Furry companions make days on the water even sweeter.
By Kate Hull, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
September 26, 2012
His ears perked up. His square muzzle, white with age, pointed straight ahead. Archer knew what was about to happen. Any minute now, the boat would be drifting down the South Fork of the Snake with his snout perched atop the gunwale, taking in the smells of the warm August day. It is his favorite spot, Kathy Lynch said, but then again, she raised him to be a river dog.
From the whitewater rapids of the Snake, to the picturesque, flowing waters of the Teton, rivers mean many things to people. For fishing guides, it is an office. For rafters, each new day brings another rapid to explore. But for the dogs that accompany these river enthusiasts, it is a little piece of canine heaven and the best day they’ve ever had.
Only to be topped by the next trip, of course.
But that’s just how dogs are: full of unconditional love and an abundance of enthusiasm for whatever the day may bring. And the river dogs of the Tetons are no exception, surrounded by plenty of water, endless new smells and ample opportunities to climb on a drift boat or raft and hit the water.
“Every weekend in the summer, from the time he was a little puppy until we had kids, we were on the water all the time,” Lynch said of her 10-year-old yellow Labrador’s love of the river. “He was always in the boat. That’s why he loves it.”
Lynch, an Idaho native, has fished the South Fork of the Snake more times than she can count, and on nearly all trips she needed her fishing buddy. Despite the instincts of his breed, she had to coax Archer to swim as a puppy, but once he got the hang of it, the rest was history. Whether wading the banks, canoeing through the Green or drifting down the Madison nestled in his bed, he was there.
“That is just what we did,” she said.
The relationship between owner and dog is as simple as that. Dogs love their people and love whatever they do together.
If you are heading down the Snake River canyon, you might see a 12-foot raft with purple and gold tiger stripes displaying some Louisiana State University pride. And if you are anywhere near Big Kahuna, Jackson will be leading the pack with his paws atop the edge, wearing his LSU collar, a blue bandana tied around his neck and a custom life jacket. Sitting in the back, Harper Hollis, owner of the 8-year-old blue heeler and Australian shepherd mix, will be rowing the rapids.
“Jack always puts his paws over the top and barks like crazy at the waves,” Hollis said. “His eyes will get really big, then the big one will come over on him, and he will scramble to the back toward me. He thinks he is a tough dog.”
Hollis has lived in Jackson for four years and spent every summer visiting during his college days at LSU. He loves to take newcomers out on the water to experience his favorite part of the area. But first, they have to meet Jack.
“One of the first things I say,” Hollis said, “ is, ‘Jack is on the boat. He is going to walk all over you. He will get you wet. He will jump in. He will shake water on you. You will get wet.’”
But spending the day on the river with his energetic dog is all part of the experience.
Rather than a calm day on a drift boat, Hollis’ adventures involve a few more rapids and a little more splashing. Even though Jack is a strong swimmer, he wears a life jacket with a handle so anyone can grab him after he jumps out. And if he sees a duck, he just might.
“I have to tell people not to worry about the dog and don’t try to hold him in the boat, he usually won’t jump out,” he said. “But if he falls out, it is his own fault, and he will get back to the boat. He swims around for a little bit and loves it.”
Jack is a constant source of entertainment, no matter the occasion. Sometimes a few fishing poles are thrown into the mix, but more often than not, the ride with Hollis and his friends is a good time, with music, great scenery, some fun rapids and an enthusiastic dog.
But for other dog passengers, floating is more business.
“Load up, Sprig.”
WorldCast Angler fishing guide Mike Janssen’s command sets tails wagging instantly. When Janssen first arrived in Jackson and started guiding in 1994, Sprig, his energetic black Lab, was a part of the package.
“As soon as we turned off the highway and hit the dirt road, he knew,” Janssen said.
With a 16-foot ClackaCraft drift boat behind, Sprig was ready for the adventure. His head nestled on the cooler sitting just at the passengers’ feet. He never interfered with the fishing. Good river dogs don’t. If they did, Janssen said, they wouldn’t be on the water.
That isn’t to say a 19-inch rainbow trout wouldn’t raise his ears a bit. Who wouldn’t get excited about that?
Janssen trained Sprig, who died six years ago, to be his partner on the water. Clients loved the cuddly dog that sat beside Janssen as he rowed them down the canyon of the Snake’s South Fork.
Nowadays, Janssen has a different set of river dogs. His Maltese-poodle mix, Popcorn, makes select appearances with Mattie, his 7-year-old golden retriever. Janssen’s three kids and wife Paige, along with all the critters, make for a full boat and a lot of dynamics in one place.
“It is not about fishing, it is all about survival,” Janssen joked about his family-style outings. But with Sprig, it was about the companionship and adventure.
Certain dog breeds are more suited to outdoor activities. American and English Labradors, Irish setters, Australian shepherds and golden retrievers have the instincts to hunt, swim, retrieve and explore. But all breeds love to play. Even Popcorn can muster up the courage to spend the day fishing with the family; poodles actually have a fondness for water.
Others have a mix of water-loving genes, like Ichabod, a black English Labrador-Australian shepherd mix. The 22-month-old pup is still learning. But his owner, Ryan Hudson, an independent fishing guide, is enjoying the ride.
When Ichabod was just 4 months, Hudson took him steelhead fishing in Kooskia, Idaho, wading the clear waters and catching large fish.
“I kept an eye on him, and he followed me up and down the banks,” Hudson said. “He tested his swimming abilities to see if he could swim across the clear water, which he did. I was impressed. He passed the test. I knew I had a river dog.”
Ichabod is still learning how to be his owner’s companion on the river. If the day is slow or clients get a little fished-out, the dummies — a hunting tool used to replicate bird retrieval — come out, and training begins.
Like Archer and Sprig, Ichabod doesn’t wear a life jacket, but he can hold his own in the water, thanks to lots of time and practice and always knowing his place next to Hudson. The mid-summer months can be a little warm for his black coat, so Hudson fashioned a small awning for the dog to cool off under while clients fish. But on most days, Ichabod can’t resist jumping in to grab a stick or log while Hudson reties leaders or switches out flies.
Hudson isn’t sure what it was about the river that the rambunctious pup loved, but he explained the bond they share.
“Your dog is a reflection of you and how you try to do things,” he said.
Archer is older now and continually getting wiser, aware of his changing surroundings. With two small children tugging, petting and climbing all over his stocky body, he has experienced a shift in his day-to-day life, right alongside Kathy Lynch and her husband, Luke.
But no matter how much time elapses, when Lynch grabs her rod and signals to her big, furry buddy to hop into the car, he knows where they are going. He always knows the river is waiting.