A recent issue of In-Fisherman magazine had a story on the back page about fishing dogs. Matter of fact, that story was written by my boss, so you all better read it.
I have ice-fished with my boss’s dog, Lizzie. She is everything described in the story. She loves it so much when someone is catching fish, that when she hears the water splashing in your ice hole, she comes running right over to investigate. When I say “investigate”, I mean stick her nose right in the hole while the fish is being caught and then back in the same hole when the fish is released. It is funny, she is a great dog, but when a person gets to catching fish it is a bit of an inconvenience to have a dog’s head in your hole blocking your view of your bobber and line. I am used to sneaking fish, it keeps the crowds away (If you covet some solitude while you are fishing, I often say the worst thing you can do is catch a fish); when fishing with Lizzy, you have to sneak fish from her too.
That got me to thinking of other “fishing dogs” I have known. As we roll into ice-fishing season, I often recall a fishing buddy my uncle used to fish with quite a bit. Paul was a good stick; he even had some very respectable finishes in some professional walleye tournaments. During the ice season, Paul was on the ice all the time, and my Uncle Ivan fished with him as often as possible. Those two guys knew what they were doing and were on the water enough to know exactly what was going on; when I pulled up to some water body and saw Paul’s old white van, I knew I was in the right place.
I was privileged to fish with my Uncle Ivan and Paul a few times, not nearly enough now that those days are past. Paul was a gruff-looking, ole fisherman, gray hair and beard, a pony tail in back. As I recall, he usually wore one of those old Jones-style hunting hats. You could tell just by looking at him that he had spent some time on the water. Those are the kind of guys I want to fish with. One thing I will never forget is fishing with Paul and his commenting on guys fishing in the same spot they had been fishing the day before or even the week before. Paul would say they were fishing “history”–they were fishing the spot where they had been catching fish, and that is always a good place to start, but conditions change, fish move, and to be consistently successful you have to keep moving too. Do not get stuck fishing “history”; if you are not catching fish, keep moving, keep looking. That is what Paul did.
Besides my Uncle Ivan, Paul’s full-time companion on the water was his dog, Bonnie. I am not a dog-fancier, have no idea what breed Bonnie was, a mix of something I imagine. She was a medium-size, short hair, black dog. Bonnie had no exceptional talents other than the fact that she was fishing with Paul all the time. My uncle used to joke that when Paul’s old white van got stuck, Paul and my uncle would get out and push while Bonnie drove. Come to think of it, Bonnie was riding right up front in that van all the time. I have no doubt that she actually drove while Uncle Ivan and Paul pushed.
No matter their skill level, all anglers have times when they are not catching fish. No doubt a huge amount of patience is required by any good angler. When we would have one of those spells while fishing with Bonnie and Paul, they would entertain each other. Paul would sit on his bucket, Bonnie sitting on her haunches right in front of him, facing him, and then Paul would cover Bonnie’s eyes with his hands. “Where’s Bonnie?” “Where’s Bonnie?” And then he would take his hands off her eyes, look right at her, and say, “There she is!” Bonnie would just sit there, look right into Paul’s face and grin.
And then they would do it all over again.
We would laugh at them. They did not care.
Those are the kind of memories that wash over me when I am sitting on a bucket on the ice. They bring a smile to my face even now, just like Bonnie’s grin.