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fishing lines: The boldest springer

When I was in Maine a couple of years ago, the local television station showed footage of a dog that landed salmon for his owner. When a hooked fish was close to the bank, the dog would plunge in and grab the salmon, retrieving it perfectly every time.

On the River Tay near Aberfeldy last year, I watched another smart dog. My ghillie had trained his border collie to fetch his landing net or his wading stick. It was even clever enough to distinguish which one he wanted. Tom was confident that the dog would have performed the salmon trick too, but didn't want it to get into bad habits. - I didn't dare tell him about my springer, Bracken.

Long-serving readers of this column will know something of his exploits. Only a few weeks ago, I met a reader who recalled something I wrote more than six years ago. This chap actually has the cutting pinned to his wall, and when he feels a little glum, he looks at it to cheer him up.

To be fair, this incident happened when Bracken was just a year old. Those who own springers will know that until they are about two, they are the canine equivalent of football hooligans. Well, I had been down the river for a spot of early-morning spinning, but had to quit because Bracken insisted on trying to retrieve the spinner. Wet and muddy as a hippo, he rounded off by rolling in cowpats.

I was walking Bracken home when he spotted an open door. Whoosh! He was gone. He not only ran into the house, but up the stairs, where a woman was in bed. He jumped on to the bed, and tried to lick her face. Holler as I might, he wouldn't come down. I had to go up the stairs, and pull him off the bed.

Bracken was my first encounter with springers. As if one wasn't enough, I foolishly took one of the puppies when Bracken went to stud. Ginger gave him an accomplice in his dastardly deeds, which included everything from eating my wife's surprise Valentine's Day box of chocolates (wrapping and all), to attacking the lining of the pond and all the water disappearing.

Where other people had dogs that sat quietly while they fished, I had one that did more to stop me fishing than any anti-angling protester. He took it as a personal challenge to escape from any restraining device, uprooting trees or chewing through them. Even those corkscrew devices, which will anchor a horse, Bracken managed to pull out or wrap his lead so tightly that I was forced to free him to stop him dying of strangulation. That was the aim of the game. Then he could sit on top of me, or tread on the rods, or steal my lunch: anything, in fact, to stop me fishing.

Where others use words like faithful, obedient, trusty, staunch or steadfast to describe their hounds, mine was sneaky, naughty, greedy, irresponsible, disobedient and perverse. Consequently, he was adored by all the village kids.

You may notice I said "was". Yesterday, I took him to the vet and left without him. Aged nearly 14, he was springer no more. Arthritis had left him shaking, his back legs had gone, his liver and kidneys were failing. For the past two months, I had watched him wasting away.

Incontinence had finally forced me to move him away from the warmth of the Aga to his outside kennels. But for the last three nights, his son, Ginger, had refused to sleep alone in the house, preferring to stay with his father, licking his face and whimpering occasionally as the old dog battled to stand up.

It's the first time I've had to cope with the death of a dog. The children, who grew up using Bracken as a never- complaining trampoline, are distraught. Ginger, who never howls, did so last night.

And I've lost the worst fishing companion I ever had.