My Fishing Dog

724cabc0-1ba5-4e6e-9a25-26fccbe7925e Story by Tom Carpenter, Art by Ross Hier

Depending on how you scheme out a hunting season, there are at best five or so months of the year where you and your canine companion can center your sporting lives on upland hunting.

For Lark and me, that means September through January. Sharptails and chickens to ruffs and doodles (beloved warmups, all these) to our Holy Grail for the duration: ring-necked pheasants.

That leaves seven months to fill. 

Sure there are "tootles" as we fashion them (some would call them hikes) to stay in shape for the both of us. Formalized training sessions worthily fill many dog/hunter teams’ time (though we personally are not much ones for regimen). Spring morel and ramp forays. Summer berry picking jaunts. Canoe trips (we have yet to experience a dog-induced spill, though that boast probably just jinxed us). Capers for wild plums on summer’s wane.

If it’s outdoors, the dog is almost always along. 

And that brings us to fishing.

I love fishing. It is a great way to fill some more time until hunting season. Living where we do, the opportunities for getting out on a lake, river or creek are ample indeed. And the dog knows. She is as attuned to the rattle of a spinning rod coming out of its rack as she is the snick-cluck of a shotgun before it slides into a guncase or, Lord help us, the tinkle of her hunting bell.

Let’s go!

Trips in the boat are fine. She rides in the bow, head into the wind with nose twitching and ears flopping as we motor to some fishing hole, then mostly sleeps away her time in the sun. 

But it is stream fishing she prefers where, when regulations allow, she can wander the banks as I hunt the riffles and runs and pools for trout.

My dog is an ideal trout fishing dog, as she is not a water lover. Mostly she stays on the bank, behind me, playing, snuffling for mice, stalking squirrels, chasing butterflies. That said, on the hot days, she will gladly splash into a creek to loll and cool off.

When she tires of her romps, she will stick with me but stay back as I sneak a trouty spot. It’s how I taught her to do some semblance of stay, which is good enough for us. 

But the rustle and action of “fish on!” always brings my dog to attention, followed by a close inspection and tentative lick of the colorful, wiggling trout until I slide it back in the springwater or, on occasion, bonk it on the head and slide it into my vest for dinner.

While trout fishing, my daydreams are unequivocally of bird hunting. While bird hunting, my reverie will on occasion turn to fishing — the gurgle of summer brookwater, the aroma of wild mint, my bird dog napping in the sun dapples. Her, I think she’s living in the elusive now either way. And having a hell of a good time.

Tom Carpenter, assisted by Lark, is editor at Pheasants Forever. This story first appeared in the Summer 2021 Issue of Pheasants Forever Journal.