An Ode to My Fishing Buddy
Essay by John Yokley
I’m slowly losing my fishing buddy. My dog Abby has been many things to me over the years – a hiking buddy; a furry daughter; an object of amusement & joy; a source of comfort during my darkest days; an expression of forgiveness & tolerance; as well as a constant reminder of unconditional love (it is not a coincidence that “dog” is “God” spelled backwards). But in recent years, she has transformed into my faithful fishing buddy.
Abby, like all of my dogs over the years, is a rescue. A beautiful Border Collie mix with enough “mutt” to keep her in fairly good health. While she was quite a handful in her younger days (there was a lot of bark coming out of that little body), she has matured into an excellent companion animal. And, besides a catastrophic leg injury requiring surgery (Abby’s “college fund”) and a cancer scare last year, she’s been relatively healthy and low maintenance (okay, so maybe her dental bills did add up due to her affinity for chewing rocks).
At about the same time as Abby started to show some age, I re-found an old love of fishing through my introduction to tenkara. And tenkara was really the perfect kind of fishing for me to include Abby – there were less accouterments to distract me, less line for her to get tangled in and less of the purist’s mentality (sometimes bordering on an arrogant “snootiness”) in this style of fly-fishing. The fact I was even fishing tenkara informed most western-style fly-fishermen I encountered that I was a little “off” and not to be trusted with small children, or even a nice run during the hatch. And showing up on the river with Abby in tow, while holding a tenkara rod, usually resulted in a slow, knowing nod of pity from the traditionalists (“bless his heart”) – I had fulfilled their low expectations.
A favorite author of mine, John Gierach once wrote:
“People who own fishing dogs are all blinded by love. There’s no such thing as a good fishing dog. Most of these beasts are retrievers who think they can do to trout what they’ve been trained to do to ducks. It may sound cute, but it’s not. Stay away from people who take their dogs fishing.”
Far be it of me to question this man’s wisdom – he’s right. Most dogs are not the ideal fishing partner. They can be rambunctious, spook your fish, get tangled in your line on a back cast and generally make themselves an annoyance during a peaceful afternoon on the river. But, an errant paw isn’t quite as damaging as a men’s size 12 on your rod. And a dog will never bore you on the ride with “shop talk”, will never take the last beer from the cooler nor ever need to get home early to “keep the Missus” off his back.
In the past year, I’ve grown to relish my time on the water with my fishing buddy. As I learned how to effectively fish the tenkara style, I spent more time on the water with Abby. She would stay on the bank, not spook the fish and seemed to enjoy watching me improve on my casting and reading of water. And once I hooked a trout, she would stand at river’s edge and “stare” the fish in, as if acting as my spotter, to insure I kept the right tension on the line and played the fish to keep it out of the rocks or away from rapids. A finer guide was not found during those moments, and this guide only worked for belly rubs and jerky treats.
Little did I know; however, this past season would be the nadir of her fishing career. Abby’s still with us, but her days of acting as my spotter, and a soundboard for my fly selection, seem to be limited going forward. While I still take her fishing on occasion, she doesn’t seem to get as excited and I have to carry her down to, and across, the river; a labor of love on my part. She just turned 15 years old (which is equal to about 90 for us humans) and the old bones are just too sore to go with me at the same rate and frequency. As she approaches the winter of her existence, I take solace in the blessing to write this homage as she naps at my feet.
I’ve always thought it unfair that man’s lifespan is so much longer than a dog’s life. Life offers such few stalwart companions like a good fishing dog. And, once found, a dog and his master should be able to live out their days together. But upon sober reflection, it is as it should be as are most things in life. The chance of the dog outliving his master would be greater. And any dog owner worth his salt knows no other person is capable caring for his dog as well as he did.
So, as we approach that day in the not-to-distant future when Abby’s existence in this world will be over, I know I can look forward to finding her at Rainbow Bridge. And I’m sure she’ll be under the bridge at water’s edge waiting for me to stroll up with my rod so she can be my spotter once again. No good fishing dog ever really dies, they just go scouting for new water…
Author’s Note – This article was written and submitted for publishing consideration on February 26, 2017. Less than a month later, Abby was ready to scout for more water. We had to let her cross Rainbow Bridge on morning of March 19, a tough day for all. The night before, I took her to the river pull out, parked with the windows open allowing her to hear the water one last time. And on the way home, we were able to spot 40 deer in the various fields around North Mills, a new record for the both of us. We like to think the deer knew and were coming out to say their farewells. She was as fearless facing death as she was in living her life. She was as good of a dog as any man had a right to expect to call their own for over 15 years. She will be sorely missed….
John Yokley is a full time husband and part time writer who lives in Mills River, North Carolina. And he’s still trying to figure out how to be as good of a person and fisherman as his dog Abby thought he was…
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.
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