Born in Hobbs, New Mexico, Spread Oaks Ranch owner Forrest Wylie grew up in the “Oil Patch,” getting his start at the age of 13 as a swamper on an oilfield pump truck. He and his family moved first to West Texas, and then on to the Texas Mid-Coast where he plied the local fields, prairies, ponds, creeks, sloughs in pursuit of ducks, doves, geese, and any other gamebird as he fueled his passion for the outdoors.
Wylie quickly worked his way up through the oilfield ranks, which enabled him to purchase three contiguous properties to create the 5,500-acre Spread Oaks Ranch along the Colorado River in Matagorda county. His unique perspective as a landowner allowed him to fuse his passion for managing wildlife with his Brangus cattle-ranching operation and best-practices approach to both organic and conventional crop production, resulting in a harmonious, improved ecosystem.
While row crops ripen and Brangus graze contently on rich prairie grasses, hundreds of thousands of ducks, doves, geese, and sandhill cranes swarm the skies and feed in marshes and harvested crop fields, while shorebirds such as snipe, curlew, egret, and sandpipers pluck insects, mollusks, and other invertebrates from the mud flats. Two nesting pair of bald eagles, and numerous raptors and owls hunt mice, voles, and other small quarry amidst native grasses, while migratory songbirds refuel and rest among the gargantuan live oaks and waterways each spring and fall. Largemouth bass, spotted bass, catfish, and bream feed in the lake, ponds, creeks, and the ranch’s five-mile stretch of the Colorado. Terrestrial wildlife such as river-bottom deer, wild hogs, and abundant non-game species all benefit from Wylie’s unique approach to holistic land management.
Spread Oaks Ranch Manager Tim Soderquist grew up in Wharton, Texas, 20 miles north of Spread Oaks Ranch. He caught the waterfowling bug as an 8-year-old, chasing wood ducks through the sloughs of his grandfather’s property. His hero in life is his father, who was always kind enough to find places to take him hunting. The second duck hunt of his young life was on the famed Jennings Lake—now a part of Spread Oaks Ranch—with Porter Johnson, who would become his duck-hunting mentor.
Soderquist’s 22-year waterfowl guiding career started at the age of 16 at the fabled Jimmy Reel Hunting Club in Eagle Lake. He spent the next 20 years guiding on the Garwood Prairie, and around Wharton, El Campo, Katy, and Winnie, acquiring an in-the-field education on hunting, scouting, habitat management, business, and hospitality.
After graduating from Texas State with a degree in Agricultural Business, he joined Ducks Unlimited as a surveyor to help build levees and install water control structures that would establish crucial waterfowl habitat for multitudes of waterfowl and wildlife. He moved up the ladder during his 19-year career at Ducks Unlimited to become DU’s Senior Regional Director for Southeast Texas, working with volunteers to raise valuable dollars for conservation. Because of his true passion for building habitat, he became one of DU’s most successful fundraisers as he worked with the amazing and dedicated DU staff and volunteers.
When Spread Oaks ranch acquired the Jennings Lake property, Soderquist contacted the new owner, Forrest Wylie, who eventually brought him onboard as ranch manager. “Forrest has a very unique skillset as a landowner, striving to implement ways that wildlife management, ranching, and farming can all coexist hand-in-hand on a working ranch,” he says. And with Soderquist’s unique three-pronged background in hospitality and guiding, habitat creation, and wildlife management, he is ideally suited to oversee Spread Oaks Ranch’s day-to-day operations.
“I am so very blessed to have made lifelong friends from my guiding career and as part of the amazing DU Team. Now, I am on to the next chapter in life living this dream— managing the property where I got my start with my duck-hunting mentor and ensuring that the guests of Spread Oaks Ranch experience the ultimate in both hunting and hospitality during their stay.”
In addition to guiding duck and goose hunts, all Spread Oaks Ranch guides can expertly serve your group on dove, deer, hog, and sandhill crane hunts. They have each been guiding on Spread Oaks Ranch for the past several years.
Paul Berner grew up in Houston’s West University Place with a passion for hunting and fishing—pursuits he often shared with Flowers, as the two attended both high school and college together. He currently resides in LaPorte, a mile from the Houston Yacht Club and close to the bay.
One of his fondest memories from this past year was 2017’s spectacular teal season. “It was amazing,” he says, “We had birds everywhere. Some mornings, we limited out by 7 a.m. The variety of ducks on Spread Oaks Ranch make every hunt an adventure. We always have strong numbers of teal, but numerous flocks of pintail, some gadwall, wigeon, shovelers, and even the occasional cinnamon teal. We also get a good bit of greenheads trading along the Colorado River.”
Dogs are the No. 1 reason I hunt,” says Thomas Flowers, who has been hunting since his youth and guiding for the past 10 years, primarily for Eagle Lake-area outfitters. “I’m passionate about dog training; it’s like watching your kids as they learn and grow. When I bring my dogs into the blind, it creates an experience that everyone can enjoy, as they reap the rewards of the dogs’ teamwork.”
His first dog, Belle, a yellow Labrador he acquired as a freshman at Texas A&M, is now 11. “She’s still fantastic,” says Flowers, “but I don’t hunt her as often as she’s slowing down a bit.” Stepping into the breach is his 6-year-old, hard-charging black Lab, Hattie, a Master Hunter blue-ribbon winner. “She’s an exceptional retriever,” says Flowers, “and had puppies in May. I’ll keep one, and one will go to Paul; it will be so exciting to see these dogs grow up and develop.”
A Wharton, Texas, native, Erin Jansky has been guiding for more than 10 years. As a youth, he primarily hunted deer—that is, until his uncle Tim Soderquist coaxed him into joining him on a duck hunt. “Tim introduced me to duck hunting and when I dropped my first duck, a bluewing, I was hooked,” he says. “Waterfowling has been an addiction of mine ever since.”
“It’s been astounding to witness the amount of habitat that has been built on the ranch over the past few years, and the amount of habitat that’s been restored and put back into working order,” says Jansky. “It’s been pretty cool to watch it all form and come together, and to see the numbers of ducks increase season over season.”
One of Jansky’s favorite memories from the past year’s season is from the last weekend of duck season. “We set up in layout blinds in a thick bank of fog,” he recalls. “We could hear the ducks on the roosting pond and gradually, we were able to coax them in—teal, pintail, and gadwall. With full straps, we headed back to the lodge for an ample breakfast, then set out our goose spreads, and were rewarded with both specklebellies and snows.”
Rob Sawyer, a semi-retired petroleum geologist, spent his youth on Maryland’s Eastern Shore where he pursued ducks and geese at every opportunity. Having been steeped in the written lore of that region’s rich waterfowl history, he was dismayed when he came to Texas to learn how little of Texas’ fabled waterfowling history had not been recorded. He determined to remedy that.
Rob and his Chesapeake Bay retriever, Nellie, spent countless hours traversing the Texas Coast, and recorded more than 300 interviews with the old-timers who shared their personal experiences of Texas’ duck days of yore. The result was his first book, A Hundred Years of Texas Waterfowl Hunting: The Decoys, Guides, Clubs, and Places, 1870s to 1970s, (Texas A&M University Press, 2012).
Sawyer followed this with Texas Market Hunting: Stories of Waterfowl, Game Laws, and Outlaws in 2013, and is currently working on his third book, tentatively titled Images of Texas Waterfowl Hunting, to be released in 2020.
Sawyer, who currently hunts over his black Lab, Mattie, brings a wealth of knowledge on the region, waterfowl, hunting, and retriever handling to the Spread Oaks Ranch team.