Stepping into the decoy shop is like walking into the past. Located about a 1/4-miles from the fabled Susquehanna River, it’s as much duck hunting museum as thriving decoy business. Smells of sawdust and fresh paint permeate the air; shelved decoys and pinned photos, a combination of yesteryear and present. Ramsey Russell meets with Captains Charles, Bobby and Joey Jobes, gaining insight into the halcyon days of Chesapeake Bay duck hunting and traditional decoy carving. How’d the Jobes brothers become decoy carvers and what were their influences? What was it like growing up in Havre de Grace, hunting Susquehanna Flats? How have things changed? What about the uniquely regional hunting body booting method developed here and still ardently practiced today? This podcast episode of Duck Season Somewhere is a fun introduction to duck hunting the Chesapeake Bay.
Havre de Grace Maryland Duck Hunting with Jobes Decoys
Charles Jobes: Do you get to edit all this?
Ramsey Russell: No.
Charles Jobes: Oh, this is live when you do it?
Ramsey Russell: We’re live.
Charles Jobes: Oh shit, so there aren’t no cussing on this or anything?!
Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere podcast. I’ve got a special episode for you today. I am about a quarter-mile from the Susquehanna River, right where it dumps into the Chesapeake Bay. I’m in the Charlie Jobes Decoy Shop. Here we go.
Charles Jobes: Back up, Charles Jobes. Not Charlie Jobes.
Ramsey Russell: Charles Jobes. Okay, I’m in the Charles Jobes Decoy Shop in Havre de Grace, Maryland. I’ve got the three brothers together, Charles and Joey and Bobby of Jobes decoys. How are you guys doing today?
Joey Jobes: Okay. How are you doing? How is everybody out there in radio land?
Ramsey Russell: Well, I’m glad to have y’all here today. I’m very excited to be here. Of course I’ve kept up with your business, decoy shop forever. How did this thing start all those years ago? When did it start?
Bobby Jobes: Decoys. Captain Harry. Our dad used to make decoys and put a ball and chain around our leg and put us in the basement and beat us real bad. No, I’m just joking. Our dad started making decoys.
Ramsey Russell: How long ago did he start carving?
Bobby Jobes: Early 1950s, late 1940s.
Joey Jobes: My father started carving with Madison Mitchell, Havre de Grace, Maryland, as a kid.
Ramsey Russell: You all grew up of course duck hunting this region. What is so special about this area? What is so special about Havre de Grace?
Duck Hunting on the Susquehanna Flats
Charles Jobes: The Susquehanna Flats. That’s what’s so special about it. That’s what creates the whole Chesapeake bay.
Ramsey Russell: Why? Elaborate on that a little bit.
Charles Jobes: Susquehanna drains into the Chesapeake Bay and it creates a great big like delta where the grasses grow. And that’s what this place was so famous for, all the wild celery and grasses to grow on the flats. All the canvasbacks and redheads and blackheads. You used to market gun here to kill all the ducks to be shipped to Baltimore, Washington, you know, to all them fancy restaurants, New York, all that. Well, yeah, but I mean they used to come up here to hunt canvasbacks because they ate wild celery and you get a duck that eats wild celery it’s going to be a good tasting duck.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. There’s still a lot of wild celery out there in places?
Bobby Jobes: Yes, there is in some places, but you have 441 miles the Susquehanna River run into the head of the bay. A lot of pollution that comes from there, you know, so, but we have our good years and we have bad years.
Charles Jobes: I had a lot of less runoff last year. So there was a lot of grass grow this year with less runoff and water was clear. But in years prior to that, you get the real muddy rivers and it’s just dampens the grass where it can’t grow.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about growing up in this region as young boys, y’all daddy, Captain Harry Jobes. Associate with Madison Mitchell and this fabled area of duck hunting to America. What was it like growing up?
Bobby Jobes: I’m going to start with the oldest one me, Bobby, for me it was growing up with bushwhack boats canvasbacks out along the river and going out bushwhacking with my father.
Ramsey Russell: Which means what?
Bobby Jobes: Bushwhacking canvasbacks. They set out 300 or 400 canvasback decoys and sculled the boat into the decoys and the canvasbacks was sitting there, had to be two guys up in front of the boat, one guy sculling the boat.
Joey Jobes: Two guys with guns in the front.
Bobby Jobes: Oh my job as a kid was to sit on top of the boat, look out over the decoys and when anything landed in the decoys run down there and then everybody would scatter to the boat and I said, you know, can I go? No, you wait here till we get back. I remember back in early 60s, in the mid-60s when there was lots of canvasbacks and redheads and baldpates and pintails out on the flats. And then I heard that all the old men talking about it being not as good as it used to be. I’m thinking, even back then, how can it not be as good as it used to be when they look like bumble bees?
Charles Jobes: For me it was really good.
Bobby Jobes: To me it was good because I was just a little kid.
Ramsey Russell: What was the limit back in those days, Bobby?
