Fishing | TROUT Magazine | Voices from the river

Water dog

Molly as a pup, first day on the boat.

By Dean Finnerty

My canine sidekick Molly has two kinds of days: good and great. I have said this to many fellow steelhead anglers over the years, with a mix of apology and embarrassment, as Molly greets them on the trail by shoving her back half against their wader-clad legs and excitedly beats her tail into their shins, waiting for head pats and ear scratches.

Molly the yellow Lab thinks she’s everyone best friend. It’s just how she rolls. 

Molly started our partnership with the obligatory obedience training to ensure that she extends her polite and friendly disposition to other sportsmen and their canine companions, and to keep her out of harm’s way (mostly). Molly was seven weeks and one day old when she first began fishing with me.

Dean Finnerty, Molly the Water Dog, and an Umpqua River summer steelhead.

Now, at almost six, she’s logged a lot of river miles on paw, and hundreds of miles by boat. She really doesn’t care what we’re doing as long as we’re together and outdoors.

Molly’s never experienced the trauma of toe nail clippers. River cobbles keep her nails perfectly manicured.

She’s had salmon poisoning twice, and fallen overboard once—from my anchored sled of all things, fishing for spring chinook on the lower Umpqua. Another disaster was miraculously averted when she was thrown off the front end of my quad going thirty miles an hour and literally run over (by me on the same quad) on the soft sand of a beach, as we raced along the surfline on the southern Oregon coast one pre-dawn morning for a day of fall Chinook fishing.

I’m still scarred from that event. But Molly simply looked at me as if to say, “What did you do THAT for?” and jumped back on her perch to continue the ride.

Molly has learned from my attire and what I’m carrying what the day will hold for her. Camo and a shotgun is her equivalent of a double espresso start to the day. Loading into her kennel, permanently at the ready in the bed of my truck with the boat in tow, is another great start to her day.

I’m certain that Molly is as sleepless as I am the night before a fishing or hunting trip. After having watched me load waders and fly gear into the truck on an afternoon, winter or summer, she knows the next day will bring another amazing experience on one of the legendary salmon and steelhead waters around our home.

Molly moves to her place on the very tip of the bow as soon as I start my outboard. She’s called dibs on that spot since Day One and all my boys know and respect her claim to this position. We marvel at her ability to ride there like some kind of 60 pound hood ornament as we race upriver, negotiating boulders with sharp zigs and zags through white water rapids, her ears flapping and nose going a million miles an hour, testing each air molecule that whizzes by for the faint scent of a river mallard.

Molly shares the bow with Wild Steelhead Initiative staff Michael Gibson and Nick Chambers.

Now that she’s a seasoned veteran, once we’re out on the water Molly doesn’t feel compelled to watch my every move like she did as a pup. Instead, she patiently waits for the loud creak and groan of a rod holder with a doubled-over rod signaling a salmon is on for her to spring into action. The shrill scream of the click-pawl drag on my favorite “Hardy salmon No. 2” fly reel will bring her running up the bank from her explorations up and downstream, but heaven help me if the barbless fly loses its purchase before the steelhead has come to the shallows so she can greet it. 

Molly and I live to be outdoors hunting and fishing. Neither activity pulls harder on us than the other.  Whatever the season happens to be, that’s our preference. Grouse in the fall, ducks and geese in the winter, steelhead year-round. Me, water and sport are all that Molly requires.

Who needs a Net Man when you have Molly?

However, Molly doesn’t approve of archery season or my rifle hunts. She knows that when I’m carrying my bow or a rifle, she’ll have to sit it out—one of the few things she’s not very good at.

She never holds it against me though. As soon as I head out the back door with a fly rod or shotgun in hand, Molly’s tail is a-wagging and all is forgiven.

Maybe you don’t have to have a great dog like Molly to have a good day fishing or hunting. But it sure doesn’t hurt to have a partner who’s always ready to go, under any conditions, who wants only water, woods, marsh or field, and your company.

Dean, Molly and mallards.

Dean Finnerty is the Northwest Region Director for TU’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project and director of our Wild Steelhead Initiative. Prior to coming to TU, Finnerty had a long and distinguished career in law enforcement, where he worked with two different kinds of K9 partners: “yard sharks” and drug detection dogs. For many years, Finnerty also has moonlighted as a fishing and hunting guide.