Lighter Side
September 28th, 1998
"Going crazy; the World's Smartest Fishing Dog (#1)"

By Gary LaFontaine
Excerpt from Fly Fishing the Mountain Lakes

My backpack has been filled for weeks. It sits in the enclosed porch, right by the door. It's there to tease, to build up antipication; or sometimes as a taunt, useless in bad weather. I love the feel of it on my back and occasionally I have to put it on, adjusting the straps and shifting the weight until it's comfortable, and then I stand on my porch for a few minutes.

Some evenings, when I'm downcast about the long, cold spring, I put on my pack and circle the block. I stay on the sidewalk, going around two or three times, and I see my neighbors come to their windows and mouth words of pity, "It's just Gary with his packpack again."

The melancholy isn't over the lack of fishing, or even the lack of lake fishing - the season on low-elevation stillwaters starts in March in my home valley. But mountain lakes don't mean just fishing. The words "fishing and hiking" or vice versa, are linked."

"Where are you going?"

"Hiking and fishing."

The sadness, after a long winter is over the impossibility of even penetrating the high country, never mind fishing. Maybe, as a result of this lock-out, my friends fish the low-land ponds and lakes hard during the early season.

Ever sit there, waiting for a telephone call, trying to do something, anything, to fill the day, when the only thing really worth doing was waiting for that call?

Mine finally came at seven one evening, and Andy Stahl blurted out, "I told you the old boy owed me. We're in. A week from Monday we can fish the pond."

Andy was so excited that he came over to my house the next morning to plot strategy. He wanted to talk about flies, tackle, techniques - everything had to be just right for this day of fishing. The 'old boy' who owned the pond was a cranky son-of- a-bitch, a retired army officer from the East who had bought his piece of Montana paradise and hadn't let any local people onto the best brown trout pond in the valley for nearly ten years. He may have owed Andy one day of fishing, but no way did he owe him two and, short of marrying the Major's ugly, divorced daughter, even Andy wasn't going to be able to get us in there again.

Andy talked until almost three in the afternoon and as he was opening the door to leave, he said, "And maybe you shouldn't bring Chester." Chester had been listening to our fish talk all day, getting more and more excited, and I swear that when Andy said this, Chester's face dropped and he looked for a moment like a basset hound that had been licked. Then he slunk out the room.

"That was harsh."

"Nothing against Chester."

"Has he ever bothered you fishing?"

"You don't understand," Andy said. "It's not me. It's the owner. This guy makes fun of any dog that comes on the place. He thinks that he has the smartest dogs around."

"What does he do?"

"First thing he always does is sit his black labs down, put dog biscuits on the ground, and then he tells the dogs not to eat them. And the dogs won't until he tells them to."

"Chester goes with me."

"It's your call."

For the next few days I tied flies and trained Chester. No problem with that - teaching Chester wasn't like training, it was more a discussion about how things should be done. Chester quickly understood how he must respond to that biscuit laying on the floor at his feet.

Even before we climbed out of Andy's truck, the owner of the pond was crossing the yard trailed by two black Labs. The man scowled at Andy, as if he didn't remember him or the invitation to fish. When he spotted Chester he stooped suddenly, staring at my faithful mongrel like Chester might be a threat to his breeding bitches, and he asked, "What's that?"

I smiled, "That's the world's smartest dog."

The Major humphed, puffing up, and tossed a dog biscuit on the ground. "My dogs won't eat that biscuit until I tell them to."

Chester never moved and I said, "Neither will mine."

The Major glared, "All right. Let's see which dog will hold the longest."

That had me worried. I hadn't trained Chester for endurance, but there was no way to slip this contest. I told the Major, "You go ahead and set them."

He put his dogs in position, dropped a biscuit in front of each, and said, "Don't touch that." Then he walked over to Chester, dropped the biscuit, and in the same stern voice, meant to intimidate, said, "Don't touch that."

Chester, not easily intimidated, never dropped his gaze. He stared back at the Major for a moment; and then he looked over at the two Labs and, without a glance at his biscuit, trotted over, ate the other biscuits very slowly, and came back and sat in front of his.

"Damn," the Major said, more of a compliment than a curse.

And that's how we got in to fish the best brown trout pond in the valley, then and many times after. On occasion the Major would even call me and asked if I'd bring Chester out so he could show his friends, in his words, "The world's smartest fishing dog." ~ Gary LaFontaine Deer Lodge, Montana

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Brook Trout|

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