Reliving Waterdog Days Of Youth

OUTDOORS UNDER THE RIM

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If you have wandered the woods of the Rim Country, no doubt you have come across the numerous stock tanks, which, in previous years, watered the cattle herds of various ranchers in the area. Many of these small ponds were also a breeding ground for salamanders, which produced the immature amphibian called a waterdog. Depending on the location of the tank, these slimy critters will vary in size from 2 to 10 inches and make excellent fish bait for bass, catfish and northern pike.

Some residents of Rim Country haven't ever heard of a waterdog.

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Dean Pederson holds a seine net full of retrieved waterdogs.

This past weekend, Sam (not his real name) was on his way down to Jake's Corner and decided to stop in at the store for a bite to eat. As he entered, he saw a sign on the door that read "Waterdogs -- $.99". He walked up to the counter and found a hot dog bun, brought it over to the clerk and said, "I'll have a waterdog with mustard, please. After a pause, she answered, "Follow me," and took him into the next room to the tank of waterdogs.

She looked up at him and said, "I think I can get him on the bun, but you'll have to put the mustard on yourself."

As he looked back at her, he replied, "Ohhhhh. I've made a big mistake. No, thanks."

True story. Not everyone is familiar with these little creatures and Sam learned something new this week -- that waterdogs are not for human consumption.

In my younger years, while a student-athlete at Northern Arizona University, summers were a time to train and enjoy the outdoors in the Flagstaff area. Finances always seemed to be a little short, so seining waterdogs was a way to put a little extra cash in my pocket and enjoy the outdoors. Longtime friend, Dean Pederson, was a student-athlete at NAU as well. He also made a few bucks seining waterdogs in the stock tanks on Anderson Mesa.

Well, 37 years later, these two aging outdoorsmen who now qualify for senior-citizen discounts, heard about the three-day Big-Bass Quest, sponsored by Bill Luke Dodge to be held on Roosevelt Lake. The entrepreneurial wheels started turning and before long we had teamed up to make our pot of gold.

Everyone knows that big baits catch big fish, so the 6-inch plus waterdog was our quarry. We set out on quads and pick-ups, checking every pond our aging minds could remember from over a generation before. We were actually a bit surprised at the number of ponds we could still locate and also realized that this lengthy drought had dried up many promising tanks.

There were a couple of tanks that showed a lot of promise and we knew fishermen would want these 7- and 8-inch waterdogs. But, these two aging warriors just couldn't out-swim the speed of those salamanders in the water. We walked away from that tank with the waterdogs winning that battle, yet assured ourselves they wouldn't win the war. The next tank we hoped would bring better results.

If you ever decide to partner up with someone to run a seine through one of these tanks, remember -- the person who is closer to the ground always walks the shallow side, which happened to be Dean. I spent most of my time bobbing my head underwater as I was swimming with one arm and pulling the net with the other.

As we sat exhausted on the tailgate of my pickup, pulling leeches off our legs, we celebrated our success with a Diet Pepsi and realized it was just a bit more difficult than it had been 37 years ago.

When it was all said and done, we had probably made minimum wage and our gas money.

But that was not the point. We had relived old memories and created some new stories for our families to enjoy while we were wandering the Rim Country, God's creation.

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