14 November 1997

Berties barking good at fetching out a fish

BERTIE the yellow Labrador, believed to be Britains only fully trained fish-retrieving dog, is back from his holidays in Scotland where he astonished his owners Michael and Caroline Ford when he dived in and hauled out of the water a 9lb salmon which Mrs Ford had just hooked.

Bertie is trained at fish retrieving but has only tackled trout in the past at his home in Yarcombe near Honiton, Devon. The Fords and Bertie were fishing on the river Brora north of Inverness when he retrieved his biggest fish to date.

Bertie is trained to sit and wait until the fish has been hooked and becomes tired before Mr Ford gives him the nod to dive in. "Hes very good at what he does," said Mr Ford, a farm diversification consultant who owns his own lake.

"Because he is a trained shooting dog as well, he has a gentle mouth and does not damage the fish or the line, I signal to Bertie when the trout has become quite tired – he dives in and I use him instead of a net."

Said Mr Ford: "He loves the water and shows no fear, he even dives under the surface to get the fish. He was originally trained to go in and fetch game. It all comes quite natural to him."

Said Mrs Ford: "When Bertie was a puppy I walked him into the river in Scotland for the first time and an enormous salmon jumped up right in front of him and hes been hooked on fish ever since. He stands in the river for hours up to his belly in water as my husband waits for a bite – he even spots his own fish when he sees them swimming under the water.

&#42 Salmon hooked

"He was very impressive when I hooked a 10lb salmon on the river Brora near Inverness, I played the fish for 10 minutes before I sent Bertie in.

"The fish was about 2ft long but Bertie took it in his stride. I hid the fish from him in the bank hoping it would take his mind off it but he found it and brought it back to me again – hes so keen."

Mrs Ford revealed that she had to give Bertie the kiss of life when he was born to get him breathing. "He was enormous when he came out, he was the first of the litter and he wasnt breathing so I wiped away the mucus from his nose and mouth and breathed some life into him. He hasnt looked back since," she added.

Bertie comes from a long line of award-winning shooting dogs, his grandfather (Holgate Willie) being a former field trial champion.

But it seems that Berties love of the water and fish is not so unusual after all. Labradors in their native land of Newfoundland were used by trawlermen to retrieve any fish that had escaped from the nets, "So you could say that Bertie is going back to his roots," added Mrs Ford who is looking for a permanent girlfriend for Bertie in the form of a black bitch with a yellow line in her.

Richard Austin

Michael Ford with his most useful fishing companion, Bertie the Labrador.

Fishermans friend Bertie makes sure each catch is safely brought in.

Bertie is reliving his roots. Retrieving fish is in the breeds blood.