Charles Jobes: Oh, I think nobody knew.
Bobby Jobes: Well yeah, probably, I think 5 or 6 per person, ducks.
Charles Jobes: You know, you asked about limits. The limits on ducks have changed over the years just like now when you can kill four mallards. Two years ago now you can only kill two here, but the mallard limits were less back in the ‘60s, too, where you could only kill one mallard. But here was mostly diving ducks, and like Bobby said there was a puddle ducks and stuff, but mostly canvasbacks and redheads. Then you get up into the ‘70s when I used the body boot and me and Joey used to shoot, be the cripple shooters, we can never get in the body boots. Bobby, he was always the one Bobby, he was laughing.
Joey Jobes: He and his friends would go and bitch about us going to begin with.
Charles Jobes: And we’d go and we’d be the cripple shooters. And, that’s when, we never shot flying ducks when we were kids. We always shot cripples, swimming on.
Bobby Jobes: Well, that’s how you get started.
Charles Jobes: Yeah, you get started that way. But then body booting the geese there travel was different the way they migrated and everything. But I remember sitting on the boat and Bobby being in the boots with whoever and thousands and thousands of geese coming into decoys just circling around and they come out 03:00 – 3:30 in the afternoon. Now, you don’t see bunches.
Bobby Jobes: I’ve seen it one time on the flat, it was probably 50,000 geese at one time.
Charles Jobes: Of course, they had sanctuaries way back when and they didn’t have fast boats running around 24×7 like you do now, not everybody, you know, these boats weren’t developed, they didn’t have 200 horsepower motors and all that stuff. If you had a 35 horsepower Johnson on the back of an aluminum boat, that’s what you used. That’s what there was. There wasn’t none of these big boats, and boats running all over the place, and the geese could rest, and they had places they could rest. Now. You go on the flat. If you go out there in the morning, like Tuesday, when it comes in, when the duck season comes in, I’ll bet you there’ll be 20 or 25 boats running around out there 03:30 04:00 o’clock in the morning. Well, that runs them ducks away right off the bay, right off the bat.
Joey Jobes: Well, there used to be a time that you could only past a certain time, right?
Charles Jobes: 3:00. But that was for the sink box.
[An cuckoo clock alarms goes off]
Bobby Jobes: That’s our three stooge’s clock. They’re always on time.
Charles Jobes: It was a big effort to get sink box rig set out with 500 decoys in the sink box. And you know, they didn’t have any outboard motors back then you rode out. So but that they had a time limit where you couldn’t get onto the flats till 3:00 in the morning.
Joey Jobes: Yeah, just for them. Bushwhackers would go out.
Bobby Jobes: No, no, that was for everybody to be. That’s where it originally started.
Charles Jobes: Yeah, you just think about that when we used to have to row out there. They’d row out there with what, you get somebody around now. They go, what? What are you talking about rowing? I guarantee you there’s nobody around here that rows a boat or sculls boat anymore.
Ramsey Russell: It probably increased hunting quality. Just less motor. Talk more about this body booting stuff. Because I’m sure there’s a lot of people that don’t understand what you’re talking about body booting. What is body booting?
What is Body Booting?
Joey Jobes: Body booting is the most unique way of hunting waterfowl that there is. You either get chest waders, back in the ‘70s that’s what a lot of guys used until they develop these dry suits. It was an dry suit and a lot of gas suits came off the proving ground which they were totally waterproof too. They put boots on the bottom of them, which they had a drawstring up by the neck which was a whole suit arms and everything. Nowadays, we use survival suits without all the rigmarole on them. But body booting is one of the ways that gun in the bay, that you can get them right close to you or sometimes not just like any other type of gun. But you’re out there in the elements on your own, kind of, you know, you’ve got to make your own decisions. You’re by yourself behind your stick up. Stick up is what you put your gun on and sometimes they are adjustable and sometimes they’re not. But you put your shelves and gloves and everything. You’re out there anywhere from knee-deep water to over your chest water. All depending on the tides. The tides up here on the Chesapeake Flats usually are about no more than three feet on a regular cycle.
Ramsey Russell: So we got to stick up when body booting. You’re talking about a big silhouette that you stand behind.
Joey Jobes: It’s a big silhouette that you stand behind while body booting, hide behind you, face down behind. But recently I’ve developed and thought, the guys are behind the stick up to begin with, why do you need even need to stick up? And I try to use just the box. The box nowadays is so important, especially for the people that we guide. And, I developed a box. Just the box, which you have plenty of room to put shells, guns, gloves, everything into what you need and that makes the guy get down a little bit lower and kind of hide just behind the box because the box is about 24 inches by about 9 inches, that’s about 10 inches tall. So you’ve got plenty of room to yourself.
Charles Jobes: You guys going in can put your gloves, your, shells, cup, coffee if you want it.
