There’s nothing like a good doggy tale to spur a smile when there isn’t a whole lot to smile about. Fond memories are just one way man’s best friend keeps right on giving, sometimes long after they have reached the mythical overpass known as Rainbow Bridge.

Anyone who has ever owned a dog is likely to have a few good stories to tell. One of my favorites belongs to a guy I’ve never met. A co-worker who shared the tale called him “ol’ Joe.”

The way the story goes, it was early spring and the white bass spawning run was at a fever pitch. Ol’ Joe was overly anxious to get on the water and he backed his boat so far down the ramp that it floated off the trailer bunks.

With no bow strap or rope attached, the boat drifted away in the slow-moving current of the Trinity River before he could reach it.

Naturally, Joe was concerned about the situation. Fred, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have a care in the world.

Fred was Joe's four-year old black lab. The two were nearly inseparable. The dog loved riding in the boat and always made a point to load up before Joe dumped it into the water.

As Joe paced the ramp and pondered a plan, Fred stood on the front deck and wagged his tail as the current carried the boat south towards Lake Livingston.

It was risky with no lifejacket, but Joe dealt with the dilemma the best way he knew how. He removed his shoes, jumped in the river and swam like heck before he finally managed to catch up with his runaway boat and dog.

That's when the kid came out in Fred. Rather than backing off and allowing his master to board the boat, Fred barked and licked Joe repeatedly in the mouth as he struggled to clear the gunwale. The more Joe cursed the dog, the more intense the kisses became.

"That damn dog — I almost never got back in that boat," Joe said. "I finally threw water in his face and he backed off long enough that I could pull myself in."

I was telling a friend about Fred recently and it rekindled some fond memories of K-9 companions in my past:

Captain and Velveeta

I’ve owned a small army of dogs in my life, but the lop-eared boxer/shepherd mix everyone knew as “Captain” was by far the most entertaining of all. Trouble seemed to follow that dog wherever he went. If not, he’d go out and find it.

Captain grew up in the late 1970s in east Garland. He was a brazen playboy who leaped our four-foot yard fence at will, often stayed gone for days at a time and once came home with a spark plug wire tied around his neck for a collar.

He was crafty, too. My guess is he may have been the only dog to ever bust out of the dog pound, resulting in a city-wide dragnet that involved everyone from cops to dog catchers on a hunt for a four-legged fugitive.

Though he never started a brawl with another dog, Captain ended bunch of them. I saw him shred water moccasins, tangle with raccoons and crunch armadillo backs like potato chips. It was never a good idea to leave a fishing rod unattended in a pick-up bed when Captain was back there, either. He’d turn it into a pile of splinters if you did.

Plenty of people loved that dog, but Travis Bagwell wasn’t among them. Bagwell owned a small grocery store a few blocks away on S. Fifth St. He knew a dirty side of the big yellow dog that few ever saw.

Captain was a thief. He had a bad habit of sneaking in through the grocery store loading dock and helping himself to the goodies inside. He made off with everything from loaves of bread to cinnamon rolls and slabs of bologna and bacon.

I once caught the dog red-handed once as he slipped up the alley and hopped our yard fence like a deer. Lodged in his jaws was a bright yellow box with red lettering I couldn’t make out without moving in for a closer look.

Somewhere along the way Captain had snatched a box of Kraft Velveeta Cheese. We had a pretty good idea where it came from.

Slug-Go the Bear Dog

Slug-Go was a 100-pound boxer/curr mix I raised from a pup and named after a soft plastic fishing lure. He never was one to get excited about much, even when pinned against the wall by an unruly gang of bronze turkey gobblers and hens we raised at our home back in the late 1990s.

His easy going nature took the ultimate test in June 2004. That’s when he bumped noses with a black bear in the New Mexico high country.

A friend and I were scouting for old elk signs along a tall ridge one morning and Slug-Go was along for the trip. We hadn’t gone far when the dog smelled something in the wind and took off to investigate.

Minutes later we heard grunting and growling from the dark woods ahead followed by the sounds of a barking dog. It was obvious the dog was  moving our direction and closing the gap quickly.

My friend, Chester Williams of Lindale, was the first to spot the source of the commotion. A black bear was on Slug-Go’s heels and the dog was leading the angry animal straight to us.

