Dogs … I love ‘em.
One of my neighbors came by last night with her large male tail wagg’en happy yellow lab bringing back memories of dogs I have enjoyed over the years, particularly yellow labs I hunted and fished with providing as many memories as one man should be allowed. When I saw that big male lab tonight I couldn’t help but think of my friend Marty Malin and his big male yellow he named ‘Herpe’s.’ As Marty tells it, that damn dog wouldn’t heel. Always brings a chuckle to me when I think of ‘ol Herp.
My first dog was a Wiener Schnitzel named Fritz Frederick Freeman. Fritz survived being run over by a tractor; numerous encounters with wild mink my brother and I would hunt in the winter for spending money and sport. A mink lives along creek beds and always has two entrance holes to his/her den — one at the top of the creek bank and one at the edge of the water. We would let Fritz sniff at the many dens along a particular frozen creek bed and he would always furiously dig at a den with a Mink inhabitant. We would let Fritz dig at the lower hole while my brother and I would dig with a spade on the upper hole with one of us holding a 22-cal. rifle. Pretty soon by watching and listening to Fritz we could tell which hole the mink would make his escape, generally at the lower hole, after we would place Fritz on top.
When the mink stuck his head out we would shoot it on top of its head, keeping the pelt that we would sell to the fur buyers in mint condition.
One trip an adult friend of mine came along for the show. He began digging at the upper hole when almost immediately a huge male mink came out the bottom with Fritz grabbing the mink and the mink grabbing Fritz. They rolled around and around on the ice. My friend George thought Fritz would certainly be killed and rushed to his aid to clobber the mink with the shovel — only he missed and hit Fritz!
I thought Fritz was done for but he hung on long enough for me to shoot the mink. Half his ear and part of his nose was missing but he kept on hunting. We got $30 for that mink, which was a considerable sum in the late 40’s and early 50’s …
Next dog was a Brittany pup that was fed a marshmallow with strychnine embedded by a neighbor that witnessed the pup peeing in his garden … Just awful to see a innocent little dog die such a horrible death — the beating the neighbor incurred was nearly as horrible!!!! I learned from the Marine Corps improve your odds with more firepower — all I could put my hands on at the time my pup was dying in my garage was a 4-foot section of 2×4. All the odds I needed.
I had recently moved from Austin to Lago Vista on Lake Travis when my brother and his family visited us over Christmas bringing a beautiful yellow lab pup we named Chris for Christmas. My then wife Janice was raised on a farm and dogs were forbidden from coming in the house. I built her a wonderful kennel under a deck (for the dog, not Janice) that was shaded and protected from the north winds. It wasn’t long before Chris mastered the latch on the kennel and we would see her tail wagg’en at the sliding glass door at the kitchen every morning. I would hold up a pancake or slice of bacon while cooking breakfast for the kids and her drool would flow.
I lived on the lake and had a covered boat dock with lights; submerged cedar trees with cement block and heavy cable to hold the brush pile in place; soaked straw bales to sink around the brush and dumped buckets of commercial fish food. The main channel water depth dropped to over 80 feet deep at the end of my dock secured to my shoreline. To say I could catch almost any kind of fish on any given night would not be an exaggeration.
Chris enjoyed the dock nearly as much as I did. If I simply went to the dock to read my paper or watch a little TV, she would whine until I brought out a fishing rod. She just HAD to retrieve each and every fish and hand it to me to remove the hook (if not caught in her lip!) and would get between me and the fish until she had a firm grip. She was the finest pheasant-hunting dog I have seen to this day after only an hours worth of my training on a farm in Iowa. She never did get to stay in the house unless Janice was away for a few hours or a couple of days, then just lay at my feet or the kid’s feet with brown eyes looking at us in appreciation.
After Chris came Maggie — another yellow lab. I was single and living in the first of my Bed and Breakfast facilities in Fulton, near Rockport. Maggie was my running/walking partner along Fulton Beach Road. She had two spots along the road that when I approached she would nudge me on the back of my leg with her cold nose for me to give her the command ‘free’.
She would tear around finding a can or plastic bottle to play with for a hundred yards or so, throwing it up in the air and chasing it or catching it as it fell. Further up the road was a beach I would let her swim chasing minnows, or I should say, herding the minnows and bait to the beach where she would make a furious charge attempting to beach one. I think she enjoyed my laughter at her antics as much as she enjoyed playing in the water (later I would meet the woman that owned the house where the beach was and lo and behold, it belonged to my ‘current’ wife Linda!).
I taught Maggie to wade fish with me while fly fishing, staying just behind the floating fly line as I walked. As soon as I stopped she would sit sometimes up to her ears in water then as soon as I made a cast or began walking again she would follow along behind the line but the minute I would turn back towards the boat, her cold wet nose would be pushing again on my leg to set here free. She would herd bait fish, stick her nose into a crab claw just for me to remove it and get more attention. After I sold my second B&B, Maggie and I toured the mountains out west for 6 weeks and her only whimpering was when I passed up a Dairy Queen — she became quite attached to DQ in the cup and could spot the DQ sign from a distance. Eventually I became ‘citified’ and brought Maggie to my brother-in-laws ranch near Mineral Wells where she enjoyed a long life and happy days. Wonderful dog.
Lastly were a pair of Brittany spaniel littermates in San Antonio Linda and I bought as newly weaned puppies. The male was very affectionate and sensitive but dumb as a box of rocks. The female was hyper and quite smart, dominating her brother. Their ashes remain on my bookshelf to this day.
My newsletters during the past 8 or 9 years have generally been about current fishing experiences or of client’s trips that I found interesting. Unfortunately for me, I don’t seem to have many of these new experiences to share anymore and primarily rely on memories. I am sorry if dog stories are of little interest to some but memories is about all I got left.
I have been building quite a number of custom fishing rods lately about half of which are fly rods and the other half spinning and casting rods, and from client feedback are well received often times resulting in a much appreciated new referral. If a custom rod is on your bucket list or someone you know, let me cross that one off your list … Thanks.
Dennis Freeman is a custom rodmaker in Boerne. You can view his Web site at http://www.rod-makers.com/