My goal in life is to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am. – The Bellamy Brothers

It’s easy to love a dog. On our worst days our dog still thinks we’re great. It doesn’t matter how badly we screw up, or how many catastrophes we’ve caused, in our dog’s eyes, we’re amazing. Most of the fishermen I know love dogs. Some of us take them fishing with us.  Most dogs don’t care if we catch a fish or not, they’re just glad to be out on the water with us.

Crockett Lee wasn’t that kind of dog.  Oh, he loved me unconditionally, but if I took him fishing and he didn’t see fish coming over the rail, he’d get mad.  Real mad.  I never wanted to take a skunk when Crockett was on the boat.  If we got back to the dock without at least a white perch to show for our efforts, I could surely expect  a severe bark-lashing.  He made sure I knew I’d let him down.  I think he finally got tired of my failures and took it upon himself to make me a better fisherman.

It started like this, when I moved from the Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay, my first fishing boat was a 25-foot long Sea Ray express cruiser.  That boat wasn’t really designed for fishing, but I made a few angler-friendly modifications before naming her after my new Chesapeake Bay Retriever puppy and striking out to learn how to fish the Bay.  Crockett grew up on Crockett’s Reel and always felt right at home there.  When I got my center console a few years ago, Crockett would have none of it.  He did not like Thunder Road.  Gone were the comfortable carpeted floors that provided traction in rough water, and gone was the cushy upholstered seat that allowed him to sit up high and see over the rails.  

Before I retell this story, one that appears in my book Chesapeake Light Tackle, An Introduction to Light Tackle Fishing on the Chesapeake Bay, I’ll start by saying that, like most outdoorsmen, I’ve been known to brag about my dogs. Growing up in Tennessee, my buddies and I told lots of stories about super hunting dogs.  Most were relayed with tongues squarely in cheek and every tall tale was sure to end with some magnificently exaggerated conquest by the narrator’s most accomplished canine. This tale isn’t embellished.  Every word is true and I remember it like it was yesterday.

With only 90 minutes to spare before dark, there wasn’t much chance of finding a human fishing partner this evening, but Crockett, my faithful Chesapeake Bay Retriever, had no problems with the abbreviated trip.  He eagerly bounded from the dock to his usual position on the seat cushion over the engine as we launched off Kent Island in the boat named after him. Tonight our plan was to look for rockfish, but in a different area of the Bay than where we’d been finding them recently.  There are surely fish where we left them last night, but we needed a change of scenery.

After a short 10-minute run to the mouth of an Eastern Shore river, I noticed birds flying high over a steep underwater drop-off.  High circling seagulls can be an indicator that there are fish feeding deep, so I decided to drop a lure.  Crockett has become somewhat complacent on the boat lately.  When he was a puppy, I trained him to get excited when we’d get close to fish.  As soon as I’d see fish on the sonar, I’d get him going,

“There they are, Crockett.  Get ‘em boy.  Sic sic sic.  Get the fish!”

He’d start barking, whining, and looking down at the water.  As soon as I caught a striped bass I’d reward him by giving him a treat from a bag I carried in my tackle box.  When I occasionally landed a white perch on my jig, he got to eat it.  Before long he was pointing fish better than my fish finder.

Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are the official dog of the State of Maryland. They are superb hunters, known for their love of the water.  The story of the breed is steeped in Chesapeake history.  In 1807, an English ship wrecked off Maryland’s Eastern Shore dumping its cargo including two Newfoundland puppies named Canton and Sailor.  The dogs were bred with other retriever lines including local Native American dogs, and soon became famous for their skill, stamina, and retrieving ability in working the icy waters of the Bay.

I’ve learned to trust Crockett’s instincts above my own.  When he gets excited on the boat, I start fishing no matter what.  There doesn’t have to be marks on the sonar or birds in the air.  When he points rockfish, I start catching them.  His success rate is nearly 100 percent, but lately he just hasn’t seemed too excited about fishing.

Tonight was different.  Crockett just couldn’t get settled.  We are smack in the middle of an amazing fall striper run, with big fish migrating in from the Atlantic Ocean to feed on bait coming out of the Bay’s creeks and rivers.  I started hooking up right away.  They were pretty good fish too, mid-20s or so with an occasional 27- or 28-incher in the mix.  But Crockett kept whining and pawing the boat and looking away toward the shoreline.  I considered shushing him because I was afraid he might be spooking the fish I was catching, but something told me I should listen.  There’s a cardinal rule that a fisherman should never leave fish to find fish, especially not fish of the quality I was catching.  But the voice of my faithful friend was beckoning me elsewhere.  I reluctantly put down my rod, turned the switch, and fired the 383 Mag-stroker blasting off in the direction my dog was pointing.

