting.
May it again echo over Christina.