Joey Jobes: Everybody gets about the room and the stick ups in the boxes. So that’s what we use now, just boxes. We don’t, you’re there anyway, and you’re being seen by the waterfowl. It doesn’t matter whether they’re looking at a guy hunts down behind the box or a big giant silhouette of a goose or a swan, you just got to stay still and move at the right time while body booting.
Charles Jobes: What a of people do when while body booting, they have the silhouette or the goose or the swan there, they want to stick their head up over top of the swan. They want to stick their head out. So you’re up six or eight inches above the silhouette anyway. So you don’t want that. So like he said with the box, you’re down to where you’re going to try to stay a little bit stiller.
Ramsey Russell: How many decoys you all put out on a body booting operation like that?
Joey Jobes: Well, most body booting hunters use V boards, frames we call them, and either a swan rig or a goose rig and supplement that with 50 or so full-bodies and maybe 40 – 50 sets of waterfowlframes. So you figure what you got three times you got 150 and you got couple of 100 decoys and another 75 or 75 – 100 duck decoys. You can stretch that out or make it as on the, calmer days, you would stretch it out so you can be seen.
Ramsey Russell: Longer or wider?
Joey Jobes: Either way. On the windier days, you gang them up more so you can be seen in the waves. A lot of people don’t know that, but you gang them up so you can be seen from a distance and you look darker on the water, in the waves. Your rig itself.
Ramsey Russell: When body booting, are you trying to get the sun behind you or the more it gets dark?
Charles Jobes: No, body booting is 360.
Ramsey Russell: Really?
Joey Jobes: Yeah. They may come from behind you. It’s open water.
Charles Jobes: If the winds blow to your back and you got your decoy set up to where you think they’re going to come with the wind to your back and come into the wind. You might turn around and go there’s two black ducks landed behind me or two geese, you know, you don’t know. I mean, you’d be looking this way one time and then turn around and see something here and then turn around, look again. They’re right in the decoys. That’s body booting.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve heard that the body booting method of hunting was developed right here, right here on the Susquehanna flat.
Joey Jobes: Well, they developed body booting after they outlawed sink boxes. Right, Bobby?
Bobby Jobes: Yeah.
Charles Jobes: And trying to figure out how to kill. There was no geese here in the ‘50s. So they were bushwhacking and they tried put a couple guys in the water to get these geese come in because geese won’t sit in the decoys.
Bobby Jobes: They will some.
Charles Jobes: Some, but canvasbacks and redheads are the main thing that are going to sit with dekes.
Ramsey Russell: That’s what you all are after anyway.
Charles Jobes: See, what Bobby is saying is canvasbacks and redheads, which would set fly into a bunch of decoys when you were bushwhacking and when you would scull the boat down on the decoys. Then canvasbacks and redheads would set in the decoys until you got there. 20 yards away and then you would jump them up and shoot them. But geese and mallards, they’ll do it, blackheads won’t do it.
Bobby Jobes: Blackheads, we tried doing that one time. We went down to Potomac River. We’re going to go shoot, we’re going to go sculling on some blackheads. We’re trying to get all the blackhead decoys together. We can go and my fathers like you are wasting your time, kid. What do you mean? We’re going to try that? You’re wasting your time. We went down there and settle the decoys that we couldn’t get the blackheads and sitting long enough, we’d start sculling down on, and they get up flying.
Charles Jobes: You’d scull 10 yards and they’d swim out or fly out of decoys. But the canvasbacks will sit and the redheads will sit.
Joey Jobes: I heard my father say before, the canvasbacks sometimes go to the bottom end of the rig and go to sleep.
Charles Jobes: They don’t lay like a goose. I’ve seen it.
Ramsey Russell: That’s what we want, man.
Joey Jobes: You want them with their head under their wing with their eyes closed.
Charles Jobes: Those things will go lower end of your rig and go right, say lay tuck her head right now. I’ve seen it. I’ve sculled down with my father. You look right underneath the curtains and you can see them canvasbacks sitting right there. I was with my father at one time. He’s going to let me shoot one. I was so scared I couldn’t pick the gun up, I was about eight years old. I said, you shoot it, dad. He picked it up the plug to the scull, hold up, hit the boat and canvasback jumped up. He shot it with it. He always shot a double barreled 10-gauge from the stern.
Ramsey Russell: Oh really?
Charles Jobes: Yeah, that’s what he always shot.
Ramsey Russell: What do you all shoot today? Joey what do you shoot? 10-gauge, 8-gauge?
Joey Jobes: I shoot the biggest gun I can shoot usually, not body booting. Sometimes if you’re killing geese but now limits only one. I mean, you’re lucky to get your geese.
Ramsey Russell: Body booting sounds like it could be miserable. In chest-deep water that doesn’t sound fun.
Bobby Jobes: Body booting is the best thing you’ll ever do hunting or the absolute worst thing you’ll ever do.
Joey Jobes: When there’s a lot of action. No matter what you’re doing, if you’re standing in high water, it don’t matter. You’re if it’s hot, I don’t care, I aren’t got no suit on.
