The Ultimate Fishing Pal

By Tradd Duggan

My favorite fishing companion has never complained, has always allowed me to fish without reprimand, has helped point out rising trout, and has never wanted to leave a fishing trip early due to boredom or plans back home.

His name is Zeke. He's a chocolate Labrador retriever.

Bred for the Water

If you fish, hunt, or spend much time around water, odds are you own a Labrador retriever. The pros of owning a Lab are that these dogs are non-aggressive, affable, athletic, loyal, and love water. They are great fishing partners. Did I mention they love water!

The Lab's intelligence is well known in the dog community, and keeping your puppy stimulated with a training regime of fetch drills will pay dividends once it is allowed to hit the water or field. Providing games that utilize their natural instincts, such as retrieving a stick, will keep your Labrador happy day-in and day-out. And when you accidentally drop your fly box in the river you'll be glad you trained it to fetch!

Labrador retrievers are bred to be water dogs. Their coats repel water and insulate them from the chill. A Lab's otter-like tail is the right shape to use as a rudder; it helps steer and balance the dog in the water.

Start Young

I recommend introducing your pup to water and trout at a young age so it can adapt to your weekend fishing trips. It is not unusual for a Lab not to like water at first, so don't be too surprised if this is the case with your dog.

I started taking my Lab, Zeke, fishing when he was only a couple of months old, and it's still fun to see him shake excitably as he anticipates saying hello to the trout dangling on my hook.

Zeke is acutely aware of when I begin packing for an outing, and I reassure him by saying, "You're going." If he is not welcome on a particular trip, he must be distracted to prevent him being too disappointed.

Even though he is still a pup at heart, Zeke has developed into a great fly fishing dog. He avoids jumping into a massive caddis hatch on the Madison or a mayfly melee on the South Platte. His temperament allows him to get along with every four-legged creature that he meets, and only the downtime between fishing trips keeps him from constantly wagging his tail.

Many of my closest fishing buddies take great care in deciding what they will name their four-legged fishing buddies early in life, and it's funny to be on the River and listen to, "Come here Bear, (Sage, Madison, Drake, Winston, Hopper)"--all popular names for fly fishing dogs.

In the past, when I wasn't fishing on a weekend I was usually kayaking,--not by choice but due to Zeke's influence. When I kayaked, Zeke had total freedom to swim and frolic. Many other kayakers have dogs, mostly to help fetch their lost paddles; in fact dogs are encouraged to go to the Golden Whitewater Park to swim in the Class III rapids with the kayakers.

Added Benefits: Meeting QBs and Raising Money for Trout

One of the joys of having an eight-year-old trained Lab (okay, half-trained Lab) is to be able to walk him without a leash around areas like the Cherry Creek district in Denver. On one such occasion, we passed a restaurant and Zeke became distracted by a patron on the patio. The man who called him over for quick hello and a taste of some food was none other than Jake Plummer, the quarterback for the Denver Broncos! Talk about someone who loves Labs!

Another reason I am happy I trained Zeke early are the rewards that I see now. He is only one of a handful of dogs allowed to attend the annual ISE International Sportsmen Show, and he is definitely one of the main attractions at our Trout Unlimited booth each year. He has helped increase our fundraising efforts by 200% since he started attending! Nothing like a big Labrador retriever with a loving smile and an alligator tail to attract many of the thousands of attendees to our booth for a photo op with their children.

Tips for Taking Your Dog Out in the Field

  1. Make sure your dog is getting enough exercise before any lengthy trip or outing and consider the effect of that activity.
  2. Be aware of how weather conditions--heat, cold, rain, etc.--affect your dog.
  3. For unexpected situations, pack first aid items for your dog and also a towel.
  4. Check with your destination to be sure dogs are permitted.
  5. Bring dog license and ID tags for your dog.
  6. After each trip examine them for any abnormal behavior, cuts, and ticks.
  7. It's very important to keep your Lab hydrated after lots of activity.
  8. Most important: be responsible with your pet when you're near other people in the, and when on the water be mindful of them.

Tradd Duggan is a Georgia native who has been Fly-fishing since his days of living in the Yellowstone Region some 15 years ago. He can often be found fly fishing on a weekly basis, taking groups of eager fisherman to some of Colorado's best water. He is also on the Board of Directors for the Denver Trout Unlimited Chapter and has been involved in numerous conservation organizations.