Safety First

Safety first.

How Small a Trout, Every Day in May Challenge.

Life is risky and most fishermen and outdoorsmen are not going to let a little risk stop them from doing the things that they love, you cannot live your life constantly afraid. However a few basic precautions and a little bit of thought and pre-planning can go a long way to keeping you safe if something goes wrong.

I did personally have to deal with a terrible accident on a river here years ago. On the way back from a day’s fishing in the mountains a particularly fit and healthy client who hadn’t so much as slipped whilst wading somehow contrived to step off the path, not too serious except that the path at that point was a good 25 metres above the rocks on the gorge bottom

As a rock climber one look at the situation had me convinced that it would undoubtedly be a fatal fall and looking down on the angler not moving it was a wonder that I didn’t have coronary myself. As things turned out he came around by the time I reached him. He was a doctor and I have done more than a few first aid courses and we were able to establish that he wasn’t at risk of paralysis or worse should he move.

We managed to extricate ourselves from the gorge, although by then it was dark, and phone ahead to the hospital. I transported him there in a lot of pain but at least alive whereupon he was filled with morphine. Turned out that he had a severely displaced sternal fracture. which means in layman’s terms that he had busted his breastbone and the two ends were a long way apart. Far enough apart that I could see the break on the X-Ray from the other side of the room. The one sharp end dangerously close to his heart apparently. The entire event scared me half to death although having emergency numbers to call and friends in town to make arrangements and look up hospital contacts proved most useful , I have added a lot more numbers to my phone since then.

So without belabouring the point here are some things to consider.


Whistle: Oddly something that I rarely hear mentioned but have a whistle on my vest, might seem daft but rivers and even wave blown stillwaters generate the natural equivalent of “white noise” and if you have ever tried to attract the attention of your fishing partner, usually to show off the bend in your rod you will know that hearing is severely hampered by the sound of even gently flowing water. Dying is one thing, but dying when there are people looking for you only feet away, that seems unnecessarily unpleasant. Should things go wrong a whistle really can be very handy.

Emergency numbers:  Have those in your phone, you may live somewhere where there is a universal one but forest services, mountain rescue, fire and the others are worth having on tap, in a state of panic (and if it really goes wrong you will be in a state of panic I assure you), being able to hit a speed dial number will make things a whole lot easier. There is rarely cell phone reception in the more remote fishing spots but even with the phone in your car it offers some back up. Better still carry the phone in a waterproof bag, you may be able to gain high ground and a signal faster than you can reconnect with your vehicle

A back up. There is an old joke that says “When they ask who to contact in an emergency I put Doctor, WTF is my mother going to do?”, but a backup of someone who knows the area where you are going , where you plan to fish and when you intend to be back can be a Godsend. I have been called more than once by rescuers asking about specific beats or paths when anglers get lost. Having someone know exactly where you have gone and when you intend to be back will not only mean back up should arrive but equally that you know that it should. That can offer some considerable motivation to hang in there when in extremis.

Plan: You simply cannot plan for an emergency that is why it is generally referred to as an accident, but you can plan a rough set of actions. Firstly if you are lost and things are bad frequently the safest thing to do is to stay put. Wandering around in foul weather, or in shock or the dark can rapidly escalate the situation. If you have already put the back up in place someone will come look for you.


Wading staffs;  I dislike wading staffs, they are noisy, scare the fish and provide something else to fall over. The collapsible ones may however be of help if you sprain and ankle or something. A great trick to wading without one is to dip the rod in the water in the same way as a canoeist uses his paddle. The resistance of a swiftly moved rod in the water is often enough to help maintain your balance.

Swimming: If wading goes wrong the first thing is not to panic, you will float to an eddy or a bank at some point, just think of all those spinners swirling around on the edges, the same will happen to you if you can stay afloat long enough. You initial goal is not to swim for the bank but to stay afloat and uninjured.

Wader belts: Keep them done up tight, the air trapped in the waders or even wet clothes will assist you as much as any floatation device.

Tackle: Make the decision right now in your lounge that if it ever goes seriously wrong you will ditch the Sage XP and the Click reel. They are not worth your life and you cannot swim effectively carrying a rod. Oh yeah, if you can’t swim go and get some lessons.. NOW

Position: If you are heading down a serious rapid try to orientate yourself feet first, there are two main reasons that people drown, panic and head injuries, Going feet first will allow you to see what’s coming and to protect your head. Don’t worry about how far you go, you will hit the shore at some point, your job is to stay afloat and alive until that happens.

Weigh up your options. I did in the past do a lot of surf lifesaving and it is a key tactic to just try to pause for a second or two and assess the situation. The closest bank may not be your best option, wind or current may make the more distant shore a better bet. I have personally seen someone drown by trying to swim for a close by bank against the tide when had they turned around they would have been on terra firma in a minute. Again panic is your enemy and produces bad decision making. Remember your initial goal is not to gain the sides, your initial goal is to stay afloat and unhurt.

On dry land:
Not all the hazards are water based. Snakes, falls, broken limbs. Lightning strikes etc all represent a risk albeit a limited one.
Walking: Do not walk unless you are looking where you are putting your feet, that means you don’t watch the big brownie sipping duns whilst you are moving. If you want to watch, stop and do so. Putting your feet in the wrong place or on the wrong critter can prove disastrous.

Lightning: Absolutely do not keep fishing in the midst of a close lightning storm, your rod is one of the best conductors known to man and waving it about in the air is a recipe for disaster. Better to dismantle it and take cover but not under the tallest tree.

Snakes: Many fishing venues, (Other than New Zealand which just seems to be so blessed it makes one want to puke) offer habitat to poisonous snakes. Bear in mind that few if any are actually aggressive if left undisturbed and your best defence is to avoid stepping on them. There has been growing interest in Snake Garters but personally I don’t see the necessity except in perhaps a few particularly dangerous spots. I am generally encumbered with enough kit already. But do watch where you put your feet all the time and make a fuss when getting out of the stream. The reptiles cannot as easily hear you coming when you do that.

Clothing: As with any outdoor pursuit bear in mind that the weather can turn fast, hypo and hyperthermia are both risks depending on the location and the season. Insure that you have water, some food and clothing that will keep you at least moderatedly warm if you get wet. The ability to survive a night in the open could be the difference between rescue and not.

Last but definitely not least. I am willing to bet you that for every angler who drowns, gets snake bit, falls, or goes into hypothermic shock a few hundred die on the roads on the way to or from the fishing. So don’t drive tired or drunk and definitely wear your seatbelt. Stupidly it is the obvious that frequently gets overlooked.

Oh yes take lots of photographs, with modern waterproof digital cameras, if you do meet your maker on the river at least your relatives will have the comfort of knowing that you enjoyed a great last day.

Be Careful Out There.

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One Response to “Safety First”

  1. Anticipation | The Fishing Gene Says:

    […] but for a very much fly fishing theme for the most part. “Bugs”, “Greenery”, “Safety First” and many other subjects were covered, one per day. I confess that I only joined in late in the […]

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