Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Great Salmon Hunter

One of the best fishing buddies I ever had was one I didn't expect. He was very young when I took him out on the river. The first time was almost the last because at a young ago he was a wild beast and often did what he wanted or tried to....

Sitting in the back of the truck.
I didn't want to leave him alone and desperately wanted to get some Salmon fishing in. Although I was just starting to train him, I figured he was still small and manageable...

Oh he sure looked cute....
Let me introduce you to Samson. Don't let his cuteness fool you! He is a Yellow Lab, which are. notorious for being hyper crazy demonoid puppies until they are 2-3 years old regardless of the best training.

So I took this sweet, cute, adorable thing up north with me. I went to Ivan's in Baldwin and picked out a campground site. Yeah I was really brave and figured I would stay in a two man ultralight tent. He didn't know what we were doing, but he was VERY excited to be away from the house. It was the first week of  September and I hadn't been up to the river yet. Depending on the weather the fishing could be spotty or full on early on this river. We were headed to the Pere Marquette.

I wanted to scout the river a bit to see where I would be fishing the next morning.I brought a 12 foot cable that I could tie him off to a tree near me if I found some fish and he couldn't behave. I immediately found some early fish and they were already starting to make redds. I saw a couple of females in the shallow gravel with some males fighting each other already. the hole below the beds was LOADED with fish. There were a good 30-40 plus fish. The hole wasn't really that big, but it was deep. It was perfect for some early kings especially since the water was gin clear.

This was Samson's first fishing experience and he  could see the large Kings swimming around. He was beside himself with excitement. I managed to tie him off to a tree very close to me. He had access to the waters edge and was pushing the cable to its limit to be close to me and the fish. He begged me to let him free so he could swim and chase the spawning fish. He was whining and looking at me with that cute little puppy dog face. you know, the kind that melts your heart and makes you want to give in to them. Are you crazy! This is time to catch some early fish and that's exactly what I intended to do.

I put on an egg sucking leech and let it drift from behind the beds into the dark hole. Many of the fish were splashing the top of the water and jumping all around which only mad Samson get more and more excited. He was running back and forth in a semi circle, back and forth again and again. I stopped fishing to go by him to calm him down which made him just jump on me. I had the distinct smell of wet dog on me know as I had slobber all over my vest and hands.

Unsuccessful in my attempt to console him. I went back into the water with the intent on at least getting a couple hook ups before it started getting dark. I made a few casts then felt a very light thump on my rod. I pulled back hard as the hook sank into the the jaw of a particularly large and feisty King Salmon. The silver locomotive with scales responded by rocketing skyward in a series of  leaps and jumps. This fresh male spawner took off upstream as my drag started to scream in protest. My heart pounded as the this monster headed for a log jam upstream still jumping.

Samson was behind me and I could see out of the corner of my eye he was in a frenzy as he watched the Salmon jumping and heading upstream. He was mimicking the fish by jumping high into the air while chained to the tree. I was trying to concentrate on my runaway fish when I saw Samson bolt past me and run along the bank until he was near the fish. He was just barely 6 months old, but jumped like a seasoned pro at one of those water dog contests. He landed upstream of the fish a good 10 feet into the river. My mind was still trying to register this craziness when my line went slack as the fish responded to the large mass landing in the water in front of it by immediately heading downstream. I cranked down on the fish just as it was swimming by me. I got a good look at the fish as it swam by. It was a very large male and fresh as they come. I pointed my rod downstream so the fish wouldn't snap the line. When my line started to peel off the reel again. I saw my goofy dog leisurely swimming around the pool that held the fish in it.

Labs are bred for the water and can swim almost effortlessly. Their webbed feet make for great flippers as they can swim faster than one can imagine. Samson had almost forgotten the fish on my line as he was letting the current push him downstream. that was until he saw the fish on the beds. To say he went crazy would be a great understatement. He went absolutely bonkers. He was chasing everything he saw and was even putting his head underwater trying to get the fish. The Salmon responded in the only way they knew how when it seems a predator large enough to chomp into one is near. They swam for their lives in all directions.

I was still fighting my fish that had gone down to another hole just downstream before I was able to turn it from its run. For a brief moment I thought I had an edge. The fish was definitely hooked in the mouth as I could tell by it's aggressive head shakes. I was able to hold the fish from going farther downstream for a few short seconds when I felt a bump on my leg. I looked down to see Samson looking at me with his tongue hanging out and I could swear he was smiling. It was as if he wanted me to acknowledge that he did something I wanted by chasing all of the fish away. Well I still had the one on and we could come back tomorrow. It might take a whole night for the fish to settle down after the ruckus.

Some moments in life happen so quickly, but everything can seem to move in slow motion. I heard the fish jump downstream as well as felt the surging fly rod in my right hand as I was still looking at my waterlogged fish hunter. I could see his eyes light up as he saw the fish again and then he was gone. He was running full speed in the shallow water along the bank and jumped into the hole my fish was still jumping in. Once Samson landed the Salmon headed straight for Lake Michigan. It was all over but the crying. I could feel my line running across a log or large rock as Samson took chase before my rod went limp in my hand. I knew I had lost the fish and was worried that I might also loose my dog. I could hear barking around the bend and hoped he didn't ruin another fisherman's day by spooking everything around.

I set my rod on the bank and crossed the river trying to head him off. I was calling to him as loud as I could when I saw him running towards me, tongue hanging out the side of his mouth and black muck all over him. I was just wondering where he had found all the mud when he reached the shore and jumped on me in his excitement. Besides the slobber now I had some fetid swamp muck all over. I was angry for a few seconds until I could see how utterly happy he was. He was running and splashing all around me, with more excitement than a kid on Christmas Eve. I could feel my anger drain out of me as I said "what in the world is wrong with you!" He tilted his head in that curious way he always did. He must have slipped his collar somewhere so I turned towards the other bank and said " Come on goof ball!"

On the way back to the campground. The car smelled of wet dog and swamp muck. Although it is not a good smell, it brings back memories.

Samson turned into a great partner for fishing. He eventually calmed down and loved to go to the river with me every chance I got. He also loved to swim in the pool. If I was in it he had to be too. I was worried that he would get in it somehow when I was at work and taught him how to climb out on the ladder. It took one try and almost every hot day he would swim all day and watch the yard from the deck of the pool as the sun and chlorine turned his coat almost white. When he really needed to burn off some energy I would take him to the pond down the street. I would hit a tennis ball and he would swim to the middle and get it. He was almost tireless and I would have to make him take breaks so he wouldn't over do it. One would think the winter months would be a time of reprieve. But,as much as he loved the water he loved the snow just as much.

Samson always entered and left the pool in the same spot.

He sure loved to swim, and chase Salmon!
Posing with the bat and tennis ball after a long session of swimming.

Not only was Samson a great fishing companion, he was a great protector for my kids when I wasn't around. When my daughter was born, he would not leave her side. He slept in her room on the floor and was constantly near her. Not once did he even show his teeth when she would pull his ears and hair and even poked him in the eye.

He sure loved his kids!

He has been gone for a couple years now, but I still miss him dearly. A friend of mine lent me the book Marley and Me which I couldn't read very far. Marley reminded me too much of my loyal pal. Watching the movie with my kids just about killed me, there wasn't a dry eye between us.

Farewell my friend, you will always be missed and never forgotten. I hope you get to chase big Salmon wherever you are....

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