I never made a better decision.  Although there wasn’t a bird in sight, when I brought the boat off plane we found ourselves in the middle of a battle zone.  Huge rockfish were rounding up bait and chasing them up onto a shallow shelf.  Not a full blown striper blitz, just dozens of violent surface explosions spread out across the five acre flat with each one knocking scores of six-inch bunker over a foot in the air.  I wouldn’t need my jig here; this was top-water country.  My hands started shaking as I picked up my spinning outfit rigged with monofilament and a modified red and silver spook.  Since the fish were all around the boat, I wasn’t sure where to cast first.  Just for the fun of it, I launched the plug toward the setting sun, then lowered my rod tip and started the back and forth “walk-the-dog” motion these lures are famous for.

Kerploosh!  The water erupted around my plug as if someone had thrown a hand-grenade.  I held my breath and waited for the 14-pound-test monofilament to come tight, then set the hook squarely into the jaw of a big striped bass.  After a short but furious fight, I brought the wide 36-inch fish to the side of the boat and released it without taking it out of the water.   I turned around to cast in the opposite direction and was surprised by a big beautiful harvest moon rising above the Delmarva Peninsula.  I threw the plug toward the bright orange circle. BOOM!  It was another boat-rocking concussion and another 20-pound striper.  This one was dripping with sea lice; a clear indicator the fish had just arrived from the ocean.  The pattern kept up until after dark.  At times the big fish seemed to fight each other over my lure.  As one huge striper knocked the plug out of the water, another would be waiting for it to land.

After about 30 minutes of catching, my arms were completely worn out.  Although it was well past dusk, I could still hear the frenzied fish attacking the hapless bait.  I had the idea to take the hooks off my spook and had just as much fun watching, or rather listening in the darkness as the fish erupted on the lure.  Sometimes, I even fought them for a while, playing tug of war against an unseen opponent over a hookless plug.  I imagined the fish were enjoying it as much as I was.

The violent barrage continued until well after the bright full moon was high in the night sky.  Through it all, Crockett sat stoically on his perch on the back cushion. Early on I let him sniff a couple of the fish I landed.  He responded by giving me a lick on the cheek, but then seemed to lose interest, as if all the reward he needed was the satisfaction of providing his master with what might have been the most intense fishing experience of his life.  The phrase “Man’s Best Friend” seems to be an understatement with a dog like Crockett.  I’ve known some good fishermen, but simply put, when it comes to fish-finding prowess, he’s the best. Recognizing that he’s the superior species in all aspects of angling with the noted exception of dexterity, I happily serve as Crockett’s Reel.

I recently read an article by Gene Weingarten.  It appeared in the Washington Post in 2008.  He wrote:

When we watch a dog progress from puppyhood to old age, we are watching our own lives in microcosm. Our dogs become old, frail, crotchety and vulnerable, just as Grandma did, just as we surely will, come the day. When we grieve for them, we grieve for ourselves. The meaning of life is that it ends.

Last night, at 1:00 AM, in the pouring rain, in the teeth of a nor’easter, we buried Crockett Lee in a corner in the back of the yard.  RIP my friend.  You were a good dog.

Related posts:

Why it’s Crockett’s Reel

Posted Friday, October 11th, 2013 at 2:30 pm
Filed Under Category: Fishing Reports
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28

Responses to “A Good Dog”

  1. Bill Nieberding says:

    Shawn – I am so sorry to hear you lost your Chessie. I too have a Chessie. Tater will be 13 on December 6th of this year. Everything you wrote describing Crockett and Chessies alike is true.

    I often grimace thinking that the day will come similar to the one you have already experience.

    My sincerest condolences to you and your family.

    Bill

  2. Mike Dunlap says:

    There isn’t much to say to someone who has lost their companion. There are very little bonds in life as strong as a man and his dog. My thoughts are with you and Crockett. The vid you attached was one of my favorite posts you’ve made. Not for the fishing but for the experience of life on the eastern shore, and Crockett exemplified that. RIP Crockett.

  3. Mike F says:

    Shawn,

    Very sorry to hear of your loss. I know how rough that can be.

  4. jumbo1 says:

    One of your best write-ups yet SK..straight from the heart…crockett would be proud…

  5. Harold Metler says:

    Shawn and Dianne! So sorry to hear of Crockett’s passing! I know that you’re grieving now, but the wonderful memories and stories will live on ! RIP Crockett!!

  6. gareth says:

    Hi shawn
    living in South Africa, i have followed your fishing exploits for the past 4 years.

    To loose a champion fishing and life companion like Crockett is so sad.

    Many condolences.

  7. Nate says:

    So sorry to hear. The very worst thing about having dogs in your life is outliving them. It gets a little easier with time, and fond remembrance only grows.