Bobby Jobes: The suits these days make it different compared to 30 years ago. You know, the suits are totally different. The suits are warm to keep you warm. Way back when mostly every suit we had leaked.
Charles Jobes: The majority of the time when you’re body booting, you’re going to get wet somewhere, your hands or something and we do have suits that leaked too.
Ramsey Russell: Just like waders.
Charles Jobes: Yeah, when I get in, if I feel any water at all, I’m out immediately. Done. I get dry.
Joey Jobes: When I was a kid, I hunted some with a rig called the wild goose rig. And when I got off of school, or took off, just walked out. I believe I lived close to the school. I put that seat I hunted a lot with the 10-gauge double barrel that Bobby was talking about because my father had a shitload of shells down in his basement to fit that gun. There were 2878 shells. So I had a lot of them shells because I cut off the shells from my father and I get on my 10 speed bicycle and put a duffel bag on my back and ride right down Union Avenue with that 10-gauge trying to get them before they went out in the afternoon, you know, and then you get out there and if your suit leak, you better not complain while body booting about it because you was getting out and you wasn’t getting back in. So I got off school khaki pants, no thermal underwear, one pair of socks, get into suit, get in the water and get down. If you bitched about it, you’re done you’re out. If I got wet I didn’t care back then, but I care now.
Charles Jobes: If you want to see a good film about body booting DU films it’s called, Carving the Chesapeake. It’s about our whole family.
Ramsey Russell: Carving the Chesapeake. It seems like I’ve seen on television one time. Maybe on television, you all out there body booting out there with some geese.
Charles Jobes: We did a film in 2011 and we did one in 2013. Well, no we did three we did one 2003 and 2011. And 2003 and 2011 and Ducks Unlimited TV we did that.
Joey Jobes: You can see that on YouTube.
Charles Jobes: Probably YouTube because they had something they couldn’t use it anymore. Didn’t have the rights to it or something. Ramsey Russell: Is that y’all’s favorite way to hunt or you all lay out boat hunt, hunt from blinds?
Joey Jobes: One duck out of body booting is worth three ducks in a blind any day. That’s what I think.
Charles Jobes: When body booting, when you get them, when you’re in the body boots and you’re behind that stick up and you get them ducks for them geese and you get them within that 30 yard range, you’re like, this is it. I mean you don’t get no better, you don’t get no better than that.
Joey Jobes: You would you get a sense of accomplishment when you really fooled the hell out of ‘em body booting. Way better hunt than being in a blind.
Charles Jobes: We’ve had people from Washington State, California, Texas up here, body booting and everything and they want to kill black ducks. Well, when they come here and they kill that black duck, their bucket list is full, so they’re done.
Ramsey Russell: It’s a great way to shoot Black Duck. I’d have thought it more of a diver and Canada goose hunting game plan.
Joey Jobes: No, when they’re around they will come to you. Colder is better. Ice is good. Nothing really, it’s not real easy when you’re real successful, usually you got ice floating through the decoys, you’ve got guys coming out to break the ice with the boat or you get up against some ice hammock that’s formed out there and when they could be up to 20 feet high, and you’re off the leeward side of it and then the ducks are dumber when it’s colder, everybody knows that.
Charles Jobes: I want to say you better be on top of your game. This isn’t something just somebody wants to come try because a lot of people can’t come home.
Joey Jobes: Yeah, you don’t want to come try it by yourself. You want to come out there and go out there with somebody’s been out there all their life like we have.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah I do.
Charles Jobes: It’s just dangerous.
Bobby Jobes: It can be a flat dead calm on the flats. And the flats, I mean it’s a big area but flat dead calm. And then all of a sudden you look up and you go oh, and it’s rolling 2 ft. 3 ft. And people go out there in 14 – 15 – 16 ft. boats. And it’s not good.
Joey Jobes: There’s people that died from body booting out at the Susquehanna Flats. There’s people that died.
Bobby Jobes: See, we have the river here and four miles from here we have kind of like a dam, it’s got 52 floodgates on it. So that’s what takes care of some of the grass too. But the floodgates don’t, I mean they don’t kill the people.
Joey Jobes: That’s not the danger
Bobby Jobes: Yup that’s not the danger of it. But the danger is the ice.
Joey Jobes: The danger is you got to know what you’re doing days before you go, you got to think 10 steps ahead of yourself, but what you’re doing out here, because like, we like to say, we take gunning parties out there and you’re responsible. I’m responsible for those people, and if you think it’s going to get in a position, we’re going to endanger somebody or get somebody hurt, you, get the hell out of there. And then there’s guys still out there, you say, well, you know, I’m not going to endanger these people by making a bad decision.
