Lighter Side

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February 7th, 2000

FisherMAN'S Best Friend

by Don Cianca

Most of us consider our fishing partners when we dwell on the good times we've had while fishing. We might recall a particular large fish and in conversation, mention who was along. "I was fishing the Beaverhead with Jack " or "Dan and I were fishing the Pipeline section of the Big Horn." Often, in the case of my human fishing friends, we are almost always accompanied with still another "friend" . . . Man's best friend!

Ellie (red collar) and Bud on the Jefferson River

Jack and I live relatively close to one another. The distance measured "As the crow flies" is only about eleven miles. However since we live in western Montana, separated by the Continental Divide, the distance is over thirty-two miles once you are behind the steering wheel. Jack's home is just a few feet from the Big Hole River. Like me, he too is semi-retired. If conditions on the Big Hole look so favorable that they must be appreciated immediately, Jack will phone and tell me to get there right away. That invitation is issued with the assumption I will bring along my Lab "Ellie."

We generally fish the Big Hole by floating. Jack keeps his Avon raft inflated at his home and is ready to go throughout the fishing season. Arrangements are made for either a commercial shuttle, or one of our vehicles has been taken to our "Take Out" destination. While we are only two fishermen, the boat is always occupied with four bodies; Jack, myself, Ellie and "Bud."

Bud, who started his life an unlucky pup, is mostly Black Lab. Jack calls him "A Mutt." Bud was unlucky at first because he was obviously mistreated and abused. He ended up in the Butte Animal Shelter where softhearted Jack found him and took him home. Bud's luck changed for the better. Jack and his wife have spent a small fortune in vet bills to repair damage done to Bud as a pup. There definately have been no regrets to say the least.

As we float down the river and flylines are swooshing through the air to deposite a dryfly to the surface of the river, Bud's eyes are poised in anticipation. His eyes are fixed on the fly - waiting for action! Once a trout rises to the fly Bud becomes a participant. Whether it's the sound of the splash, seeing the rise, or feeling the strike motion transmitted through the boat, Bud knows there's a fish on. Once brought to the boat he just has to get his nose on the fish. Ellie, on the other hand, like the gentile lady she is, simply goes along for the ride. Much of the time she and Bud will set next to one another and enjoy the ride, sounds and smells.

A long float will that a time for a lunch or snack is in order. That is generally done when the boat is pulled up on shore at a suitable place. The dogs sit and wait until they are told "Okay." Ellie springs out of the boat effortlessly. But sometimes needs a little help owing to his puppy years of mistreatment. Jack and I will attack our lunch while Bud and Ellie inspect the area. The dogs have learned how to time themselves so they are within arms length as we near the end of our lunch. Ellie was never allowed table scraps at home and eats only the commercial food she has been given since a pup. Fishing trips are different however. My lunch bag will contain the usual sandwich or two, but on fishing trips with Bud and Ellie it also holds a supply of dog biscuits. While Ellie is normally satisfied with a biscuit, I've seen seen Jack share much of his lunch with Bud . . . including a part of a banana.

Coal waiting to go Over on the Big Horn our friend Dan has a male Lab named Coal. Coal's primary function is to retrieve ducks, geese and upland birds. When we fish together on the Big Horn, Jack and I leave our dogs home. It's a three hundred mile trip one way, and quarters are such that it could be tough on the dogs. However, we have Coal to accompany us. Coal is younger than Bud and Ellie and is just coming out of his adolesent stage. We no longer have to worry about having a flybox of streamers chewed, or seeing a sleeve of Jacks fishing coat travel through Coals aliementry tract. Coal is an extremely strong swimmer. He has traveled from one side of the Big Horn to the other, a twenty-pond goose in his mouth, bucking ice floes both ways and is ready to do it all over again. On our fishing trips on the Big Horn, Coal is our other partner. He too watches the fly or shivers with bursts of excitement once a fish is hooked - and like Bud and Ellie has become one of our fishing buddies.

Coal at the end of a tough day on the Big Horn

Wherever we have fished and the day comes to an end, events of the day are usually relived. Seldom does the conversation ever take place when you don't get the feeling one of the dogs wants to tell you what you left out.

Perhaps we don't communicate the way dog and dog might, nor can dogs really "talk" to humans, it is clear however that either species enjoys a day fishing together with their best friends. Don Cianca (aka Uncle Don)

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