Marsh Mud

Chris JenningsThere are some distinct aromas that can linger within our senses and bring us back to a special place in time like no other. Like Pavlov’s dog, our brain is triggered to recognize these smells and relate it directly to something, whatever that something might be. I was reminded of this not more than a week ago when I unpacked my bags from Saskatchewan. I unzipped the lower portion of my travel duffle to pull out my waders marshMud2and was immediately overtaken by the memories of an unforgettable marsh hunt.
I can still pick up an old baseball glove and the smell of leather, sweat and brick dust brings back images of little league baseball. Yet, unlike the baseball glove, marsh mud can vary from region to region. Oh sure, we can break it down scientifically to determine what is the cause of such an odor, but I prefer my method of doing it from pure memory.

Every step or paddle pressed into marsh mud creates an aroma of leaking gases. Recently unpacking my bag from south Florida, I pulled out a pair of fishing shorts that reeked of saltwater marsh mud, but it wasn’t the mud that came to mind. It was the splash of water made by my Zara Spook as I tossed it under well-lit boat docks on the Intercoastal waterway. The mud smell brought back the darkness that surrounded my kayak as I anticipated the strike of 40-inch snook. It reminded of the mangroves and the fish that held tight under their finger-like outreaches, awaiting the arrival of baitfish with the incoming tide.


I’ve pulled out an old duck call lanyard and caught the aroma of Harsen’s Island in eastern Michigan, where the marsh mud seems to cling to the insides of your nostrils with every breath. Flocks of puddle ducks working the open marsh at day break, the skies filled with duck calls from callers and birds alike. The memory of a boat ride through the cattails and the work of trudging out to pick up decoys in the knee-deep muck; it all came back to me instantly from one whiff of marsh mud that clung to my lanyard.

Some complain at the stench of the marsh as it is stirred by those who frequent it. Others, like myself, tend to breathe it in deeply, knowing I will long for it sooner or later. The marsh mud holds stories of Maryland black duck hunters working through the marsh to find just the right spot at the right tide. The mud can tell stories of Illinois River waterfowlers fighting a driving snow for a few ducks or Texas Gulf Coast gunners in search of red heads in Laguna Madre. Every marsh mud has its own intricacies, except when examined by the layman; it all smells like marsh mud. To the outdoors fanatic, it’s memories.


I pulled my waders from my duffle bag and even though I was standing in my garage, the aroma brought me back to a wetland two hours east of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I could hear the bull cans cutting air as they dropped from the sky. The echo of snow geese in the distance rang in my ears and the silhouettes of 1,000 sand hill cranes leaving their feeding area against a setting sun filled my mind. My wife brought me back to reality when she reminded how much my waders smelled.

“You have to hose those things off before you hang them up in here, they smell horrible,” she said.

“I know,” I said. I knew exactly what they smelled like, and I hung them up unwashed, hoping to be reminded of a setting sun somewhere in a marsh in Saskatchewan, every time I entered my garage.

Share your thoughts on the sights and sounds of waterfowling. What is that one smell, sight, or noise that brings your senses back to the marsh, field or blind?


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