Afield with Friends: Fishing with furry friends

During my time on the water, casting to rainbows, browns and brook trout, my Labrador retrievers have taught me some important lessons on how to become a better fisherman.

There have been other fine breeds, but labs have a special corner in my heart.

I first learned many years ago that all a Lab wants in his life is a lot of loving, and water.

An amazing, retrieving machine, a Lab will fetch just about anything that you can throw, from plastic bottles, tennis balls or soft canvas bumpers and – you’ve probably guessed it by now – fish.

My life span has given me the opportunity to experience first-hand my dogs’ enjoyment and dedication when invited onto and adopting their special spot on the bow of my Clack-a-Craft drift boat, standing patiently to the left side of my casting arm or watching for some rings on the water’s surface, signaling that the hatch was on time.

Normally at the beginning of a long fishing day, I tried to catch a sucker or white fish, knowing that that would keep them occupied for a long time.

My clients often marveled as these fishing canines inhaled guts, bones and the entire carcass.

This craving for a dinner of a high-protein sometimes got my dog, Smackwater Jackson, in serious trouble. I recall fishing for steelhead on the Clackamas River in Oregon when he devoured a complete dead spawned-out salmon. The carcass was loaded with the deadly Salmononella bacteria.

After injections of antibiotics the vet said, “he will live, or die.”

That was one sick dog! Fortunately, this one tough Lab lived to the exceptional age of 15.

Returning to our vehicle after a good day on a river in Montana, my good black Lab, Doc, spied an angler playing a beautiful 3-pound rainbow. There was no holding Doc back as he swam to the middle of the river, dove beneath the heavy current and proudly retrieved the trophy.

This was the beginning of a longtime friendship with the head of Montana’s fish and game department. I was so thankful that he understood Labs and was a dog man.

Sometimes these fish dogs do hilarious things. During an in-season stocking on our Loyalsock Creek, a volunteer proceeded to dump a bucket of trout along the upper stretch on the county line hole. My friend Bud Unangst, an avid fly fisherman, could not help but laugh when my yellow lab, Smackwater Jackson, quietly dove in the water, brought back a fat rainbow and handed it to the volunteer. His reply was, “Did you see what that dog did?”

My friends from the fertile fishing tidewaters of Nova Scotia tell me that Labs are special in that country. For decades, they were the workhorses retrieving fishing buoys and nets in the icy high seas off the fertile fishing waters along the Eastern seaboard.