Charles Jobes: I’ve been on sheets of ice before, try to get on top of them when the ice comes down on top of you and you’re trying to break the ice with the decoys and you’re breaking it. It’s coming through the decoys and an acre or two ice coming through your decoys. You know what it does. It wipes you out and it puts them in a pile about as big as this room and this room is probably 20 by 20. And it’s scary when that happens because, and you can’t get on top of it because it breaks and you can’t break it fast enough. So you don’t have somebody getting to you. You better be safe, better have somebody there.
Ramsey Russell: So y’all are saying that those body boots rage. Y’all got a tender, y’all got somebody you rescue.
Charles Jobes: That’s what he’s talking about, what Joey is talking about by people knowing what they’re doing there is a lot of people that come up here and do it by themselves. And even when it’s warm not a good idea because the water temperature cools off in the fall of the year. You get in the water, you’re going to be in that water getting a 70° shower. I guarantee you’ll jump out of it.
Bobby Jobes: Not even 70° even if it’s 50°.
Charles Jobes: 55°.
Bobby Jobes: Its 50° in October you know it’s not fun to be cold like that.
Hunting the Chesapeake Bay in the Good Old Days
Ramsey Russell: Bobby, do you remember your first duck?
Bobby Jobes: Yeah it was a coot.
Ramsey Russell: Oh boy.
Bobby Jobes: It was a coot, my very first duck was. But I remember the first duck there, like I said it was canvasback, my father took me bushwhacking. I was going to shoot their canvasback. I was just like I said I was probably eight years old but I was just so shaking just me and him. But I remember, I can’t say where we were hunting but where we were, but I remember baldpate, pintails, black ducks and guys shooting them by the burlap bags, sacks full, and I was probably eight or nine years old. My father carried me on the back of the shoulder into a marsh. But then like I say body booting out here, you know the weather has changed so much. I mean, I remember every day you’d be out there trying to break your weights out of the ice at the bottom of the boot if it froze in.
Joey Jobes: It used to get cold every winter, but now it gets cold for two weeks and it’s done or something.
Charles Jobes: I mean wildlife has changed, I mean, and the geese changed too, there’s not as many geese out there it used to be, I mean that changed in the 90s.
Joey Jobes: Some of the farming practices have something to do with that also the farmers don’t, they’re planting more crops that geese can eat in different places like for Pennsylvania. Lot of geese up in Pennsylvania and a lot of geese up in Jersey, New Jersey. Just lots and lots of geese in Jersey.
Charles Jobes: The thing about geese is you see him above 95 in a grass area with a little pond next to it.
Joey Jobes: There are places where you wouldn’t they did.
Charles Jobes: Thirty, forty, fifty and that never used to happen years ago.
Bobby Jobes: Well, they weren’t building that little pond that little rock pond rooms like they do now.
Ramsey Russell: Charles, do you remember your first duck?
Charles Jobes: I knew you’re going to ask me that. No, I really don’t. It was probably a goose on the flats, just shooting cripples. But first duck.
Joey Jobes: No, that wasn’t your goose. That was the guy that down the goose.
Charles Jobes: Well, you’re right. I killed it though. I killed it with a 410-shotgun. That’s what we used to shoot cripples with, a 410.
Bobby Jobes: I’ll tell you what I do remember there was a kid, I remember the excitement of the night before, getting my shotgun shells lined up and looking at them Peterson shells and that nice colorful box with a mallard flying all over it and getting my shells lined up, all my gun ready and everything. That was the whole thing to go and hunting just the day before getting ready.
Ramsey Russell: It’s still kind of is. What do you say?
Bobby Jobes: Yeah, it’s just like you’re thinking about the day before and you know what can be, could be what you hope is going to be.
Charles Jobes: I remember my first, my own shotgun when our dad bought us, Joey, too, for Christmas bought us new shotguns, double-barrel 20-gauges.
Joey Jobes: And I got double barrel 410.
Charles Jobes: And you talk about a 20 gauge, it’ll bust your ass I’m telling you.
Joey Jobes: I bought my box up and I thought I said, oh my God, Bobby’s present. It’s not easy for me. I went outside and started shooting that gun up in the air.
Bobby Jobes: So he did by Mitchell’s? Madison Mitchell’s?
Joey Jobes: I finally got a shoot of supplies.
Bobby Jobes: No you got up your Madison Mitchell.
Charles Jobes: He used to be at sporting goods store right across street from my house here before Dicks and Cabela’s was in.
Bobby Jobes: Well, way back when you get Western Auto on the racks.
Ramsey Russell: That I can remember. I can remember that even back home. There was a lot of stores that sold ammo and guns.
Bobby Jobes: You know, privately-owned stores.
Havre de Grace Decoy Carvers
Ramsey Russell: Can you all describe growing up in this area in terms of the decoys, the Madison Mitchell’s and all the historic carvers of whom your dad was one. What was it like? I mean, I’m just thinking when you all were kids, it didn’t seem like a big deal because everybody did it. Your dad did it. But now look at it. Now, it’s like this folk art movement or something. Who are some of the people back then? And some of the stories y’all remember.
