Just imagine it’s the 1930’s and you’ve been invited by Walter Chrysler to join him hunting ducks at his private 1,000 acre hunt club on the eastern shore of Maryland. Well you don’t have to imagine what that must have been like; you can experience it just like I did with a stay at the Riverside Lodge on Hoopers Island.
My wife had secretly organized a weekend getaway as a surprise Christmas gift to me. What a surprise it was, because not only had she booked a weekend duck hunt but arranged to have two other couples to join us on our adventure.
While we meandered towards Hoopers Island from Cambridge, it felt as though we were literally driving back in time as we passed by the few remaining crab picking house and through the Blackwater National Wildlife refuge until we arrived at the end of the island and the lodge.
We parked our vehicles and were warmly greeted by the head guide Johnny, his son Joey and owner Gary McQuitty. We learned Johnny is a waterman who grew up on Hoopers Island and he sports a heavy eastern shore dialect to prove it. Consequently, Gary volunteered Joey to be a translator for his father if needed.
Driving through what has been referred to as the “Everglades of the North” and seeing the thousands of waterfowl on our way to the lodge got my heart racing. Then as I stood in front of the lodge chatting and watched no less than 500 redheads raft up not more than 200 yds off the dock I knew I wouldn’t get much sleep that night anticipating the next morning’s hunt.
Johnny and Joey moved our luggage from our trucks to our private rooms while we met Gary’s better half, Peggy McQuitty. Soon we were all sitting by a roaring fire, enjoying adult beverages, eating eastern shore appetizers like oysters on the half shell and oyster puffs and learning some of the fascinating history of the gun club and its previous owners. Gary informed us there has been a Lodge on this site since the early 1900s and this “new lodge” was reconstructed after a fire in 1967 in homage to the great Gunning Clubs of the early 1900s.
It wasn’t long before we were called to be seated for dinner in the formal dining room. What elegant surroundings! The walls were covered with hand painted murals depicting the waterman’s life on the Chesapeake Bay. I’m glad we dressed for dinner because wearing a t-shirt and jeans would have just seemed inappropriate dining in such a spectacular environment. The meals prepared by JoAnn were even more remarkable than the surroundings. Dinner formally served by Dot and Judy, started with a lump crabmeat cocktail, followed by prime rib, Yorkshire pudding, green beans and finished off with a homemade pineapple sorbet. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but it seemed as though each subsequent meal topped the previous whether we had frittatas and French toast for breakfast or cream of crab soup and crab cakes for lunch. It was all fantastic. Speaking of fantastic that is the best way to describe the staff and hosts of the Riverside Lodge on Hoopers Island. Everyone was extremely friendly and accommodating. Gary told us that JoAnn has been in the kitchen for more than 66 years starting when she was 4 years old and her mother was the cook. Johnny the senior guide had only one rule, “don’t shoot the guide”.
With nearly 1000 deeded acres of waterfront property and more than 19 shore blinds on the Honga River and Chesapeake Bay the hunting options seemed almost limitless to me. The flexibility for different hunting possibilities proved very valuable for our stay because we arrived just ahead of the blizzard of 2016. The severe weather patterns could have spelled disaster for some, but not there. When the wind, ice and tides prevented us from safely getting to the shore blinds to hunt for redheads we just opted to hunt mallards over their ponds. It wasn’t long before my hunting buddies and me limited out on mallards and headed back to the lodge.
As the weekend progressed, the weather turned from bad to awful. With horizontal snow and wind steadily increasing, I just knew our next chance to hunt would have to be called off. Gary and Johnny huddled together and figured out a safe way for us to set up a makeshift blind and decoys near an extremely large raft of redheads. We got our limit of redheads that hunt and in the process saw thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of redheads. What we witnessed was indescribable.
The blizzard that closed down I-70 kept us from departing for home, gave us another night’s stay and one more delicious breakfast at the lodge. Gary and Peggy couldn’t have been more obliging and gracious hosts. Before we left, they shared their vision for the lodge as a year round vacation destination offering everything from hunting, fishing and water sports to scenic bay tours. Reflecting on our recent experience I’m already planning to surprise my wife with an anniversary gift, a getaway fishing weekend stay at the lodge.