  8. Susan Stover says:

    Hi Shawn,

    I really enjoyed your article…..I’m very sorry to hear about the loss of your dog, Crockett. What a beautiful dog. I lost one of my doggie’s, Daisy, this past March, and it was heartbreaking. My thoughts are with you.

    Susan

  9. Capt Hodnicky says:

    Shawn & Family

    Loss of a good dog and fishin partner is just like loosing a family member. Rememder the good times.Go out and get you another right quick, Time heals all.

    Best Regards
    Capt. Hodnicky

  10. Dave says:

    Sorry to hear Shawn, I lost my black lab back in March,
    never easy, they are family

  11. JOE YACK says:

    So sorry to hear of your loss… I cried like a baby when my choclate lab passed on, she was a fishing/hunting dog too! After awhile the tear is repaced with a smile… Great story, too.

  12. Don says:

    Great story,there is nothing like a good dog.RIP Crokett

    • Will Anderson says:

      This moment in time brings all the memories of how and why you treasure the times you and Crockett’s shared, So smile every time you think of him because he holds that spot forever. peace.

  13. RiverCat09 says:

    Shawn,

    Losing a faithful pet always sucks, and it something that people who don’t own pets will never fully understand. Our pets are members of our family, and losing one really hurts. My condolences to you, and may your fond memories of Crockett remain strong.

    Don

  14. colin says:

    What a nice tribute Shawn . I forwarded this to my mom . I know she will love it and I’m sure she will cry.

  15. Karen says:

    So sorry for the loss of Crockett. When I originally saw this video, I didn’t know that was you! Love the ‘doggie cam’ view. It is precious.

  16. Steve F says:

    Being an Animal Control Officer for 24 years I seen the good the bad and the ugly. You just can’t imagine the way people treat animals and I have photographs to prove that. I know that Crockett lived a great life and I can still remember the first time I meet you on the water and Crockett was with you. RIP Crockett …

  17. Jim Ehoff says:

    Shawn, I know how it feels we lost our yellow lab Stoli back in March. Since then Pat got me Gibbs another yellow lab, he is a great dog so far but a still miss my Stoli. They are a Hugh part of our family, and all they ask of us is to take care of them. We will keep you guys in our thoughts.

  18. Dan Duffy says:

    I hope Knowing that you gave Crockett a most loving and adventurous life provides you some relief.

  19. Roger T says:

    Sorry to hear Crockett passed,Shawn.He sure sounds like he was heck of a dog.
    One thing for sure is they really do become a big part of your family,its really hard to see them go.

  20. Jim W says:

    Shawn, Crockett blessed you with many cherished memories and he had an amazing life with you. God bless the both of you.

  21. Steve says:

    A wonderful story! We too have a Chessie, our second after having had labs before.
    They are fabulous dogs with unquestionable loyalty and an indomitable spirit.
    I am sorry for your loss and hope that in time you find another “fishing buddy”
    God Bless!

  22. Gitzit 2 says:

    I’m so sorry to hear of Crockett’s passing.
    Our condolences to everyone in the Kimbro household.

    Mark

  23. Beekeeper Al says:

    Really sorry to read about Crockett ‘s passing. We have a chessie that looks a lot Crockett and he’s been the only dog we’ve had. He’s a wonderful companion as yours had been. I’m sure it’s a sad time at home right now. My condolences.

  24. Jay Dimig says:

    The angels have a new puppy.

  25. Mike B says:

    Oh my God, I’m so sorry for your loss. Boy the years pass quick. The first time I met him he wouldn’t let me out of the car until I fed him my french fries. He’s a beautiful dog and from your stories a fine companion. For me the pain of losing a dog is comparable to a human family member. That’s why I always say I won’t get another….right before I do. My sympathies.

    Mike

  26. Richard says:

    As I sit over coffee and breakfast on creek on KI, I’ve been catching up on fish reading in hopes they have actually arrived. My 2 labs are on the couch…and I’m in tears reading about a dog that after reading your book and articles….I felt I almost knew him.
    You couldn’t have put into words better the true feelings that us dog lovers can get.
    Thanks for the tears.
    RB
    Chester, md

  27. Patti Cooper says:

    Shawn, As the breeder of Crocket I would like to thank you for giving him a happy full life . Your adventures were wonderful and as a breeder I couldn’t ask for a better life for one of our puppies. I’m so sorry for your loss .

    For Awhile

    God gave you to me,
    For awhile,
    And I have cherished,
    every smile,
    From your golden eyes,
    To your brown wavy hair,
    You could always,
    cause someone to stop and stare,
    But the best part,
    was within your heart,
    And even though today,
    we must part,
    I now send you to God,
    For a new start,
    And one day,
    We will meet again,
    And our love,
    will have no end,
    (Author Patti Cooper)

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