Bobby Jobes: As a kid, it didn’t seem like it was a big deal because you’re living it daily. Paul Gibson, Ed Sampson, you know, Madison Mitchell, Jimmy Pierce, my father. I mean, we all grew up and took it for granted. I mean, you worked at Madison Mitchell shop, grew up in there working. Bobby, go down there and help load them decoys in the car for the guy, you go down there and get to three dozen canvasbacks and but like I said, we just took it for granted. Like, it’s going to be there forever, but it’s changed and now we don’t have these old timers around, Jimmy Pierce is still alive. You had some guys over Northeast who carved. And my father. As a kid growing over, my father would take us wherever he visits with him, talk to him.
Charles Jobes: With Bobby being like four years old or three years older than us. He worked for Madison Mitchell and when my dad would go down there, me and Joey would go down there every Friday night in the fall of the year. My dad’d be down there painting, you didn’t go, you went son going down and we’d be sitting down downstairs in the workshop and nailing blocks of wood together and stuff like that. He’d be pushing me on the wheel barrow, and I’d push him outside and all that and we’d be giving each other rides, but Bobby worked for Mitchell. You know, Madison Mitchell was my Godfather but my dad we were always there you know Christmas time and all that stuff always down around Mr. Mitchell and he remembers a carver, he said Jim Courier chopping blocks.
Bobby Jobes: I remember Jim Courier which he lived right behind in decoy museum. There was an ally there I remember seeing watching Jim Courier seeing him chopping decoy and in his shop when I was a little kid.
Ramsey Russell: Well you saw everybody.
Bobby Jobes: Yeah under the museum I thought there was a coffin under there one time, we were kids and was coffin underneath there. Well now years later it was the inside of the sink box, that’s what it was. That was built in, it was just sitting down underneath the decoy museum down there.
Joey Jobes: Which wasn’t a decoy museum back then.
Bobby Jobes: But it was empty back then, but I thought it was a coffin.
Joey Jobes: Yeah.
First Captain Harry Jobes Decoys
Ramsey Russell: How did your dad Captain Harry Jobes get into decoy carving? Y’all know how? Was that his hobby or just what everybody was doing it?
Bobby Jobes: Bernard lived in right behind where my father lived. Charles Bernard. And as a kid he fooled around helping him sell some duck heads. He was very young, then the story is he made a decoy and put it in an art contest in school. Well, this Mrs. Mitchell, Madison Mitchell’s wife, seeing the decoys and said you’re very good and you got to come see my husband, which was Mr. Mitchell. She took my father down there and that’s when my father started helping Madison Mitchell.
Ramsey Russell: How old would he have been then?
Charles Jobes: 12.
Ramsey Russell: A Little Boy. So, he more or less apprenticed under Madison Mitchell.
Charles Jobes: Yeah. And reason I say 12 so quick our dad passed away and we found the duck. The first duck that he supposedly ever made, as a boy in seventh grade when he was 12 years old. It signed on the bottom, it’s in the house.
Ramsey Russell: I’d like to take a picture of it. Well that’s fascinating. And then how did you all come up into it all those years later?
Bobby Jobes: Well, I grew up with it. I worked for Madison Mitchell through school and actually worked for him full time for two years. Charles Jobes: I remember Bobby which we lived over on Bourbon Street 619 Bourbon. Where Joey lives now, where we grew up, our dad lived in Aberdeen. I remember Bobby driving his bicycle up from Madison Mitchell shop. He had a little basket on the front and having a pair of decoys. Madison Mitchell decoys in the basket on the bicycle. Because he’d trade when he had enough money.
Bobby Jobes: I’d seen everybody collecting these decoys and I was only making like a dollar a half an hour and I’m like, well I’ve got a couple of decoys too, you know, and I started collecting some see Madison Mitchell when you work for me I’d only pay you once a year. That was every Christmas time, because that’s when the decoys were finished in the fall. People didn’t work for him year round, they were all made part-time workers and stuff. But Madison would pay you Christmas time because all the decoys were sold in the fall to the hunters, and that’s when they would pick their decoys up, and then he had the money to pay everybody working all summer helping him.
Charles Jobes: Well, he had money from undertaking too.
Ramsey Russell: Oh he was undertaking?
Bobby Jobes: He was undertaking. Madison Mitchell. And as a kid, I was down there, I go up into basement underneath funeral home because it was all granite in the summertime and it was so cool in there. It was like 90° outside and it was like 60° and down in that basement. That’s where he embalmed all the bodies and everything else.
Ramsey Russell: That part is spooky.
Bobby Jobes: Well he gets onto a hearse garage, he fixed all the cripples, all the old decoys and people brought decoys back to have repainted heads, broke it on cripples. So in the fall he’d redo, repaint probably repair 300 or 400, 500 decoys. People bring them back to him and we prepared.
Where Did Waterfowl Decoy Carving Originate?
