Monday, July 13, 2009

What would The Hunter's Wife do?

I went salmon fishing on the Trinity River this weekend and had a fantastic time - peered deep into sparkling clear waters, enjoyed the sounds of a drift boat (no motor on the boat - no motors anywhere!) and caught two lovely salmon that promise to be the tastiest river salmon you can catch.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about today (you can read about that here). I'm here to talk about what happened at the end of the fishing trip on Sunday when I was left alone with our guide's dog, Trinity, while he and Boyfriend went to pick up the truck and boat trailer.

Trinity is a 1-1/2-year-old yellow lab who by all rights should be a duck dog. But Jon is not a duck hunter - he's a fishing guide - and he's been taking Trinity on the boat with him since she was a pup. As a result, while Trinity has all the good instincts of a lab, there's a peculiar twist on all of them, and every twist involves an inordinate fondness for fish. Read more...
If you jerk your rod back to set the hook, she gets excited, just like duck dogs get excited when you pull the trigger on your shotgun. When you don't reel anything in, she looks confused, just like duck dogs when you miss the bird. And when you do reel something in, she wants it in her mouth.

Specifically, she wants to lick it. Trinity loves licking fish.

Here's how Trinity reacted when Jon netted the first fish I reeled in on Sunday, a 25-inch, 10-pound male:

Do you see that tongue? Gimme some a dat yum yum, bay-bee!

She was just as excited about the second fish, a nice 29 1/2-inch, 18-pounder:

And here she is when Jon held that toad up for a photograph:

Oh, Daddy, just let me lick it a little bit! And yeah, that's Jon hollering at her to get out of there, which she did after a couple quick licks.

All of that was fine and amusing.

Then came the end of the two-day trip when I spent an hour entertaining Trinity while I waited for the guys to come back with Jon's truck. Just as I'd done the day before, I threw sticks for her. But this time, she got bored and let some float down the river. I threw rocks for her. But that wasn't enough either.

She seemed distracted.

What was the difference on this day? We'd chosen to take out at a popular boat ramp, and one of the guides who'd preceded us on the river had a habit of cleaning his fish right there at the shore and throwing all the nasty bits in the water.

For Jon, it was intelligence: He could see how many fish his competitor brought in.

But for Trinity, this was a treat of divine proportions. The water in the Trinity River is crystal clear, and she could see plain as day that there were two fish collars about eight to twelve inches under water near the shore. And she wanted them.

This is when I learned Trinity can dive.

I watched with amusement as she would plunge her face under water and grab for the prize, blowing bubbles the whole time. She'd come up empty-mouthed, but excited, her tail whipping a spiral of water droplets in the air.

Then after about a dozen tries, much to my horror, she emerged with a fish collar in her mouth and proudly brought it back to me. Suddenly, she wanted to play fetch again.

I thought immediately of The Hunter's Wife. Jody loves to fish, but she does not embrace the icky parts. I mean, check out the masthead of her blog - it's got a photo of her holding a little fish in a wet wipe while she removes the hook.

What would The Hunter's Wife do? I wondered.

I'm not quite as delicate, but I really wanted nothing to do with this fish collar. It may have been one of the ones we'd seen when we passed this point the day before.

Trinity set it down in some grass a few feet away from me where it could get a little sun and acquire a nice stink. And from time to time, she'd leave the water to come lick that little thing.

Then she went out and got the other one. Yep, fun times!

Those things were starting to get pretty rank, and I was thinking it wouldn't be right to leave them there. I had to get them back into the water. But how to do it?

The boat swinging on its tether gave me the answer. I would pick up the fish collar in one hand and a rock in the other, and throw the rock to the right, and when Trinity went behind the boat to chase it, I could heave the collar into the water to the left.

It went according to plan. Except Trinity heard the splash, looked down river and made a bee-line to that collar.

Sink! Sink! I willed. This was in deeper water than where she'd first retrieved it.

The collar sank. Relieved, I rinsed the slime off my hands and sat back down. I hate fish slime.

But Trinity dove for it and emerged from the water with that collar in her mouth, absolutely delighted that I was ready to play. She delivered the collar to me, setting it in the sand a few inches from my left thigh.

I got up and moved.

She picked it up and brought it closer to me.


After the stink rose again, I decided to give it another try. And another. And another. She must've dove for those collars at least half a dozen times and brought them back to shore, just tickled pink.

When Boyfriend and Jon returned, I'd successfully ditched one of the collars, but one was still there.

