DAMERON, Md. When most sportsmen from this region think of visiting the Chesapeake Bay, the first thing that usually comes to mind is striped bass.

Because the Chesapeake is a popular destination for "rockfish," as they're called in Maryland, anglers traveling from near and far to battle the sleek, hard-fighting fish. Come late fall and winter, however, fishermen are not alone on the water, as thousands of hunters head out and about in search of a variety of waterfowl.

One area that is definitely worth exploring on the Chesapeake when it comes to waterfowl hunting is St. Mary's County, located in the southern part of the state, where the Potomac and Patuxent rivers enter the bay. The area is a major stop-over point and wintering ground for migrating waterfowl, and less than a five-hour drive away from this region, making it an ideal destination for sportsmen looking to enjoy world-class wingshooting for sea and diving ducks.

Capt. Phil Langley, a native of St. Mary's County, is the owner/operator of Fish the Bay Charters and has been guiding for more than a quarter-century. In the early winter, he offers cast-and-blast trips aboard his 40-foot Robbins cruiser, which has a heated cabin to provide clients with the perfect respite from being out in the elements, which is a morning trip for sea ducks and an afternoon of trolling for trophy rockfish that are migrating through the Chesapeake.

While sportsmen may not catch a ton of fish during the latter stages of the year, the ones that they do bring to the boat are likely to be quite large, making for an amazing experience they'll remember a lifetime. And the fast-flying sea ducks provide a challenge to any wing shooter.

"During this time of the year it's big stripers," Langley said. "The majority of the fish will range from 36 to 46 inches and between 20 to 40 pounds.

"My average sea duck hunt is about two boxes of shells (fired) per shooter. Normally the birds aren't as spooked down on this end (of the bay), so I have a pretty good success rate most times."

As far as sea duck hunting on the Chesapeake, the primary species available are long-tailed ducks and black, surf and white-winged scoters. With a season that begins in early October and runs for nearly four months, there are plenty of opportunities to target them, but the best hunting usually comes with the onset of winter.

"As far as the season goes, the hunting will get better as the season goes on," Langley said. "Once you get into the end of December and the middle of January, normally the cold weather pushes more ducks down from up north and the season gets better as we go through January."

Langley hunts anywhere from 500 yards offshore to as far as nine miles out depending on time of year, weather conditions and where the ducks are. He also keys in on areas where the birds are feeding such as oyster beds and shoals in order to give his hunters the best chances for success.

As with other forms of waterfowling, having the proper decoy setup is extremely important, especially since sea ducks usually will not respond well to calling. This means hunters must always be on the ready since these fast-flying birds will come and go in a flash.

"As I have ducks that will move in closer to shore, I bring in my smaller (19-foot) brush blind boats and they do decoy a little bit better to them," Langley said. "If I don't have the right weather and I have to go farther offshore, I normally hunt out of my larger boat for safety reasons."

IF YOU GO

For more information on sea duck hunting and striper fishing with Fish the Bay Charters, contact Phil Langley at www.mdcharterfishing.com [1] or 301-872-4041. Langley will also be in Booth 202 at the Eastern Sports & Outdoor Show in Harrisburg Feb. 4-12.

Nearby accommodations are available at the Island Inn & Suites, a popular inn and crab house located on picturesque St. George Island, where the Potomac River meets the Chesapeake Bay. For information, visit www.stgeorgeislandinnandsuites.com [2] or call 301-994-1234.