Ramsey Russell: We recorded a young man over Tuckerton, New Jersey the other day and he believed that that’s where carved hunting decoys originated. Was right there and then it drifted over here.
Joey Jobes: From Tuckerton, New Jersey?
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I’m sure that’s a disputed fact.
Bobby Jobes: I don’t know. How you can prove it?
Back in the 1800s, they hunted canvasbacks out here. There wasn’t any such thing as, well, of course they did have bandsaws where they hand chopped everything. And sent a lot of these ducks that were killed. Of course a lot of them were market gunners shooting the canvasback. They sent most of the ducks to cities, Philadelphia, New York for fancy restaurants and stuff. That was Mark Twain’s favorite food, canvasback duck killed on the Susquehanna Flats. That was I mean, I don’t know how he can say that they originated up anywhere else. This was the world headquarters for canvasbacks right here. – Joey Jobes
Charles Jobes: Here [Havre de Grace, Susquehanna Flats, Chesapeake Bay region] was the decoy capital of the world.
Joey Jobes: It is right, they would call decoy capital of the world because you’ve got so many different carvers in the area here now.
Charles Jobes: You know Roosevelt and all the guys came here. They stayed at the Bayview Hotel right down there next to the Decoy Museum downtown.
Joey Jobes: Big, big time sports came here.
Charles Jobes: To go shoot canvasbacks, that’s what they wanted to do.
Joey Jobes: You have a lot of highfalutin people come here and shoot the ducks from the Susquehanna Flats because they tasted good. They weren’t that Jersey ducks up there eating that plants and that cabbage and all that stuff. So you tell him that, who wants a Jersey duck?
Charles Jobes: Yeah, tastes just like an ass out of a skunk.
Ramsey Russell: I figured that there would be some dispute back around here but I wanted to ask you guys.
Charles Jobes: But here they’re used like Bobby was saying there used to be a lot of decoy makers, Bob McCall, Madison Mitchell, Paul Gibson, Jim Courier. They were all right here and have any grades back into that.
Bobby Jobes: That was only the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s you go way back, you had Sam Barnes, you had Bob McCall, and you know, Daddy Holly and two other sons, Jim Holly and Ed Bernard. That’s just Havre de Grace. Now you go across Cecil County there you had 20 makers on there.
Ramsey Russell: That’s where the Ward brothers were from?
Bobby Jobes: No they were from Crisfield. But on the other side, you had Henry Davis.
Charles Jobes: And Bobby’s talking the other side, we’re talking two miles from here, no, one mile from here. And they were all fairly near, Northeast, Elkton, you know Elkton is 5 miles from here. So 10 miles from here.
Bobby Jobes: You’re just talking about two counties in Maryland.
Charles Jobes: Yeah, that were probably over the years over. I’d say over 100 – 150 duck makers.
Bobby Jobes: They supplied the Flats.
Joey Jobes: They say all the Cecil County carver say duck floated over here. And that’s how Harford guy learned to carve a duck. But one of our flirted over there and that’s how they learn how to paint it. Yeah, because the painter from Cecil County wouldn’t like the painters from Harford County.
Ramsey Russell: What was the difference?
Joey Jobes: Oh, ours were more pleasurable to the eye.
Charles Jobes: Feathers painted on the back of the tail feathers. Like mine are the most beautiful painted, they are the best.
Joey Jobes: They say mine are. Matter of fact, I got to go sell pair of decoys right now.
Charles Jobes: We all have our own technique, and it has changed over the years for sure.
Joey Jobes: We’ll be at the shop.
Outlaw Gunning on the Chesapeake Bay
Well, see, back then market gunners and people that hunted with my dad, they were heroes. These days, you’re a criminal, you know, you do anything like that. And we really, it’s like this, the more you cross the street, the more often you get hit by a car.
Ramsey Russell: Joey, in case you don’t come back. Tell them about you being a reformed duck hunter real quick. You told me when I walked in you were a reformed duck hunter. You said you didn’t want to shoot a million ducks no more.
Joey Jobes: No, like you say, if I don’t kill another one, I killed my share. Because they paid like hell when I was younger, hunting waterfowl. But when you get in trouble, you kind of get your teeth pulled, your fangs pulled, and you learn a little bit more, you know, back then I figured, well, I’ll just put all my hunting tickets and charges under just the cost of doing business. Well, they don’t play that game no more. They want to put your ass in jail, bigger than a drug dealer, a murderer or anything else. They want you, they want to make example out of you. And I’ve been made an example out of a couple of times and I don’t want to do it no more. I’m not going to get in the particulars of it.
Bobby Jobes: Steaks are too cheap. You can buy them at the grocery store. But the memories of doing that are better than anything you’ll ever do in your lifetime.
Charles Jobes: When you sit there at school and look at the book, The Outlaw Hunter, you know, and you’re just sitting there dreaming the whole afternoon when you’re supposed to be in math class. Then that’s when it gets on his bicycle rides down.
