Spinning wing decoy
A spinning wing decoy at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. (Peter Tira / California Department of Fish & Wildlife photo)

Question: I’m fairly new to waterfowl hunting and had a quick question: When are decoy splashers, as well as decoys that flap (not spin), allowed?

— Alejandro

Answer: Welcome to the wonderful world of waterfowl hunting! There are few things in the outdoors as stirring as watching a wetland awaken at sunrise, something waterfowl hunters get to witness regularly with a front-row seat.

The California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 507(c) addresses motion decoys: “It is unlawful to use devices that are either electronically powered, or activated by anything other than natural wind, to directly or indirectly cause rotation of decoy wings or blades that simulate wings, when attempting to take waterfowl between the start of the season and Nov. 30.”

As long as a decoy or device that has rotating wings, or blades that simulate wings, is not activated or powered by anything other than natural wind, it is legal to use throughout the entirety of the waterfowl season. Electrically powered decoys that swim, vibrate, splash, move their feet or otherwise churn the water to simulate a feeding or active duck are also legal throughout the season.

Generally, we feel that a new waterfowl hunter will benefit the most from time invested in studying live ducks on the water, practicing calling and shooting rather than trying to acquire the latest and greatest motion decoys to hit the market. While there are certainly times and places when motion decoys — both wind-powered and electric-powered — will improve hunting success, the most consistently successful duck hunters tend to be those who also are excellent callers, understand the nuances of decoy placement, are highly proficient shooters, well-concealed during their hunts and let the birds work close before taking a shot. These are time-honored techniques and traditions that will enhance your waterfowling experience and overall success — motion decoys or not.

We wish you the best on your journey.

Buying a Report Card After the Catch?

Question: In Lake Cuyamaca, sturgeon are present, as are large channel catfish. One can buy licenses and report cards in the tackle shop, within a hundred yards of the nearest shoreline. If a sturgeon is caught incidentally to the take of catfish in the lake, would it have to be immediately released, or, upon incidental landing of a legal-size sturgeon, would it be legal to immediately purchase the required report card, and keep the fish?

— Chris

Answer: No. Any required report cards or tags must be purchased prior to taking fish or other wildlife. If you don’t have a sturgeon report card in your possession, you can’t fish for sturgeon, and an incidentally caught sturgeon must be immediately released.

The purpose of sturgeon report cards is to help fisheries biologists track catch (and lack thereof) throughout the season. Report cards information must be provided to the California Department of Fish & Wildlife at the end of the season, even if you didn’t catch anything. That information helps our biologists monitor the fishery by telling us where people are fishing, how much effort they’re putting into fishing, how many fish were captured, released or retained, and the size and age distribution of fish caught within the legal slot limit (40 to 60 inches).

It’s the same situation with hunting tags. Taking a deer or other big game animal without a valid tag — and then purchasing the tag after the fact — is illegal.

On another note, since you mentioned that you’re fishing for catfish, remember that there are gear restrictions for white sturgeon. They may be taken using only one single point, single shank, barbless hook on a line (CCR Title 14, section 5.80). If you’re not using that for catfish, and you do decide to get a report card and target sturgeon, make sure to switch to the right gear.

Bobcat Hunting?

Question: I’ve heard bobcat season was canceled this year. I bought a tag. So, you’re telling me I can’t use it to hunt bobcats?

— Shawn

Answer: Bobcat season was not canceled, but it is closing sooner than originally planned. Pursuant to Assembly Bill 1254 (Kamlager-Dove, Chapter 766, Statutes of 2019), bobcat hunting will be prohibited in California beginning Jan. 1. The change was enacted through the legislative process, not the Fish and Game Commission.

All bobcat tags will expire on Dec. 31. Bobcat tag fees are not refundable. If you have a bobcat tag, you may still hunt bobcats until Dec. 31. They are also still available to purchase, but understand the season will close Dec. 31. CDFW is working to notify hunters who have already purchased bobcat tags of the statutorily mandated change.

Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife. She can be reached at cwilson@dfg.ca.gov.