Published July 2, 2023

Boat Dogs 

Written by
Kim Fundingsland
| The Dakotan
Gotta' love boat dogs! (Photo: submitted)
Gotta' love boat dogs! (Photo: submitted)

A Slice of Life

If everyone discovered the benefits of fishing, there would be a shortage of fishing rods. 

I read that somewhere, or something very close to it. Fishing is fun, to be sure, especially when the fish cooperate, but there’s so much more to it. First and foremost is that thinking about general troubles and difficulties in life we all encounter day to day somehow disappear at the start of each fishing trip. 

No computer screens. No red lights or honking horns. No squabbles to mediate. Soothing, relaxing, refreshing, rewarding – every time. Just you and whomever you choose to fish with and, if you are fortunate, your dog.  

Boat dogs are the best, something that a lot of North Dakotans know. Including your dog, or dogs, on the water may not improve your fishing success but you’ll be better for it. Sharing such times with a dog somehow improves what seemingly can’t be improved. In addition to being incredible friends, dogs are magical animals. 

When a person tells me they are thinking of buying a boat and seek my opinion on what to look for, my response is, “What kind of dog do you own?”  

To me, you see, boat dogs are that important. They are perfect fishing companions, never complaining about anything, and give you a gentle nudge of encouragement or put their head on your lap to lift your spirits when the “big one” gets away. No sense in brooding over it or sharing four letter words with others on the lake. Just catch another fish. My dogs taught me that. 

"Barkley", Brittany, center, with Andy Leraas and son Chandler, all from Minot, during a recent day on the water. (Photo: Kim Fundingsland/The Dakotan)

A few years ago, I owned a dog that I took fishing every time I would go. He would often curl up in the bow of the boat, patiently enjoying partaking in the outing, a much better option than staying at home. But he did what dogs do that most of us scarcely notice, paying close attention to smells, actions, and words. 

One day while I was working a favorite fishing spot, I watched as my dog got up from his slumber, put his front paws on the bow of the boat, and looked down. Huh? 

A moment later I was reeling in a fat walleye. That's when the light came on. I got to thinking about what just happened and recalled numerous other times my dog was looking over the side of the boat when I was interrupted by a fish on the line. It was no coincidence. That dog could smell fish and was alerting me to their presence, just as sure as if he was pointing a rooster pheasant on the edge of a cattail slough. 

I had two other dogs in the boat then too, neither of which exhibited the same skills. Funny how some things just click with certain dogs. I owned a dog once that came and got me every time a text message came in on my phone, no matter what time of the day, if I was awake or not, or where I was in the house or yard or garage. 

My dog that alerted on fish had been fishing enough times to know that setting the hook and eventually bringing a fish into the boat was cause for great fun and happy celebration. He put it all together and desired to part of the process, same as if he was tracking or pointing a game bird. 

A few months later I was visiting with a guy who was on his way to winning a National Walleye Tour title. He had his boat tied to the dock. His dog was in the boat too. I didn’t know quite how to ask what was on my mind, so I jokingly said, “Does that dog smell fish?” 

Looking around carefully, he put a finger over his lips – sshhhh.  

“How did you know?” he remarked quietly so that others nearby wouldn’t hear. “That dog is a better fish finder than my sonar. Don’t tell anybody.” 

Now, not all dogs exhibit such behavior and not many people will believe that story. No matter. Even dogs that don’t tip off their fisherman owners are wonderful companions, worthy of every minute they spend on the water. They are pleasant and incredible students of nature, eagerly studying pelicans, seagulls, other boats and boat dogs. 

Dogs know when the fishing clothes go on, or the fishing rods are stacked by the door, that they don’t want to be left behind and very actively lobby accordingly. However, there are rare times and circumstances when a person has no choice but to leave them at home. On those days it takes a while for the image of those big, sad eyes and drooping ears to leave your mind. 

I don’t like those days at all. It's better just to take your dog in the boat. Another thing, they have a terrific way of talking you into going fishing on the rare occasion when you hesitate about making up your mind to head to the lake. All things are better with dogs anyway, and that definitely includes fishing.  

Don’t forget the dog treats. 

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