Lola the Fish Whisperer

In 2004, a Miami friend of mine’s family were out on their porch giving out Halloween candy when a little black dachshund mix walked up and sat down with them. It was dirty, covered with fleas and had no collar. It didn’t seem like it wanted to leave so they fed it, washed it and let it stay inside the front yard fence. They figured that the owners would come looking for it, find it and claim it. After a few days, they realized they had adopted a new dog. They named her Lola. I was over their house frequently back then and I got to know Lola well. I noticed that of the three other rescues they had, she ran the roost. She was a balance of sweet and smart with feisty and tough. I fell in love with Lola instantly.

I was teaching middle school at the time. My summer break began that June. It’s nice to have summers off, but most people work 40 hours, so as a teacher you wind up spending a lot of weekdays by yourself. My friends knew how much I adored Lola and that I had a lot of time on my hands, so they let her come over for a play date. The play dates turned into sleepovers, which turned into days at a time. It got to the point where it killed me to bring her back. They had mercy on me. I became the proud owner of Lola and we became inseparable.

Lola Fishing

I’ve always spent as much time on the water as possible. On her first trip out, Lola took to the boat immediately. She was so excited and overtly happy to be there. When we were stopped she would sniff everything, run around and explore the boat. When we took off she would jump up next to me and put her head on my lap contently. Needless to say, I was thrilled about it. She was a bit scared of fishing rods at first, due to what I figured out was previous trauma regarding brooms. It didn’t take her too many trips to realize that the sound of a screaming reel meant incoming flapping, smelly fish to pounce on, bite and lick. Her fear turned to adoration. Sometimes you’d find her staring longingly at a rod and reel waiting for it to produce its magic. There have been many times since where if you take a lot of casts without hooking a fish, she’ll look at you and give you a frustrated yelp. Like, “Catch something already!”

Not long after becoming Lola’s dad, I traded teaching for captaining. Lola and I started spending 24/7 together. She came on almost all of my fishing trips and seemed to love every minute of them. If I didn’t take her for some reason (rough seas for example) she would wait anxiously by the door all day. Upon my return, she would give me the cold shoulder for a few hours. Just to be sure I knew what she thought of me leaving her home. Clients got to know and adore her. She became a fixture in lots of my many photos and Facebook posts. Once I even got a call from a client saying, “We’d like to know if Lola is free to go fishing on April 3rd? Oh, and if you’re free you can come too.”

When we are fishing, Lola is on point. When she hears the drag go out, her excitement boils over.  She jumps to and fro, runs over the where the angler is and will even give high-pitched yelps. As soon as the fish comes into the boat, she pounces. She leaps on top of it and starts growling and attacking. Basically she goes from sweet, loving companion to crazy attack pooch in 0.1 seconds. She reacts differently towards different species and has preferences and dislikes. Here are some examples:

Ladyfish: Her number one, all time favorite. She even knows one is on the line before we get it in the boat. She goes ballistic on them. The only fish that she will out-right eat. After she helps it along its way to fish heaven, she proceeds to eat it. She’ll hold it in her paws, start at the face and devour it from head to tail; literally. I’ve seen her devour a foot-long ladyfish, roll on her back and lay around fat and happy for an hour or more.

Trout, Jack, Snapper, Snook, Grouper, Pompano, Pinfish, Mahi, Tuna, etc.: They get a pounce, growls, a bite or two and more growls until they stop moving or taken away from her. At which point she returns to search for more action.

Dog with Mahi

Redfish: For some reason they make her nervous and she avoids them. It might have to do with the low-pitch sound they emit from their throats. They get the name Red Drum from it  (not to be confused with “REDRUM” from the movie, The Shining).

Dog with Bonnethead

Sharks and Cobia: She goes especially berserk over them. She will attack until they are either quickly released or put in the cooler. A shark is the only species she’s actually leaped from the boat after. She once jumped on top of one, swam after it and bit it repeatedly. Luckily it was a small one and in shallow water.

shark fishing - Key Largo - fishing guides - backcountry

Lizardfish: She doesn’t like them. Neither do I for that matter.

Dog with crab

Crabs: She will go to WAR with blue crabs. She becomes out-right apoplectic when they come on board. She and big blue crabs fight like a cobra and mongoose. She’s as fast as a mongoose could be, despite the scar on her ear from one slip-up. I always let the crabs go before she can hurt them.

Dog with shrimp

Lobsters and Shrimp: Same as the crabs, but since they don’t have any means to defend themselves; I try to keep her away from them. She snuck one away from us one time. What I found afterwards looked like a lobster that had stepped on a land mine.

Dog with lobster

Mackerel, Bluefish and Wahoo: I keep her as far away from them as possible on account of their razor-sharp teeth and wicked speed (Much more so than sharks). I’d like to keep her from getting the nick-names; Tony Montana or Al Capone.

Dog with Wahoo

Salmon (Lake Michigan): She mostly licks them profusely and throws in a couple of growls for good measure.

Dog with Salmon

Sailfish and Tarpon: She’s excited and interested, but gives them wider berth than other species.

Dog with school of tarpon

Horse Flies and Mosquitoes: Catch, eat, catch, eat; very useful on the boat.

Dog with Dolphins

Bottle-nosed Dolphin: We come across pods of them very often in the backcountry and Flamingo. When I see them in the distance, I say, “Get em’ Lola!” She immediately jumps down from her spot next to me, runs to the bow and gets on point. Her head whips from side to side in a frantic search. When she locks on to them she begins to bark incessantly. Nine times out of ten, they zip over to us, get under the bow and swim along with us. They stare at her the whole time while she barks, yips and whines at them. It happens so often that I think some of the pods have gotten to know her. They seem to be as intrigued by her as she is by them. I know one thing; when she isn’t on-board; they are far less interested in the boat and hardly pay us any mind.

Dog with two Dolphins

Lola won the lottery when she went from a street urchin to a sea dog for sure. I’d like to think that she has the best life a dog could have. On the other hand she has enriched my life and those who love her immeasurably. She has hundreds of fans all over the country and world who ask for her by name. One day that I’ll never forget was when I took a family out who had a daughter with very severe down’s-syndrome. They explained to me up front that the longest that they could possibly stay out was a couple of hours at most. From the moment we boarded the boat, the girl was completely entranced with Lola and she had her on her lap for the whole ride out to our first spot. When we started catch fish, Lola showed some interest, but not nearly as much as normal, instead focusing more on her new friend.

Somehow Lola knew this child deserved her attention. For the first and only time, Lola’s favorite past-time on the planet was suddenly trumped. SIX hours later we pulled back up to the dock. The little girl’s parents were beside themselves. With tears their eyes they explained that their daughter had never spent even half as much time remaining in one place and focusing on one thing in her life. Their gratitude was palpable. They hugged Lola, each other, me and Lola again. There wasn’t a dry eye on the dock. It was one most amazing things I’ve witnessed as a captain and I owe it all to Lola.

Dog and a Florida Keys sunset