Sporting Life

Better Dog Days are Coming

By Dennis Doyle

By the end of the fifth or sixth retrieve, Hobbes, my black Lab pup, was panting deeply, though he continued to prance and pronk, demanding another throw of his beloved tennis ball into the vast grass field. Alarmingly, his tongue had grown thick and his saliva was flowing copiously, so I asked him to sit and we waited while he cooled down a bit. As his tongue size and panting gradually reduced, I gently berated myself for pushing his warm weather endurance, but he recovered quickly. To be on the safe side I decided to revert to a more proper venue, even though the day was still in the low 70s. Loading him in the front of my pickup we headed out for a nearby neighborhood waterfront where dogs were welcome and I’d be more comfortable with Hobbes’ efforts.

There are few things as dynamic along a Chesapeake shoreline as watching a sporting dog in the midst of water retrieving. The fearless pursuit of a dog plunging into unknown depths with a furious focus on the object in flight always impresses me. Hobbes has always had a vigorous water entry and, since I had scouted the area well, knew it to be safe to wade or explore at any speed.

Of course, warm weather water exercise has one minor downside. Though it’s unlikely for a dog to overheat when the water is cooler than air, the aftermath of a spirited water retrieval session is invariably a thorough and nice cold freshwater rinsing, followed by a rubdown with a thick towel. That usually means everyone gets wet at the end.

Tonight, I did notice temperatures were to be in the 50s and perfect for some real changes to the activity plans for Hobbes in the coming weeks.

Since the danger of heatstroke is becoming minimal, we can now move into second gear in prepping him for some quail hunting activities.

First, I anoint a few tennis balls with quail training scent. We will then retire to a large vacant, nicely overgrown field with some thigh-high weeds. Holding Hobbes at a sit, I then fling a scented ball to a location that looks birdy (especially thick) and when I am sure he is focused, release him with a fetch command.

I can throw the tennis ball about 75 yards so it is no simple task for him to easily locate it, especially since it lands well out of sight in the high field growth. He has learned to mark down its general location but without the bird scent, it would be a problem to locate. But since the ball now leaves a scent trail he knows to track it down with his nose. A Lab’s scenting ability is far superior to a human’s in locating game. Hobbes rarely fails to come up with his quarry.

As I throw the ball repeatedly for him to pursue, I follow along behind and periodically flip another scented ball off to the side in our wake. When we have finished doing retrieving exercises and begin to return to our truck I instruct Hobbes to look for the balls I’ve dropped behind. That’s actually his favorite part. It’s a lot more difficult than the simple retrieves since the scenting environment has become more muddled with our passing and with the scent of the multiple previous retrieves further complicating things but he always rises to occasion.

And somehow he also knows the real hunt is coming soon, just down the road.



The rockfish bite will soon be at its best of the year. When the dirty water finally dissipates from the nasty rainfalls of the recent past the stripers will be at their hungriest and most active. No downside to that. The Bay Bridge bite will pick back up for live liners using Norfolk spot and jigging enthusiasts as will the morning and evening topwater and shallow water action all over with some fish nearing 30 inches. There are still pods of Spanish mackerel speeding about with a few bluefish mixed in, and further to our south some redfish are showing up near tributary mouths. White perch are still hitting in the trib shorelines on small spin-baits and gathering in schools in slightly deeper water (15-20 feet) taking worms, shrimp, and crab. Crabbing has turned on hot but females are the majority, which only favors commercial operations. Hurry to get in on the action; winter is coming.