Saturday, April 7, 2012

Fat Boy Overboard!

During the spring of every year, conditions are great for fishing, but these can be some of the most dangerous times for anglers.  Severe weather changes often occur during March and April that alter a nice calm spring day of fishing into a scary event in a matter of a few hours.  All it takes is a strong front to come through.  Of course, we all watch the weather and take safety precautions, have the right safety gear on our boat, and try to use common sense while we are out there having fun while trying to stay safe.  But there are times when we aren't so careful.  When the weather is nice, we often let our guard down.  Have you ever thought about the phrase, "it won't ever happen to me"?
It's a beautiful day, we're catching fish, and these are the times when it "won't happen to me".
I'll relate the substance of an old e-mail fishing report that I found from many years ago that I circulated to a number of my friends.  I learned a lesson the hard way, and after telling that story, I'll delve on some of those issues a bit.  I don't want to be preachy, but if this gets through to one person, then the post is worth it.

Bill and I launched his car topper, a Coleman Crawdad powered by a 12 volt trolling motor along Mattawoman Creek, a tidal tributary of the Potomac River, in search of largemouth bass, crappie, yellow perch, and anything else that cared to bite on an early March day.  The weather was nice with temperatures in the low sixties but a front had moved through and became a bit windy.  The water temperatures were in the low forties.  Conditions were prime for good fishing.  We were out for fun.
As you can see, even though the Coleman Crawdad is a stable boat, it's not very roomy.
After a couple hours of fishing, we had boated a few bass but found the bite had become a bit tough.  The hard baits weren't producing and we weren't getting the reaction strikes.  We turned to finesse techniques for the bass, and if that didn't work, our plan was to adapt to catch panfish.

All of a sudden, I had the urge to purge.  Anglers are supposed to be a patient bunch, and that's fairly true, but when I have to pee, my patience thins and I tend to fish too fast and lose concentration.  So, I had to do something about it.  At the time, Bill was a good 300 pounds, and I was pushing 240, so were were pushing the weight capacity of the boat without our fishing gear (rub-a-dub-dub).  Like I had done many times before on this boat and others, I stood up on the front of the small boat to take care of business over fifteen feet of forty plus degree of water on a platform that isn't designed to support the weight of an average person much less a hefty feller like myself.

While up there, I had a sense of vertigo while gazing down at the cold clear water, but then thought nothing of it.  After finishing my natural duty, I stepped back down and my right foot slipped on a bag of blue fleck Berkeley Power worms that lay perfectly in my way.  The boat is small and cramped anyway, and my disorganiztion with my fishing gear didn't help matters.  I lost my balance as a result and wobbled, the boat tipped, and over the side I went.

Later, Bill recalled that it looked like I had simply just decided to leap into the water.  I managed to hang on to the side of the boat as I fell with one hand but not with enough pressure or weight as to pull the boat over and bring Bill in with me.  I was not wearing a life vest.

As I clung to the boat, it felt like Bill was sitting on my chest.  The cold water sucked the wind right out of me and I could hardly breath.  Bill seemed like he was in shock after what he witnessed.  So, I tried to think logically and instruct him what to do.  But the vice like grip of the cold on my chest wouldn't let me utter the words.

Meanwhile, Bill, with the best of intentions, extended his hand out to me in an effort to pull me back in.  I knew that if he succeeded in doing that, the boat would have surely capsized.  I managed to shake my head "no", and with a word or two at a time, uttered the words, "tow shore".

Why didn't I swim?  My body was shivering like crazy, and was locked into one giant muscle cramp.  It was all I could do to hang on to the side of the boat.  Bill turned on the trolling motor and the boat lurched foward, but came to a stop immediately.  We had the anchor down.

Bill pulled up the anchor and tried again, and the back of the boat swung around but the front stayed put.  The front anchor was down.  I don't know how I managed to do it, but I pulled myself around the boat hand over hand and managed to pull up the anchor with one arm as I desperately hung on for my life.

After that, he towed me to shore.  I hung on with both hands with my elbows hanging over the boat, and tried to keep my legs as high as possible to avoid getting hung up in the awesome subsurface woody bass cover below.  After reaching shore, I managed to gain my footing on the bank. 

Once on shore, I peeled off all of my outer layers and put on the only pieces of dry clothing that I had, a hooded sweatshirt.  I also donned my life vest for added warmth.  It was a bit late for putting that on, wasn't it?

Meanwhile, the front had moved through and the wind picked up, making it even more uncomfortable.  I was shivering uncontrollably.  We headed back toward the boat ramp and found more protective water and continued to fish.  You see, I didn't want my stupidity to ruin my fishing buddy's day.  We don't get much time off work to fish, so when we do, we need to fish regardless of the circumstances, and we did so until dark despite my discomfort.

I had a hard time catching fish that evening as my concentration was at an all time low.  I was not on my game, but I tried my best to have fun.  After the day was over, the heat in Bill's truck helped to revive my senses, but I remained sore for a few days afterwards.  The cold water sucked all of the energy out of me.

Well, it happened to me!  I was lucky.  Any number of things could have happened during that ten minutes that I spent in the frigid water that could have resulted in my drowning.  Seemingly innocent every day situations like that can turn deadly and often do for many.  I should have been wearing my life vest especially when I put myself in a precarious position. 

My buddy Bill, shown here with a chain pickerel on another fishing trip, saved my life that day on the Mattawoman.
The main cause of drowning while boating results from people falling overboard.   And many of those happen when people either try to relieve themselves or are throwing up and leaning over.

So, another lesson that I learned and continue to do today is to bring a bottle or something to use when nature calls and not go over the side of the boat, regardless of the size of the boat.  And from that point on, I wear my life jacket when running from spot to spot, when weather conditions create instability in the boat that I'm in, or any other situation where there is a chance that I could fall out of the boat.

This time of year the fishing is often fantastic.  Play it safe though, because the alternative may not be worth your life.  Wear your life vest, and use a bottle!!!!!!

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