Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dog Tales

A man backs his boat trailer down the ramp and pauses for a moment as he catches the gold reflection of the late afternoon sun off the water in the side mirror. He sighs knowing this is one of the last perfect days of extended summer. Despite the temperature being almost eighty degrees he can sense the change in the air. It’s that special time of year when warm sunny days and clear cool nights bring bait inside in large schools, on to the flats and into the grass. And with them, fish.

He eases the boat back and checks the trailer in the mirror on the other side of the truck. He sees his companions’ face watching the trailer in the mirror, eyes focused in deep concentration and anticipation. He asks, “You ready?”

Without moving his body in the seat the dog looks back at him over his shoulder and says, “Yeah dude, hit it, let’s go!”

Yes, dogs can speak.

They drop the boat in, park the truck and trailer and hustle down the dock, the dog leading the way staring back at his human every few steps to make sure he’s coming. They stop to talk to a friend who is just tying up on the other side of the dock. The dog sits at the man’s feet for a few seconds and then unable to endure the conversation any longer trots down the dock and jumps into his boat and stands post on the bow. The man takes this as his cue, slips the bow line and boards the dog’s skiff.

Before idling out into the river the man strips out line on the eight-weight, checks the leader and fly and sets the rod in the bow. He throttles up and points the boat downriver as the dog takes his customary seat next to him. They’ve done this hundreds of times, these few moments between leaving the dock and getting to the first spot to check for fish still as exciting as the first time. It’s that way for both of them.

The man thinks of a phone call earlier in the day. Friends had invited him out to do something…watch a ballgame at a bar or follow some trivial pursuit…but as usual he passed knowing something more meaningful might be found in the backwater. His declining of the invite was met with, “Why, you going fishing with the dog? You gotta’ get a life.”

No response was given. Looking into the dog’s eyes now as they motor downriver he knows he didn’t need to give one. Very simply, this is what he and the dog do. They’ve learned this life on the water together, each defined by it and by one another. The man shifts the boat into neutral and the boat drifts out of the channel toward the grass.

The marsh is flooded with a plus tide, the afternoon light starting to fall, the water like glass and the grass standing still in the quiet air. Periodically the calm is broken by pockets of baitfish fleeing for their lives in front of wakes pushed by predators. The man shuts off the engine, raises the motor and poles the boat into the carnage zone. Both take quiet steps up to the bow. The man picks up the rod as the dog takes his seat next to him taking obvious care obtained from experience not to sit on the fly line. Two false casts are made and the fly lands between clumps of marsh grass. Fast strips bring the fly through the grass and on the pause it is inhaled from below. The dog stands up, tail wagging back and forth. The line goes tight and the fish fights back thrashing at the water with its entire body. The dog steps up to the point of the bow to watch the action play out. The man brings the fish boat-side and kneels down to release it, holding it for a few seconds for the dog to sniff it. As the fish is let go, the water beside the boat suddenly erupts with dancing bait and slapping tails.

The man and the dog look at each other, smile and in unison say, “Holy shit! Did you just see that?”

Yes, dogs can speak.

I was that man. I have lived those moments described above many times but as I wrote this I was thinking about my friend Rich Walker and his dog Tucker in Charleston, SC.
I met Rich through social media while following the exploits of Tucker. Fishing dogs intrigue me. I’m a dog person so I’m much more likely to engage dog owners in conversation than non-dog people.  In talking about our dogs, fly fishing and redfish we found that we have some commonalities in our backgrounds so we hit it off. When I head south to get schooled on reds in the grass by Tuck, I'll be bringing the rum.

They have been together for nine years and have been fishing together for almost all of it. Tuck was a quick study and it took only a few outings for him to figure out that if he didn’t chase that thing at the end of the line when Rich threw it in the water, crazy things would happen and sometimes a really cool looking creature would come back at the end of the line.
Now Tuck knows what a waving tail is, what a wake in the water means and what the humans in his skiff are going to do when they see these things. Seriously. Ask him.

Yes, dogs can speak.

In the course of fishing together and taking pictures and video of casts, misses, catches and Tuck, Rich and three fellow anglers joined forces and created Flyline Media. This media group came about not as a business venture but as a collective, drawing on the skills and talents of each of its members to capture through film and photography the moments that inspire them to return to the water time and time again.
The goal of the end product is to present still and moving images that inspire the uninitiated as well as the seasoned angler and to promote the art and life of fly fishing.

Great art and moments in time that are not forgotten are generally brought forward by those who think and act outside the proverbial box. The guys at Flyline are the types who deconstruct boxes. Actually, I think they kick them apart. Having heard for years that tailing reds on the flood tide would not eat a surface presentation, they formulated a thesis that it could be done and set out to dispel this myth. The results are presented in their film, TALL TAILS: Legend of the Gurgler.

For those of us who knew the creator of the Gurgler, Jack Gartside, it will have special meaning. Jack would have loved this.

And while you view the film, watch Tucker and watch his face.

Yes, dogs can speak.

*Photo's from Rich Walker, Ryan Rice and Flyline Media

 North River, MA
7 October 2014

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