On The River: Fly Fishing With Dogs

If you have come into our shop, you know how much we LOVE dogs. Depending on the day we could have two to three dogs in shop for you to love on. This post is for all the dog lovers, dog mom’s, dog dad’s, dog grandparents and all those in between. Below are some basic On The River: Fly Fishing With Dogs.

Fishing dogs are loyal, willing partakers of the adventures we pursue as anglers. Most love the water, are seemingly oblivious to inclement weather, and are perfectly happy when wet, cold and hungry regardless of the fish count. There even seems to be a routine that most anglers have experienced with their fishing dogs:

  1. While packing for a trip, fishing dogs seem to exhibit behavior that can only be described as sincere hope that their name and gear are on the packing list. If they get to go, they express something rare and precious in this world; pure joy.  If left home they seem to create a list of household items they will destroy before you return.
  2. Upon arrival at the angling location, they bound out of the truck and take on the task of scouting the immediate area while impatiently waiting for us to prep our gear. God forbid we’re a bit slow in getting ready to hit the water or you’re met with a look from your dog that says, “c’mon buddy let’s go already!”  When we sense that particular gaze upon us, we reassure her that the better prepared we are now, the longer we can stay.  They then go back to occupying themselves with predatory preparations.  Rolling in the nearest cow pie in order to disguise their scent is a favorite.  The fact that trout don’t smell cow pies is somehow irrelevant.
  3. We’re off and walking to the water, they are in front of us trailblazing the path to what hopefully is a very successful day on the water. They even make sure to run back and check on you since you’re not walking as fast as them.
  4. You’re to the water and fishing, next comes connection between the angler and their dog, to the point that we are inclined to anthropomorphize their thoughts. Some people believe that the blank stare is all there is to a dog. Those of us with fishing dogs know better. Below are some examples of “thoughts” that we’re sure have occupied a dog’s brain between squirrel sightings and manure anointing:

You – Snag a tree branch on a back cast., Dog – “Fishing a little high don’t you think?”

You – Snag and reel in a piece of driftwood., Dog – “Nice catch. Can I keep it?”

You – “loud crash and gasp”., Lying on your back, feet in the air, draining the water from your waders., Dog – “Hey, now you smell like me. It’s best to shake off like this.”

You – See a muskrat swim across the river in front of you., Dog – “Did you see THAT, can I go get it?!!”

You – Another angler approaches., Dog – “Shall I bite him? Swim through his drift? Go find his lunch?”

You – If approaching angler is the opposite sex of you., Dog – “Time to break out the puppy dog eyes!”

Now lets dive into some tips on how you can make sure you and your fishing dog have an enjoyable day (or weekend) fishing.


It all starts with training your dog. Ideally understanding how your dog does off leash, listening to commands and how they react to strangers and other animals. The biggest flex you can make on the river is having your dog trained. Not everyone out on the water is a dog owner and not every person likes dogs. Some anglers are afraid of dogs. When bank fishing be sure to keep your dog on a leash. If you are allowed to take your dog off leash be sure that your dog is in earshot and eyeshot so a proper recall can occur.

Another important aspect to train your dog on is to not spook the fish. A lot of dogs love jumping in the water. Do some basic training to avoid your dog from crashing into the undisturbed pool only to spook all the fish. Keep your dog on a leash or by your side using commands.

Your dog may be a good wading dog, but that may all change when you get into the boat. Have a life vest for your dog, it makes for a quick and easy grab should they fall out as well as give them a fighting chance of not tiring out and drowning. Having a designated area for your dog in the boat can help things out a lot. When rowing to the bank a lot of dogs will get excited and prematurely jump off the boat into the water. Train your dog to stay until a voice command of load off or get off is made. Be sure your dog is comfortable in the boat before doing any longer or challenging whitewater floats, not all dogs like boats. And if it’s not your boat be sure that the captain is alright with you taking your dog. A different boat can be challenging for a dog to get used to.

Spend some time training your pup on the basics:

  • Commands: (Sit, Stay, Come, Heel, Drop It, Load Up, and No).
  • Establish a radius and recall for the dog. In a lot of areas along the river, you are able to have the dog off-leash. Make sure your dog is comfortable off-leash, and that you have established a recall.
  • Familiarize your dog with the fly fishing gear, the last thing you want is your dog inhaling your fly. Some simple “leave it” commands will do the trick.
  • Buy them a life vest and have them wear the life vest early on to get them used to it.

Check the Regulations:

Some waterways do not allow dogs. This can be due to watershed’s, wildlife impacts like elk migrations, ground-nesting birds, or endangered wildlife that may be present. Check the regulations of the area that you are planning to go and make sure you can fish with your dog in this area.

