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I’ve done some silly things because of my dogs before, but I think I hit a new low last Saturday morning. That’s when I found myself sneaking out the front door of my in-laws’ beach house, down the street and then back down the shoreline to our dock.
I had my rods and tackle box, my cap was pulled down low and I was wearing sunglasses, even though it was still half an hour before sunrise. To the casual observer, I probably looked like a burglar on his way back from Bass Pro.
The reason for all this stealth and skullduggery was my old yellow Lab, Pete, who was staying out there with us. Most of the time, he’s 110 pounds of furry dough who gets winded walking to his food bowl. On land, he’s moves just often enough to keep from taking root. Get him around water, though, and he turns into an albino otter on steroids. Apparently Santa Rosa Sound is his fountain of youth.
It isn’t a problem except for the times when I want to fish, which of course means it’s always a problem.
I wouldn’t mind if he just sat quietly at my side as I was fishing or throwing a net. That’s the kind of thing you see in Field & Stream. As you’ve probably figured out by now, that’s not what Pete does. Instead, he swims. And swims. And swims some more. He swims around the dock, under the dock and way out past the end of the dock. And when he gets done, he walks onto the beach, shakes the water off and plunges right back in.
I’ve tried throwing the ball with him until he gets tired, but my arm gives out before he gives up.
Which brings up another issue: He’s genetically programmed to try and retrieve anything you throw in the water. If he sees you make a cast, he’s going to do his best to bring your terminal tackle back. Fishing with a popping cork is out of the question, as is throwing the mullet net. (Surprisingly, mullet don’t like sharing the water with a fat, fuzzy fish that’s 110 times bigger than they are.)
I’ve tried tying him to the dock and that works okay, except that he just looks at the water and whines. He’s like a kid in a stroller whose favorite toy is just out of reach.
The only thing worse, of course, is actually leaving him at the house when he knows I’m on the dock. Pete considers that a flat-out betrayal. He’ll stand at the gate and unleash his most annoying bark for as long as it takes for me to come get him. That’s nerve-wracking any time of day, but at 6 a.m. out at the beach, I’m pretty sure it’s a hanging offense.
And that’s the reason behind last Saturday’s slink-around-the-sound mission. I thought if I could somehow get onto the street and away from the house, I’d look like any random stranger en route to the dock. Pete’s almost 10 years old and it’s a hundred yards or so down to the water. I figured once I got out there, he wouldn’t be able to tell it was me.
I looked like an idiot and felt like a criminal, but I made it with my heart pounding, sweat dripping and Pete still unaware. I threw out a couple of lines and glanced back up to the house. He was standing at the gate, staring in my direction, but I could tell he wasn’t sure it was me.
At this point, I still felt like a criminal, only now it was like one who had gotten away with a bank robbery. And that smug feeling lasted right up until I threw my cast net at a bunch of mullet.
As soon as it hit the water, I was busted. As thick as he is, Pete somehow figured out that lots of people fish on the dock with rods and reels, but I’m the only one he’s ever seen throwing the net.
He started in with the barking and I had to get him before he woke everyone between Mobile and Mexico Beach.
The rest of the day was a compromise in that we alternated between fishing and fetching. The whining and whimpering was still pretty bad . . . but I finally stopped after a couple of hours.