Chesapeake Outdoors

Man's Best Friend Goes Fishing

by C.D. Dollar

When I arrived, the sun had been down for nearly two hours but the humidity lingered, as stifling and uncomfortable as a visit to the principal's office. Since dusk, my friends Matt and Frank had been tossing poppers to small bands of rockfish and blues breaking inshore near Annapolis. They caught and released a few rock for about an hour and said they'd been careful in their release of the fish, knowing I'd ask.

The boys had already switched to bottom rigs in the hopes of catching a few bluefish and croaker when my dog, Finn, and I rumbled down the stairs. The cliff was steep and made getting to the water's edge a slight challenge. An assortment of bait ---worms, peeler crab and spot -- was strewn across the cutting board.

Frank and I hooked up some bloodworm on ultralight rods, hoping to catch some fresh spot. The big action was slow, mainly because the tide quit. The air still hung like a damp cloak upon our shoulders, but good music and a few beers among friends made it not only tolerable but enjoyable. Not long after, a gloriously refreshing breeze brought a weather change; a brief rain shower, like a reprieve, cooled me as I soaked it in.

Matt's rod bent and line flew off the reel, literally. After a 20 second run -- maybe the big blue so hoped for, maybe not -- Matt had been spooled. Reality was he had precious little line on his reel to begin with, so now he had no excuse not to gear up properly.

The tide turned in earnest and a decent flood began, buoying our hopes for a bluefish yet. A few choice spot took worms, and we were able to replenish our bait supply. (More incentive to keep fishing or another excuse to have another beverage? Good reasons both.)

For what happened next, I am sure I can get solid confirmation from other dog-owning fisherman. After two slow pops, the drag clicking like the chumming scene from Jaws, the line paid out in a steady, even manner, gaining speed as the fish headed for the Bay Bridge. Not wanting to face taunts from being spooled, I got on my horse and hopscotched along the bulkhead after the unseen but suspected quarry.

Quick-stepping across the rocks, avoiding the ones not securely wedged into the others and looking for big boulders that offered the most reliable springboard, I was replaying a scene from my childhood, bounding effortlessly from rock to rock, racing my brother. Except now, that youthful exuberance had been replaced by two things: Apprehension that the night's fishing would be over if I got spooled and a more concerted and cautious effort to keep my balance; explaining that I slipped on rocks while chasing a cownose ray doesn't carry into the adult world.

I finally got even with the ray, which was now 75 yards off the shoreline. Careful to give line when it wanted line, I got the winged beast within 30 yards when the line went slack.

Did the knot fail or the line break? Soon I discovered that the ray had spit the offset hook, but no doubt now had a sore mouth.

Back to Finn dog. The ray was visible gliding toward shore, apparently a bit worn after its fight. I could see its silhouette break the slick cam surface, and about 10 yards from it a wake was breaking the water's stillness. It was Finn, bearing down on the ray.

He loves to swim and is efficient, though he doesn't come close to possessing the tools to swim down a ray. But Finn didn't know that and was frantically trying to make up the distance.

The dog paused, perhaps now fully realizing the size of its adversary. A cownose ray can weigh 100 pounds and its wingspan can reach seven feet: serious advantage for the ray.

The dog and fish of opposite worlds would never meet. The fish decided enough was enough, made several lightning-quick strokes of its wings and headed toward Bloody Point.

When my boy and I rejoined the others, they wore wry smiles and made a couple sly comments about the expertise of my fishing dog. I know there are others with similar, more interesting and amazing tales about their canine's piscatorial pursuits. As for my friends, they remained skeptical. Maybe they thought I had one too many cold ones.

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VolumeVI Number 29
July 23-29, 1998
New Bay Times

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