Location, Location, Location:

Similarly to when you may take a friend fly fishing for the first time, you want to choose your location wisely. You want to make sure that they can handle the terrain, that there is no imminent dangers (high flows, large cliffs, etc). Here are some helpful tips to make your decision easier:

  • Choose access points that you may have to hike into. This can be a great way to exercise your dog and get away from the crowds.
  • Avoid areas with sketchy river crossings or sketchy boulders that may be challenging for your dog.
  • Choose trails that allow dogs to be off leash, many BLM and Forest Service areas allow this.
  • Avoid access points near roads or busy sidewalks/bike trails.
  • Avoid river access near residential or commercial homes or buildings.

Teach Your Dog Catch and Release Fishing:

More often than not, your dog will view a fish as a treat. Can we really blame them? Some of the yummiest treats smell pretty fishy. Make this a fun time for your dog. On the first few outings let the dog see the fish from afar and asses how they react. If your dog is interested and just wants to give the fish a kiss, maybe they can come closer and closer as time goes on. Many dogs will begin to figure out that you are fishing and will help and get very excited when you do catch a fish. Our shop dogs get excited at the mirror sight of a fish on the end of your line, and get really disappointed when it was a lie.

Have the Proper Gear for your Dog:

Adding a furry friend to the mix means that they will now have gear they need. You can’t assume they can just drink the water from the lake or river, they get hungry too, they need warmth and floatation devices… Bringing along the proper gear for your dog when fishing can make your dog more comfortable and safer. Here is a basic list of some of the items to bring along:

  • Life Jacket (If float fishing)
  • Dog Bowl for water
  • Treats or Dog Food
  • Leash (or long lead) and Poop Bags
  • Dog Jacket (if cold and if dog is susceptible to cold)
  • First Aid Kit
  • DOG TREATS and a lot of them. If there is one way to win a dog over it is with dog treats. Be sure to pack along a bunch of dog treats to help aid your fishing adventure. Treats can be great for reinforcing commands and recalls as well as keeping your dogs at bay when approached by other anglers, wildlife or fish.

Safety Tips to Keep In Mind:

The outdoors can be a dangerous place for a domesticated dog, there are many different hazards that we as humans may not think about. To avoid any sort of unwanted visits to the vet, here are some helpful safety tips when fishing with your dog

  1. Debarb Your Hooks: Dogs like to run right behind you making that long cast to the other side of the river. To avoid sticking your dog, debarb your hooks. It’s not only good for the fish but it might save you from having to take your dog to the vet because you got a size 4 streamer stuck in the pup’s eye. If the barbed hook is in a sensitive area like the dog’s eye, put some medical tape over it and head to the emergency vet.
  2. Rattlesnakes and Dogs Don’t Mix: Rattlesnakes are native to many areas where there is some great fishing. Snakes are very afraid of humans and the likelihood of getting bit is pretty low, the likelihood of your dog getting bit by one is very high. If there are rattlesnakes present be sure to keep your dog leashed, don’t bring your dog, or make sure your dog has a rattlesnake vaccine or rattlesnake training. If your dog does get bit by a rattlesnake, give the dog children’s Benedryl and rush them to the emergency vet as fast as possible. You can also carry rattlesnake anti-venom to administer to your dog.
  3. Blue-Green Algae: This is a newer one that is happening more and more because of the rise in temperatures. Blue-Green algae is a cyanobacteria that grows in freshwater when the weather is warm and over 75 degrees. The algae is very toxic and can poison any organism that consumes it. So most trout streams will not ever develop this as the water temperatures will never be that hot but stillwater lakes, side channels along rivers, and other slower moving bodies of water can. Dogs can get the poisoning when they drink from or even simply swim in the contaminated water. If blue-green algae is ingested, it can cause severe neurologic or liver damage. If you think your dog may be sick from this be sure to take them to the vet immediately. Many local agencies will put out alerts about “blue-green” algae warnings but these blooms can pop up sporadically and in random areas.
  4. Human Feces: This is a weird one but seems to be becoming more of a problem. Many dogs love to search out and find and eat human poop. Not only is this very gross, it can also be toxic to dogs. Along the Colorado River corridor, this has become more of an issue. Do your best to keep your dog in eyeshot and be vigilant for this. Earlier this year, our dog consumed human feces while on the river and a few hours later became lethargic, vomiting, and losing balance. After a trip to the vet, they said the dog consumed a toxin in the feces most likely THC, and was displaying these symptoms. Too much of a toxin and the dog’s health could be at risk.

You Don’t Always Have To Bring Your Dog:

We get it, you want your best friend to be with you, but this last tip is a pretty important one that we wish more anglers took into consideration. You don’t always have to bring your dog fishing with you. Not all access points, not all dogs, and not all fishing adventures have the need for your dog to come along. Some of your fishing buddies may not like dogs, or you may be fishing in a new area and aren’t sure how your dog will do. Air on the side of caution and don’t bring your dog along when you aren’t sure.

Bringing your dog fishing with you is an enjoyable time for you and your dog. But this comes at a cost, you have to be properly prepared, your dog properly trained and you have to be ready to sacrifice some fishing time to take care of your dog. Hopefully, these fishing with dogs tips will help bring your pup out on the water.