Today I took my best buddy fishing. He is nine-years old in human years and quite a connoisseur of finny creatures. He studies each species brought on board our boat or dock and then barks at them. His name is Sprig and he loves water, not surprising for a Labrador retriever. His love for fishing is the surprise.
I carefully cast out two rigs while Sprig studied where each bait landed. Then he laid down on the dock and watched and waited with the patience of an experienced angler.
We sat quietly on our dock for about ten minutes, watching two rods with well hooked nightcrawlers sitting enticingly on the bottom, held down by a piece of split shot. Perils of our world were quickly forgotten when a good bluegill picked up the bait and swam away, tightening my line. A solid hook set brought on a surprisingly good fight.
Sprig stood on our dock’s edge and peered into the water, watching for whatever had the audacity to swallow the bait. Soon a good-sized panfish flashed on the surface, raising hackles on Sprig’s neck. The fish finally lost its energy bursts and gave up — my dog’s favorite moment.
Sprig always smells each fish before it is thrown in a bucket, livewell or back in the lake. He studies each like a jeweler scrutinizing a big diamond.
Fish dumped in a bucket or livewell are shadowed by Sprig’s face looking into the container. Quite often he is splashed, bringing on a fit of anger reflected by barking at the upstart fish that would dare commit such an insulting act.
Fish returned to the water is a different story. Sprig places his front paws on the dock or boat’s edge and studies the water while trying to understand where the fish went. He may stare at the water for several minutes in a pose almost like a pointing dog locked on a quail.
The day progressed and several bluegills were added to our bucket. Suddenly, one line tightened and a tough fight started. A fair-sized channel catfish took the bait and stretched my four-pound test line to its limit. Sprig studied the fight and occasionally glanced up at me to add his encouragement. The small ultra-light rod was doubled and I could only hang on. The catfish was going exactly where it wanted to go.
The fight lasted several minutes before the 5-pound channel catfish gave up. I reached down and pulled up the nice fish while Sprig positioned for his inspection. Soon the catfish was sniffed all over and released. I rarely keep a catfish over 3 pounds. Sprig of course stood at the dock’s edge several minutes and studied where the fish had disappeared into the depths.
A problem fishing with any waterdog is their occasional need to swim, sometimes stopping the bite. Sprig took a couple of dips before returning to the warm dock. Most dogs would have curled up and slept in the warm sunlight. My dog shook cold water all over me and then sat to watch for another bite on the submerged nightcrawlers.
A pontoon of high school girls floated past and a couple yelled, “Hi Sprig.”
He lightly shook his tail and basically ignored them, not even looking up. He was fishing and no outside disturbance brings him out of this trance, even if a treat was offered – and Sprig loves treats. Never speak to my dog on a fishing trip unless you have thick skin and can handle rejection by being ignored.
The afternoon progressed and three more big bluegill were added to the bucket, just enough for our evening meal so we packed up and walked up the long hill to our house. Sprig walked close behind me, occasionally bumping into my back leg. He rarely lets me out of his sight and has not since he was six-months old. He chose me in his puppy kennel and dedicated his life to my world — like a best buddy!
Soon we reached home and I started filleting the bluegill for dinner. Sprig laid up against my right leg, curled up and sound asleep, his work was finished. Occasionally he softly barked in his sleep, no doubt dreaming about studying fish in a bucket. When the filleting was finished, I woke him and we stepped in the backdoor where he took a big drink of water and laid down to enjoy a doggie treat. Later that night, he curled up on the floor by my bed and slept soundly.
I believe there is more to dogs than we realize. Give a dog love, and it will be returned every day. You will never find a better fishing buddy!
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.