Outdoor Writers Association of America
Northwest Outdoor Writers Association
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

January 19th, 1998

Gone to the Dogs

He was a beast! Big, black; the handsomest of Labradors. He really was Montana Reserve Champion. His registered name was Deanna's Beast(an under-the-breath slam at the Sir Marmaduke of Highlands III breeder mentality.) Sometimes I called him Beastie. The Beastie name came from the Irish prayer, " ... God protect us from beasties and goolies and things that go bump in the night ..." Labs do "go bump in the night" sometimes because they have eaten rocks.

Fishermen and dogs have a special relationship. Not everyone has had the experience of a dog being their fishing buddy. Yes, a fishing dog. Beast would sit, absolutely still, with ears perked waiting for the sound of a fish. Really. And no one dared cast a spinning lure within hearing range of Beast. A "kerplunk" would result in a running, flying, diving dog, swimming furiously in the direction of the "kerplunk." You can see the advantages of fly fishing here real fast.

The other problem was landing a fish. Just seeing a fish swim past his sentry spot on the dock as enough to get him pacing. Any fish on a line was fair game or at least he thought so. Restraining him was sometimes necessary.

Beast was eventually joined by Pee Wee. Not another lab; this was a miniature dachshund. His big deal was retrieving rock underwater. The same rock you tossed. I don't know how he could tell. Do rocks smell underwater? Beast was a super retriever, and must have been a rather good teacher.

Beastie tried really hard to interest Pee Wee in fishing. The little dogs only interest in live fish was what might be in a bucket. And then only if he could stand on his hind legs and watch over the edge of the bucket. He would bark at the fish, but never tried to catch one. Both dogs were addicted to rolling in any dead fish they could find on the beach. I could understand Beastie wanting to be invisible so the fish couldn't see or smell him, but with Pee Wee's lack of interest in the fish I never figured out why he did it. Then again, maybe that was part of what Beast was teaching him.

Beast has been dead for many years. A victim on cancer. Part of his life was spent with us in the high country of Montana. Farmers up there use a defoliant to rid the wheat fields of weeds weeks before planting. This defoliant is about one molecule removed from Agent Orange. Labs have four very big feet. The chemical is absorbed through the pads of the feet. Our vet was sure that was the cause of the cancer. Beast was a true gentleman and my best friend to the end. Each time I see a handsome lab I still hurt.

We fished a private pond a while back, and found to our delight a pair of fishing dogs. Brother and sister, these two were very sophisticated. The dogs sat watching the surface of the pond, separated by twenty feet or so. It doesn't take a big leap of imagination to see a pack-hunting style on this one. As a trout would rise, the dog closest to the fish would dive in. The second dog swam around behind the fish to keep it from escaping. Neat! This appeared to be an old game with them. Fortunately for the fish, it was a game. I didn't see one fish caught by the duo, even though they played it for hours. It was great fun to watch.

Then there was the lady standing on a bridge watching returning salmon near a local hatchery. We were all watching the Kings, Coho, and Humpies in the creek. From time to time I mention that I've met the neatest people fishing or in this case looking at fish. Anyway, she asked me if I knew if it was legal for dogs to catch fish. Just taking a stab at it I replied, "what kind of a lab do you have?" Bingo!

Seems these folks just moved here from Montana, and they live on a creek. Salmon have been coming up the creek to spawn. They got suspicious when their lab was wetter than usual. (Clean floors are tough with labs.) So they investigated. Here was this big lad, standing chest deep in the creek, retrieving salmon. He would catch one, get out of the creek, place it carefully on the bank and go back for another. If one fish wriggled off the bank it was ok, he would just catch another and put it up there.

Just so you know, good hunting dogs are known for having a soft mouth. That means whatever they retrieve is without tooth marks or damage. Well, the fish did not have any tooth marks at all. The salmon may have wondered if they had run into a strange looking bear, but they were no worse for their experience.

The whole episode was harder on the dogs owners than the salmon. They tried tying the dog up, but he chewed through the rope. They tried keeping him in the house, but the howling drove them nuts. Eventually the run ended, and the dog sat on the bank looking for his finny friends.

My oldest daughter is also a fisher with a fishing dog. Yes, it's a black lab. His name is Guy. Her favorite fishing haunt is a tiny stream in the Nevada mountains. No space to cast a fly rod, so she figured out a way to spin cast with a fly. Guy has been her fishing companion for some ten years. At first they fought over who had the right to fish, but he has mellowed out. He sits by her side until she has a trout on. Then he goes after it. They have compromised. She gets to hook it he gets to land it. No, Guy has never gotten a hook in his mouth. Besides, she fishes barbless. That's so they can both release the fish and play with it another day.

We really did go to the dogs this week. If you have a story about your canine fishing companion, I'd love to hear it! We might even publish it in the Readers Casts section. ~ The LadyFisher

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