Versatile, Valiant Labradors
By Dennis Doyle
They will plunge into frigid waters, swimming any distance to retrieve your downed waterfowl. They’ll hurl themselves into thickets of thorny brier to roust clever pheasants. They’ll race across acres of knee-deep snow to secure a wing-tipped goose and comb through thick, waist-high fields, foot by foot, to flush out a crafty quail. A dog is truly an outdoors person’s best friend.
During fishing season, my dog Hobbes is a boon companion on days temperate enough to invite him along. He especially enjoys perch fishing and will protest endlessly when I throw the small fish back until he gets one for himself. Then he will carefully lick it clean, take it forward and carefully chew it up and eat it, head to tail and with never an ill effect.
At holiday parties he is especially cooperative with our activities, particularly when children are about. He allows them just about every kind of privilege one can imagine. Hovering about them like a doting uncle, Hobbes will devotedly lick their fingers free of any sticky frostings that might linger to foul the draperies.
The day after Christmas this year, we found our 7-year-old grandson, Logan, after lunch, curled up with our Lab in his small, comfy kennel, both sound asleep. Earlier that day Hobbes patiently sat at 4-year-old granddaughter Bella’s tea party table, set with dolls, cups, saucers, and plates of cookies until he was rewarded with his own small pile of treats.
Most children never passed by him without trailing their fingers through his thick, shiny black fur and none rarely had to look far for him as he inevitably follows wherever they’ve wandered, eventually picking up their discarded socks, hats and gloves and, for some reason, bringing them to me for safekeeping.
Throughout the past holidays, drivers delivering packages to the house were regularly greeted with the most unusually ferocious Lab “talk” as Hobbes announced that no one would be permitted near the presence of his young charges without thorough screening. Repeat delivery people soon learned to be extra quiet in the discharge of their duties.
Hobbes also patiently modeled the various scarves that were wound about his neck to see which was preferable for whatever occasion the kids were imagining or organizing. Hats were often attempted but never successfully accepted for long.
When the busy holidays were finally over and the various houseguests were packing, the most overheard comment was not how much they wanted to remain at Nana’s house or the cookies and treats they enjoyed, or the presents, decorations, or fun times. It was how much they were going to miss Hobbes and his warm, furry embraces.
I’ve enjoyed the company of bird dogs for over 50 years but Hobbes is my first Labrador. And while I dislike comparing their respective merits (they were all outstanding companions), I have to admit that none attached themselves to the children quite like our Lab. I also just noticed that only since the kids have gone, has he returned to my side again, wherever I go. They, apparently, also have a great sense of priority.
The wintertime white perch bite in the Bay continues on days calm enough to venture forth. Waters deeper than 40 feet around the Bay Bridge or at the mouth of the Eastern Bay are the likeliest areas to drop a couple of bloodworms down to tempt them. Oceanside, the nighttime bite for stripers near the surf shore break with streamer flies; soft plastic jigs is the second most likely source of action but the best bet is dropping down some sand fleas or pieces of crab for tautog (blackfish) near rocky structure. Try the Ocean City Inlet south jetty as the likeliest chance for a bite.