I have become a “vicarious” angler.
That means I like fishing through others more than I like making casts and pulling on fish myself.
That’s not to say I dislike making casts and pulling on fish. Not by a longshot.
I just like watching other people light up when they catch fish more. And if I can lend a word of advice or row a boat to help them connect, so much the better.
If you don’t believe that, you can ask the people who have fished from my drift boat lately. I almost never give up the oars. Even when the wind is hoofing and I’m bone-weary, or the hatch is blowing up and I’m salivating at the opportunities all around, when they ask, “C’mon, Deeter, can I row a bit so you can fish?” I almost always say “no thanks.”
Let’s be clear. That is NOT altruistic, and I am not being a stand-up, world-class fishing buddy. I’m being selfish. I’m lighting my own fuse.
So, the experience I had the other day was very odd. I went on a long walk along a trout river with my pudelpointer, Maya, who is the best hunting dog I’ve ever had, and also, I’m sure, one of the world’s worst “fishing dogs.”
I was wearing waders, and carrying a fly rod, of course, with a stash of dry flies in my shirt pocket (we were walking along a trout-laden river after all…) but fishing wasn’t the purpose of the exercise. My expectation meter measured absolute zero.
As we rounded a certain bend in the stream, I saw some trout sporadically sipping bugs off the surface and figured “what the heck?”
I clambered down the bank and waded toward a spot where I could make a cast. The truly weird thing was that Maya followed very close to me instead of zig-zagging and splashing. And when we got to my spot, she froze at my side and just stood there, watching.
That was so uncharacteristic, it kind of freaked me out. It was like having my dog look up at me with her doll’s eyes and saying, “This Bud’s for you, chief… go get ‘em!”
So, I tied on a small parachute Adams dry fly, and as I did so, I thought, maybe this one is for me. I’d spent the whole season fishing vicariously through many special people— my father… my niece… my friends—maybe Maya was fishing vicariously through me, if only to help me reinforce that I still loved fly fishing.
So, I made the cast. And I caught that trout.
But what was really weird was that, instead of jumping and splashing and chasing the fish I was fighting, Maya held fast, and actually pointed (leg-lift and all) another trout that was eating bugs off the river surface, a few yards further ahead.
I released the first fish, cast at the next dry-fly-eater and caught that Maya-pointed trout also! That was a big one… I’d say 19 inches, but I’m conservative, especially since so many 17-inchers seem to turn into 20-inchers on social media these days.
We landed the fish. Released it. Good enough, let’s go home…
But Maya nosed toward one more big boy chomping away at the head of the glide below the riffle.
“We shouldn’t press our luck, right?” I asked Maya. She stood there, shimmering, glistening, and grunting.
“Okay, fine, girl, let’s give it a whirl,” I said.
You know what happened next. This is a happy story, after all.
After that, she and I climbed out of the river and finished our walk. “Three for me,” after a long, hot, hard but immensely rewarding season of vicarious fishing seemed like the perfect way to end the day and the season. It’s time to go chase birds.
But Maya and I can’t hardly wait for next spring.