"Hey Jon, could you distract her? I've got to get rid of this thing!"

I told him what'd happened. He shook his head - lovingly - at his dog. And then he heaved a rock waaaay upstream, giving me enough time and cover to ditch that second collar for good.

Shortly after that we said our good-byes, and I gave Trinity a little thump on the head.

I love that dog. Really, I do.

But next time, I'm bringing gloves.

* * *

Postscript: Interestingly enough, while I was putting the final touches on this blog post, Boyfriend was busily grilling some of the very same nasty bits that other anglers toss: the collars and the bellies. I'm sure he'll blog about it in the next few days, but here's a preview:

© Holly A. Heyser 2009


RKDT said...

I love this. Your pictures tell the story almost completely. That face!

Albert A Rasch said...


That's a great story! Dogs can be so much fun and entertainment. Your pictures are really great too.

Best to you!
Instincts and Hunting
One of my Friends

Holly Heyser said...

Thanks, gang! I was just adding some photos at the end as you were making your comments. If you'd like to see a preview of what Boyfriend will blog about, be sure to go back and check 'em out.

Camp Wild said...

Very funny. Just like a kid!

SimplyOutdoors said...

Dogs are definitely a species all their own; and I loved this story. Too funny, although the stench probably didn't help you seen any of the humor at the time.

Blessed said...

Labs are persistent creatures!

This story made me think of when our duck dogs find a stinky something to roll on at the beginning of a duck hunt - then we get to smell them in the blind all day long!

ironman said...

Gret fun, I love Labs, in fact, I just brought hame a six weeek old yellow girl, and I am totally in love!!! I cant wait till duck season!!!

The Hunter's Wife said...

What an adorable dog. Love the picture of her licking the fish.

First of all, I would never touch the fish. EVER! I think I'd have to call Jon and let him know his dog is misbehaving. And if that didn't work, all dogs love their bellies rubbed. I'd resort to that.

If I absolutely had to get rid of the fish, I poked a stick through it and fling it as far as I could.

Holly Heyser said...

A stick! Brilliant! I knew you'd have a good idea. Of course, I'd thrown most of the sticks in sight. But I could've put on my shoes and walked around.

Ironman, get that girl trained and let's go hunting!

And to everyone else, yes, these dogs are super lovable, even when they're being disgusting. What's not to love about that persistence?

Holly Heyser said...

Ah, another addition: Boyfriend has blogged about the fishing trip too - click here to read it and see pictures that have nothing to do with Trinity ;-).

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Great post as ever NorCal
I was shocked to hear the other angler chuck the salmon bellies, they're the best bit!


Holly Heyser said...

Oh, I didn't see bellies in the water that day (that I know of) - just the collars. But we've been eating them all week and they're exquisite.

And we just had fish head soup yesterday - my first ever - and it was out of this world. Really stunning. Boyfriend will be blogging about it soon, hopefully.

MUSE said...

Enjoyed your blog and the Bee article, have heard many raves about Trinity if you can stand the drive, clearly the payoff is well worth it. You have convinced me to plan a trip, now about those grilled collars and stomachs, what is considered the collar, and can you elaborate on the grilled stomach, where they tasty, loved the photographs and you quality with the lab!!!

Holly Heyser said...

Muse, Hank wrote a little more about the collars and bellies here, but I don't know if that's going to have all the description you need.

I do have some video of him cutting the collar out of the fish, which I need to post one of these days. The best I can describe it is this: It's the stuff between where you start cutting your filet and the curve of flesh that meets the gills.

The belly is just the fatty underside of the fish. Both pieces are loaded with fat and are ridiculously delicious. There's a bit of fin on each of these pieces, and that tastes great too - mostly we just nibble the ends of those.

I'll see if I can get you more detailed information. Glad you liked the story!

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Muse, it's not the stomach, its the belly. Big difference. The belly is the meat and skin on the underside of the fish, and it is the best piece of the salmon because it is loaded with good-for-you fat, plus you get rich meat and crispy skin.

The collar is the arc of meat and bone just behind the head of the fish. When you fillet the fish, the meat, bones, and fins left on the fish behind the head is the collar. You will need to but out the gills and remove the collar with a sharp knife or kitchen shears to get it off cleanly.

Once you do, it is a lot like the belly -- rich in fat, with crispy skin and more meat than you might think. Plus you can nibble on the ends of the crispy fins -- they are surprisingly nutty.