Dogs and Fishing
Datus Proper, Field & Stream
I’ve always loved that quote, as well as the imagery that comes to mind when I read it. Last summer, I wrote about losing my old Lab, Creede, and how much he seemed to enjoy trout fishing in Colorado. Truthfully, Creede was happy to be included in whatever Lisa and I were doing. He did seem to enjoy fishing, always wading out to “help land” a trout after it was hooked, despite my pleas for him to stay on the shore.
However, I had a dog when I was in my teens that truly loved to fish. Sam was half Lab and half Brittany and he looked like a yellow Lab with a docked tail. He loved to hunt, but I always thought he enjoyed being part of our fishing trips more. He usually accompanied my buddies and I when we fished the Greenleaf Pond south of town.
I had “trained” him with a quail wing and fishing pole, thinking that because he was half Brittany, he should point. And point he did. When he was a puppy, I would show off his pointing skills to anyone who would watch, waving the pole and wing around until he froze. Every once in a while, he would humor me and actually lift one of his front feet in true pointing-dog style.
Sam was duly excited on his first fishing trip, and seeing the fishing pole was his cue. He watched the lure intensely as I cast, then kept his eyes focused on the water as I retrieved the lure. Next cast, same thing. I wondered if it was just because of the wing training, and it may have been, but all that went out the window when I hooked a fish. As soon as Sam saw the bass break the surface, he was in the water after it. I yelled “stay” and “get back,” but it did no good. He really thought it was his job to retrieve a fish once I got it near the shore. I don’t think I ever lost a fish because of Sam, but he wasn’t much help landing them, either.
After that first trip, Sam decided that he needed to stand with front legs in the water, and he watched cast after cast, never tiring. He loved fishing.
He’d go along when we fished for catfish in the creek, but stillfishing didn’t hold his attention the way casting a lure did. He’d sit quietly for a while, but if I didn’t get bite soon, he would wander around, never getting too far away, just in case. There was one catfishing trip, though, I will never forget.
It was a hot July day, and I was mid-way through my channel catfish phase. After catching plenty of bullheads at the county lake and from the creek in my young fishing career, I was ready to graduate to channel catfish, which I found more difficult to catch. One of the first hurdles was to find a bait that bullheads wouldn’t find and eat first. The meant no more worms. I tried shrimp, chicken livers, shad sides, and beef livers.
By accident, I turned a container of beef liver into dynamite channel catfish bait – I left it in the garage for three hot summer days. When I found it while getting my gear ready for a trip the creek, I noticed a green tinge in the bloody liquid surrounding the liver and could smell the aroma even with the lid sealed tightly. “This has to catch channel cats,” I said.
At the creek, Sam was all business as my cousin, Scott, and I readied our rods. I breathed through my mouth as I cut a chunk of greenish-red liver off a larger piece and put it on my hook. I left the lid off the container and moved a safe distance away from the odor to cast the bait into the slow moving water. I propped the rod on a forked stick and waited, not noticing that Sam had already grown bored and wandered off.
As I watched my line, I thought I heard water gurgling. Then I realized I was hearing lapping noises – a dog drinking. I turned and saw Sam finishing up the rancid juice in the liver container. Sam looked up with an expression that said “tasty!” I knew that dog loved foul odors because he never passed up an opportunity to roll in some long-dead animal, but the liver juice was almost too much.
I thought of Sam recently while fishing Milford Lake. A gentleman camped near the shore was exercising a pair of beautiful bird dogs that looked like German shorthairs, though they were black and white rather than liver and white. He explained that they were Deutsch Kurzhaars, just 11 months old, and they were romping in the grass with puppy exuberance. However, when we began casting, they became all business, standing next to one of us and watching our rods, quivering with intensity. When one of us hooked a fish, both dogs rushed over expecting to help with the landing. Like Sam and Creede, they weren’t much help. Fishing was obviously important to them, but they just weren’t any good at it.