The stars aligned and I finally got to go fishing again, so of course I had to take my puppy, Nala. I’m trying to make the 50-pound Rottweiler-shepherd mix my paddling companion but I’ve got my work cut out for me based on the results of her maiden voyage last fall. I was hoping for better luck this time.
It’d been a while since that first trip, and looking back, I should have known it wouldn’t go as planned. Nala’s only got one speed: hyper drive, and she has the chase instinct of a retriever. Unfortunately, there are a lot of things to chase on the river, so of course as soon as we got there, something on the opposite bank got her attention (to this day I don’t know what it was).
The mystery critter kept her preoccupied the whole time and she pretty much ignored my commands. She also didn’t take well to being tethered to the canoe, and at one point she jumped out and started running upriver, pulling me and the canoe. Then she had a tendency to pull me up the exact line I didn’t want to take (this usually involved a bird or critter of some type). In military lingo, she failed her ‘check ride.’
But no biggie, That was after all her first time paddling a river, so when the next opportunity arose to take Nala to the river, I knew I had to. It was sure to be more successful than the first trip; after all, when you’re at the bottom, there’s no place to go but up, right?
Instead of a canoe, this time I’d be paddling my 14-foot kayak, which has a large tank well in the back where I planned to carry her. I was concerned, though, that she’d be sliding around back there on the kayak’s smooth plastic surface, possibly causing me to turtle, or flip, my kayak. It wouldn’t be the first time turtling my yak, mind you, but flipping a kayak with an excited dog, a fishing pole and lots of straps and leashes didn’t sound like fun. To keep her from slipping, I cut some rubber matting and laid it down in the tank well to give her paws something to grip. First problem solved.
Another change from the first trip was that this time I bought Nala a doggy life jacket. For the most part we’d be paddling shallow waters, but there’d be some deeper pools and she was going to be tethered, so I wanted to ensure she had plenty of floatation in case we flipped. The jacket also served as another attach point for the tether; she’s been known to wiggle out of her collar on occasion when she gets excited (if that happened on the river, she’d likely take off chasing the first critter she saw—that would be bad).
The life jacket, which I paid very little for at Academy, had a lifting strap which I liked. A week before the float, I put it on her to check the fit and not only did it fit her well, she actually didn’t fight me to put it on. I was hoping that was a good sign.
The day arrived and we went to the river. There were three of us in kayaks and Dan and Melissa were paddling a canoe. Then, of course, there was the pup. The large group actually worked to our advantage—I figured if Nala and I got into trouble we’d have some help. It also worked out well for another reason that I will go into later.
We arrived at the put in and got the boats down to the river bank. With everything loaded we prepared to shove off but immediately ran into the next problem: I couldn’t get Nala into the kayak.
The same thing happened on the first trip, and I finally ended up picking her up and plopping her into the canoe like a wet sack of potatoes. I guess I could have done the same this time, but she needed to learn to get in the yak on her own, plus there’s something slightly undignified about having to pick up my dog and set her into the kayak. I was determined that either she was going to get into the yak on her own accord or she was gonna walk. She walked.
Fine; I pushed the yak away from the bank and started paddling, when I realized the next problem–she was going in the wrong direction. Apparently she wanted to go back up river as if remembering her first float but today’s plan had us going down river. That’s where having others with me came in handy. When Dan saw Nala pulling away in the wrong direction, he called to her, and although by now Dan was well down river, she must have heard the call because she turned and went to him, down river. She continued following Dan and Melissa in the canoe and eventually forgot about going upriver. Maybe this was going to work after all.
I have an anchor trolley on my kayak to which I attached to her leash. When she started swimming down river, I moved the trolley to the front of the kayak and she started pulling me in about 2-3 feet of water. I had her tethered with enough rope so that she was well in front of the kayak allowing me to fish while she pulled me in what must have looked like a waterborne dog sled. When the river got deeper, she simply started dog paddling and continued pulling me down river just as she’d done in the canoe.
It was actually kind of enjoyable being pulled down river by the pup, I threw a weedless creature bait along the grass line on river left when suddenly my line went taught and I knew I had a fish. Sensing something was up, Nala stopped pulling me and started coming back to the kayak. I didn’t want her coming too close while I fought the bass, and I guess the pup’s smarter than she looks because she got just close enough to see what the commotion was but never got in the way of the fish (or the hook). Upon landing the fish, I called her over and let her sniff it for a bit, and then I released the fish back into the river.
I pulled up on the nearby bank and again called Nala to try and coax her into the kayak on her own. By now she’d already towed me a hundred yards or so and she must have been tired because she hopped right into the tank well and sat.
I continued paddling and fishing down river with Nala sitting or lying in the aft tank well. The rubber mat did its job giving her a good grip of the kayak’s floor. Soon I had another fish on my line and Nala watched the entire fight from the comfort of the tank well. We continued paddling down river and fishing. The pup would sit or lay in the yak for a while and then she’s get out and swim for a bit only to get back into the yak and sit some more.
At one point, while in deeper water, she swam back to the kayak and tried to get in. But the slick gunwales made it impossible for her to get a purchase and pull herself into the yak. Fortunately, the life jacket had a carrying strap which I was able grab and use pull her in, and that’s when it almost happened. Because I was sitting off to one side of the yak, when I hoisted her out of the water, the yak rocked too far left and I almost turtled it. I quickly released Nala back into the river (sorry Nala) and regained my balance. Pulling in her in while sitting in deep water was going to be more difficult than I thought, but she still wanted back in the kayak. One option would have been to paddle back over to the bank and the let Nala jump in. Or I could try pulling her in one more time. Dan and the gang were nearby, so I opted for the latter. If she was going to be my paddling companion, then I needed to learn how to haul her into the yak in deep water.
On the second attempt to pull her in, I shifted my body back to the center of the seat and then carefully reached over and grabbed the lifting strap again, only this time, once I had a good grip, I locked my arm and leaned my entire body back towards the opposite side of the kayak. Using my body’s weight and momentum as a counter balance, I managed to pull her in over the gunwales like a big tuna. Suddenly 50+ pounds of waterlogged pup flopped into the tank well. It wasn’t pretty, but I managed to get her in. Over the course of the afternoon, we did this three or four times and it got easier each time.
It turned out to be a good day on the river; the fish were biting, I didn’t turtle my kayak, and more importantly, I got to spend some quality time with Nala on the water. I’ll continue her training as time permits and soon even take her out solo.
Once back at camp that evening, the always kinetic puppy was as worn out as I’d ever seen her. She fell asleep early, still damp from her day on the water, and she slept through the night without a peep. I’d like to think she was dreaming about her adventure on the river.
Lone Star Chronicles – Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Fish