A good boat dog. That’s what we all dream about when we pick that little ball of fur out from it’s litter mates. We hope and plan and scheme that this dog will be the dog of all dogs. The dog to make all of our friends jealous of his relaxed demeanor that speaks volumes about your proficiency as a trainer. Then comes the first time out and you’re a frazzled mess. The dog is too but his mess is more literal. He’s rolling in dead shit on the shore, chewing on discarded food, chasing down poppers, and blowing spots for a mile in every direction. Reality really is a bitch. You’re done you say. Done with taking him. Done with trying. You tried and it sucked. If wading with him nearby was awful, being in a boat with him was the seventh level of Dante’s Inferno. Your inability to train him to be a dog version of a beatific angel while in the boat makes you start questioning everything you’re doing with him. Time passes. A winter goes by and that dog that couldn’t stand still for a few seconds gets a year and a few months under his belt. He feels different. He looks like a dog now. He’s filled out and there’s a confident look in his eye. He’s still full of that puppy playfulness but you start to see something else in him. He’s almost saying, “I get it now.”
Don’t get me wrong, he’s still an asshole part of the time but he’s your asshole. You’d walk through fire and fight a bear for him and he’d do the same for you. One night you decide to take him out with you in the boat. Alone. It’s a gamble but you’re willing to roll dice and hope against snake eyes. The pay off is real. Where did this new dog come from? You correct him a few times and he picks it up. It’s amazing. You start thinking maybe you do know what your doing or at least the act was convincing enough for a dog. Suddenly you have a boat dog. He’s relaxed and makes no noise while watching people on the bank drowning chicken gizzards for catfish. He watches them with an intense interest just as he does your casting.
A fish is on and moments later a wiper in the net. You brace yourself and wait for all hell to break loose. You stop wincing and open your eyes to see him watching you and the net. He hasn’t destroyed the boat and you’re not swimming. He’s rewarded with much praise and a few rubs on his chin. You’d almost swear he was smiling. Soon another fish is on then another and another. Back to casting a bit, watching him from the corner of your eye, and this time it’s an unexpected by-catch. A walleye. You start thinking good eating; he probably is as well. As a reward he gets a sniff and a lick. That walleye quickly goes back into the river to swim another day. The sun is setting and it’s getting dark as you head downstream to the take out. It’s been one of the best days you’ve had in a long time. That hard work has paid off in dividends as hard work usually does. The fishing was cool but the reward your boat dog gave you was the real prize.