February 10, 2011 —
Years ago I used to fish a beautiful little trout stream, the West Branch of the Croton, where it flows between West Branch Reservoir and Croton Falls Reservoir. Being self employed, I was able to steal away at times for a long lunch hour and do a little fishing. I would park my car up at the property of the Putnam County Fish & Game Association. From there it was a short walk down a steep ridge to the brook and some of my favorite pools. The club caretaker owned two dogs. One was a large brown mutt, the other a spaniel type breed. The dogs usually followed me down to the stream in hopes of sharing my lunch. They seemed to be able to recognize a soft touch when they saw one. Once the food was gone, the brown dog would head back up the ridge. The spaniel was more sociable, tagging along the bank while I waded and cast, once in a while catching one of the wild brown trout that were born and bred in the river. Imagine, wild trout within 45 miles of New York City. This section of the West Branch has not been stocked in 40 years.
One day the spaniel attempted to become more than a just a casual companion. The trout were feeding steadily, their rise forms observed without difficulty on each pool that I approached. At first, success came easily for me that day. The fishing was great until I noticed the spaniel creeping up to the edge of the bank at a pool I was about to fish. The dog seemed to be in a state of great excitement. A trout rose a yard off the bank. Oh no! The eager dog launched itself into the brook, landing exactly where the fish had risen. The pup splashed about in the shallows seeking to find its quarry. It was comical to watch how bewildered the dog behaved once the trout had eluded it. I was amazed. It seemed to be undeniable that the dog had connected those rings on the water with the fish I was seeking. Of course, after that commotion there were no more trout rising in that pool. No matter, I could see that there were trout rising in the next pool upstream. Ah, but there was a problem. Handicapped by my waders, I could not reach that pool before the dog. I could only stand and watch while the spaniel repeated its unsuccessful attempt to catch a trout. What at first had struck me as being hilarious was no longer amusing. No amount of shouting or arm waving on my part succeeded in convincing the dog to leave the trout alone. My fishing was over for this afternoon. I sat down on the bank. The dog came and sat beside me whining and stamping its feet. It seemed to be saying, “OK, so I missed a couple, let’s not quit now.” What could I do? I reached over and patted the fishing dog on the head. It occurred to me that this was a great fish story. Then again, would even my closest friends believe this tale involving a spaniel, a fly fisher and a trout stream? I’ll just have to raise my right hand and swear to tell nothing but the truth.