Fishing Lines: Dogged by an unruly couple

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The Independent Online
OUR lawn, if it can be called that, is pockmarked with a series of curious holes and mounds. A neighbour remarked that it looks as if we are breeding gophers. Nothing so exotic. These pits are the work of my two springer spaniels.

This is their own personal protest at not being allowed to do the things that springers do, such as charging through brambles, chasing rabbits and swimming in the river. For the past couple of years, work on the house has meant that the dogs have been rather neglected. In revenge, they have excavated the back garden.

In one case, their destructive tendencies could have been quite useful. About two feet down, they discovered an unrecorded well, though with the river outside my door about a mile wide at the moment, it's hard to appreciate its benefits.

This desire to dig holes whenever they are ignored is a puppy habit Bracken and Ginger have never lost. If I take them fishing and fail to keep them amused, they will start digging. If I tie them up so I can concentrate on catching fish, they will start digging. Powerful dogs, they can turn a virgin bankside sparkling with wild flowers into a building site within minutes.

This is all very well but if I let them loose, a fresh problem arises. Instead of sitting obediently and alertly as everyone else's springers seem to do, my pair will fling themselves like Sydney Bridge suicides into the water as soon as I cast out. With them by my side, it is impossible to flick out fly or float. Their aim is to please me by demonstrating their retrieving abilities. But trying to tempt even the dumbest fish is next to impossible after two springers have waded, paddled and generally sploshed into the catching zone a few times.

The only answer is to walk them into tiredness and submission. But have you ever tried to do that with a springer? They can run all day and still be ready for more. I'm told the biggest cause of death in spaniels is heart attacks from overworking themselves.

As I related last week, the spectre of taking the terrible two to Scotland for a few days' salmon fishing has been giving me sleepless nights. I couldn't contact my host, a spaniel owner himself, who in my absence had offered hospitality to the dogs as well. It would have been unthinkable not to turn up.

Although the pair have had expensive lessons from one of Britain's top gundog trainers, I resigned myself to the probability that they would: a) dig up my host's manicured lawns; b) demonstrate their skill at retrieving a salmon fly; c) teach his dogs to do likewise; d) ensure I never got another invitation to fish in Scotland. Asking them to spend hours in the battered Volvo I use for fishing would have resulted in the car being eaten alive.

But then St Peter took pity on me. The day before I was due to leave, the phone rang. It was my host.

'Keith, I'm most dreadfully sorry. It's been raining solidly here for days and the river is about to burst its banks. It's totally unfishable. You're welcome to stay but there's no chance of casting a line.'

'Oh, what a shame. I was so looking forward toit. Perhaps we can arrange it next year.' ('When my wife is able to look after the dogs,' I whispered under my breath.)

And that's what happened. I didn't go salmon fishing. I stayed at home and looked after the dogs. I nearly bought them a bone too. But they would only have dug another hole to bury it.