Joey Jobes: Well, see, back then market gunners and people that hunted with my dad, they were heroes. These days, you’re a criminal, you know, you do anything like that. And we really, it’s like this, the more you cross the street, the more often you get hit by a car. If you don’t cross the street, you aren’t going to get hit by a car. I go out, I try to do the best I can within the law, within the limits. But that involves crossing the street a lot, you know? So you still might get struck by the car a little bit, but it aren’t getting killed by the car.
Charles Jobes: A lot of guys I gunned with over the years, you have geese that will keep coming into decoys. Come on, come on we’ll shoot some more and ducks keep coming in. And I said, you want to come back tomorrow? So, yeah, I’m going to come back tomorrow. So, let’s leave now then. So that’s basically what it is.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. Times have changed. Okay, all three of you carve Jobes decoys?
Charles Jobes: Yup.
Ramsey Russell: What are the similarities between, y’all paint jobs and the differences? Do you each have your own or do you thought a kind of?
Joey Jobes: A lot of people can’t tell the differences that are new to collecting decoys or something like that. But to us individually and people in the decoy business, they can look at the decoys from 20 feet away and tell he made that decoys sitting over there on that shelf or I made that one sitting over there. We can see a world of difference. But the people that are just new to collecting or something cannot tell that. When you look at decoys all your life, your whole life, you get a knowledge of who made what and who painted what and who carved what be it the shape of the heads and the gills and the heads and just the shape and look of the decoy.
Charles Jobes: There’s 10 different decoys in this shop right now that my dad made back in the ‘50s all the way up until 5 years ago. And you look at him go, he didn’t make that completely different. So, you know, everybody has a little bit different style, but everybody has a basic, same stuff.
Joey Jobes: I’ll be back. See you all later.
Ramsey Russell: Guys, I appreciate you all being here. I really do appreciate you all sharing part of your story. I know it’s a short story for y’all I know, you all can talk for years. The first time I ever came to this part of the world, 25 some-odd years ago, I’d just got married. Met a hunter over near Chestertown. And we hunted over some homemade decoy, some hand-carved decoys. I don’t know the carver’s his name. The guy told me him and his dad bought him back when he was a little boy for $5 and I bought a local and he described it back in the day. Everybody used wooden decoys. But that’s when this newfangled plastic decoy come on the market. You know, he can remember being a young man and camps going out and burning all their wooden decoy because they were tired of dealing with it. Do you all still hunt over your own decoys?
Charles Jobes: Yeah, we do when I can get, usually when I make some, I usually hunt over one or two times and then people can I buy them? And I’m like, yeah, I can’t eat them, so I’m selling them. I can’t digest them very well. So that’s what I’m in the business for to sell decoy. Jobes decoys. So yeah, we do hunt over some but the frames we use V-boards like Joey says the frames and that’s mainly what we hunt with. They work the best.
Ramsey Russell: You make them yourself also?
Bobby Jobes: Yeah, we do make them ourselves. Yeah, but full-body, you know, there’s mallards over there and they’re black ducks and pintails. But I tell them the gun and decoys are just as fast as you can make them almost.
Ramsey Russell: So there are a lot of people up here that still use your gunning decoys to hunt over.
Bobby Jobes: Not many. There are some that use them up here. Not a whole lot. I make a lot for people, Washington, Mississippi, Carolina, stuff like that.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me about that Mississippi Hunt if you will. You were telling me about the special duck hunt you went on Mississippi.
Charles Jobes: Oh, Nash Buckingham if any of you guys know, Nash Buckingham, read his book, his autobiography, Nash Buckingham. It’ll tell the story about his shotgun how it was lost and that shotgun, it was a $200,000 shotgun that sold at auction. Because it came back, it was lost back in, I can’t remember the exact date. But anyway, they had a trip to Beaver Dam, Tunica, Mississippi, at the Ducks Unlimited National Convention Auction and I bought it, and I paid a whole lot of money for it. But I went down there and hunted down there with my two sons. And it was so cool to shoot that shotgun that Nash Buckingham double-barrel. It was so awesome to shoot it. So, but there’s a DU Film. If you go to the DU Films and put in Beaver Dam, it will show you the film. It’s unbelievable. It’s unbelievable.
Ramsey Russell: How can anybody listening connect with you all online? How can they find you all, where they need to go to keep up with you all or contact you all?
Charles Jobes: They can go to my website, charlesjobesdecoys.com or email email@example.com. Either way, you can do that and get a hold of me. So, or, you know, if you’re punching, you know, Jobes decoys, Havre de Grace Maryland, us three will come up,
Ramsey Russell: Jobes decoys, Havre de Grace, Maryland. Google it and you’ll find all three of these Jobes brothers. Thank y’all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere from Havre de Grace, Maryland, with Charles and Bobby and Joey Jobes. Jobes decoys. What a trip down memory lane this has been. See y’all next time.