Streamside mischief on the fly.
Like many anglers, I take my dogs fishing with me. The older one knows the drill pretty well: stay on the bank, don’t swim in the holes until I’m done, and don’t help with the release. The younger one is still learning, and he occasionally wades out into holes and tries to grab a hooked fish. All in all, they’re pretty good dogs, friendly and non-threatening to anyone I happen to meet on the river.
One hot summer day proved a bit of a challenge. I ran into a fellow from out of town; he had all the latest gear and must’ve been sweltering in those brand-new waders. I, on the other hand, with my tee shirt and shorts, was not quite so fashionable. He glanced up from tying his fly and immediately let me have it. “Hey buddy, I’m fishing here. Keep those dogs the hell away from me.” I backed off and stood on the bank while pondering my options. I was done fishing, on my way back to the truck, and had to get past him while staying below the high-water mark.
Again he opened up, “You aren’t even s’posed to have dogs on the river, are ya?” I could’ve been polite and told him that I’d wait until he was done and then we’d slink behind him, but by this point he’d pissed me off. “Actually,” I said, “these are FFD dogs; one is a CFD and the other is a FDIT.”
He paused, then asked, “What the hell is an FFD?” I’d piqued his curiosity. “FFD is the Federation of Fish Dogs, a national organization of dog trainers and anglers that train dogs to be excellent fishing companions.” I’m not sure how I came up with that on the fly, but it wasn’t enough to convince the fellow. “You’re full of crap,” he replied. “I’ve never heard of any group like that.”
“It’s relatively new,” I explained. “They formed about five years ago to promote proper fishing etiquette in dogs. Our motto is No dog left behind in the truck. We spend hours training so they won’t be a nuisance on the water. When they’re fully certified, they don’t chase cows or deer or splash through holes—they wait on the bank while you fish and are always steady at the release.”
He paused, then asked, “Really?” I knew I had him. “Yep. The older dog is a Certified Fishing Dog or CFD and the younger one is a Fishing Dog In Training or FDIT. He’s not quite as well-behaved yet.” By this time, the man had completely stopped fishing and was staring at the dogs, still half-wondering if I was jerking his chain. “Hell,” he said, “if you could get them to tell you where the fish are, then you’d have something.”
I paused and thought, What the hell. In for a penny...
“Do you want to know if there are fish in that hole?” I asked. “Yeah right,” he shot back. “Don’t try to tell me your dogs can do that.” I suppressed a smirk and said, “I’m training for the BFD and you must have a dog that will point fish in the water to be qualified. I’m pretty sure my older dog has a shot at winning Best Fishing Dog.” Mr. Fancy Waders straightened up and reeled up. “Prove it!” he commanded.
Now, I’ve trained my pointers to stop when they hear the word “Whoa,” which I use to get them to pay attention as well as hold point. My southern friend didn’t know this, so I thought we might have a little fun. The old dog ran up to him, wagged her tail, and stepped toward the water. “Whoa,” I commanded. She stopped and looked intently at the water. Creeping up behind her, I did the same. “Hmm, looks like a whitefish point.”
“How in the hell do you know that?” the man scoffed. Still shooting from the hip, I replied, “See how she’s leaning forward, with all four legs in the water? That’s a whitefish point. Trout points are a lift-and-tuck with the left front leg and a long, straight tail. She ain’t quite as staunch on the whitefish as she is on the trout.” The man eyed me suspiciously. “Bullshit!”
Having fished this hole several times each year for the last 15 years, I knew it as predominately a whitefish run, where a well-placed nymph always has a pretty good chance. I put on a hopper and a small dropper nymph and tossed them upstream. On the third cast a fish took the hopper and I reeled in a small whitefish. Amazed that the thing took the dry, I did my best to keep composure. My companion’s eyes went wide. “Sonofabitch!” he blurted.
“Yeah, I forgot to tell you that when the dog has all four legs in the water, but her tail is pointed up, they normally take the dry,” I added. “I’m guessing there’s a few more in there, but they may be more inclined to a nymph at this point.”
With that, I decided I’d had enough fun at this fellow’s expense. “Well,” I said, “we’ve got to get going, but enjoy the rest of your time here.” He stared at me. “Where do you get one of these dogs?” he asked. I paused a moment, then offered, “They’re pretty rare, but I hear the FFD is going to have a website up soon.” As I made my way up the bank, I wondered if he would ask about fishing dogs during his next visit to the fly shop—and what kind of answers they might give him.