Like an old west actor in a black and white comedy, I grabbed and pulled frantically for the .357 Ruger holstered on my hip as the dog and bear moved closer. The bear had charged within 20-30 feet before I finally managed to draw the pistol. Luckily, however, I didn't have to use it.

Williams had begun yelling and waving his arms and finally managed to get the bear's attention. Once the animal realized our presence, it veered and vanished into the forest, just as swiftly as it had appeared.

That was Slug-Go’s final trip to the mountains. It’s also marked the last time I’ll make the mistake of turning an unleashed dog loose in bear country.

ET lakes named about Bassmaster top picks for bassin’

Bassmaster Magazine recently released its 2019 list of the Top 100 Bass Lakes in America and there are several Texas reservoirs in the mix, including two East Texas lakes named among the Top 10.

Sam Rayburn cracked a Top 5 ranking for the third consecutive year. After nailing down the No. 1 spot in 2018 and No. 2 in 2017, the 114,000-acre lake east of Lufkin ranks third on the list this year behind the St. Lawrence River in New York and Lake Guntersville in Alabama. Bassmaster ranked Lake Fork near Quitman ranks as the nation’s No. 5 bass fishery, following a tedious selection process that typically takes more than two months to finalize.

The rankings are based on state fisheries agency polls, annual tournament results and evaluations of big bass programs from various states, according to Bassmaster Magazine editor, James Hall.

In addition to the nation’s Top 10 overall fisheries, the list identifies the Top 25 lakes in four geographical regions. Texas dominates the Central region with 10 lakes on the list. Among them are Sam Rayburn (No. 1), Lake Fork (No. 2), Toledo Bend (No. 4), Lake Falcon (No. 6), Lake Conroe (No. 7), Caddo Lake (No. 9), Lake LBJ (No.11), Lake Ray Roberts (No. 15), Lake Texoma (No. 16) and Lake O’ the Pines (No. 19).

Texans headed to FLW Cup

Eight Texas bass pros are set to compete in the 2019 FLW Cup on Aug. 9-11 on Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Ark.

The FLW Tour’s year-end championship will be built around a tough field of 52 anglers, including the Top 40 pros from the 2019 FLW Tour Angler of the Year standings, the top ranked pros from six divisions at the 2018 Costa FLW Series Championship, the 2019 T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) All-American boater champion, the 2019 The Bass Federation boater champion and both 2019 YETI FLW College Fishing National Championship winning teammates.

Top prize in the ‘Cup is $300,000; $60,000 for second and $50,000 for third. Places 21-52 pay $10,000.  

Texas pros headed to the championship are: Matt Reed of Madisonville; Chris Brasher of Longview; Todd Castledine of Nacogdoches; Kurt Dove of Del Rio; Tommy Dickerson of Orange; Jordon Osborne of Longview; Tom Redington of Royce City; and Jason Reyes of Huffman.

FLW recently wrapped up its 2019 tour campaign on Lake Champlain in New York and Vermont. Brasher was the top Texas finisher in fourth place, $20,000. Redington finished 10th, $14,000.

The tournament also saw FLW’s all-time leading money winner David Dudley of Lynchburg, Va. add another notch to an already impressive resume with an unprecedented fourth AOY title. The title earned him a $100,000 bonus, boosting his all-time earnings to $3.6 million.

2019-20 Federal Duck Stamp on sale

The 2019-20 Federal Duck Stamp and the Junior Duck Stamp are now available for purchase on online, at sporting goods retail outlets, some post offices and national wildlife refuges. The federal stamp costs $25; the junior stamp costs $5.

The FDS has a rich history in wildlife conservation, generating more $1 billion since 1934 for use in the protection and acquisition of 6 million acres of wetlands habitat on national wildlife refuges around the nation.

The FDS is required in addition to a hunting license to hunt waterfowl around the country, but also is voluntarily purchased by birders and other outdoors enthusiasts. A current FDS also provides free access to any national refuge that charges an entry fee.

The Junior Stamp has been around since 1993, raising more than $1 million for use in conservation education. Learn more about the Federal and Junior Duck Stamps at www.fws.gov/birds/get-involved/duck-stamp.