Safety in fishing

Safety in fishing

Overall, fishing is a very safe sport, but it does involve certain hazards. Some of these may be life-threatening, others only discomforting. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies. Following is a look at safety considerations in fishing, at dangers which can arise and how to avoid or deal with them. We’ll take them in order of seriousness: life-threatening first, then discomforting second.

Weather Perils of Fishing

  Lightning—Because fishing is an outdoor sport, you will experience different types of weather. This means that sooner or later you’ll be exposed to one of the most dangerous of all natural killers: lightning. Lightning doesn’t get the scare publicity that tornadoes, hurricanes and other sensational weather phenomena do. But each year lightning claims more lives than all other weather-related accidents combined. Invariably, some of these victims are fishermen.

Kids learn at an early age that lightning strikes tall objects. Tallness is relative. A fisherman in a boat on a lake is tall in comparison to what’s around him. The same is true about an angler standing on a flat, barren shoreline. In either case, if the fisherman is using a rod (particularly graphite), in effect he’s holding a lightning rod, and he’s certainly inviting disaster.

The cardinal rule is never allow yourself to get caught where lightning is likely to strike. If you see a storm coming, get off the water or away from high areas or tall objects. The safest place to be is inside a house or vehicle. Don’t stand under isolated trees or poles. If you get caught in an electrical storm, wait it out in the lowest spot you can find, and keep a low profile.

  High winds—High winds are another weather peril for anglers in boats. If you think the waves are too high, don’t go out. If you are out and see a storm coming, head in. If you get caught in high waves and start taking water, don’t try to get back to the dock or ramp. Turn and go with the wind.

If your boat swamps, stay in it. Most boats have level flotation, and even if they fill with water, they won’t sink. Keep your life jacket cinched tightly, try to stay calm and wait for rescue.

Fog—Sometimes you may be tempted to head out onto a foggy lake. My advice is don’t go. When you can’t see where you’re going, you risk running into an unseen object or  getting lost. Stay at the boat ramp until the fog lifts. You won’t miss much fishing, and won’t be taking risks. Also, keep a GPS or a compass handy in case fog rolls in. Fog causes you to lose all sense of direction, and a GPS or compass can help you find your way.

  Hypothermia—Exposure is the common term for hypothermia. This is a loss of body heat—typically caused by getting wet—that can eventually cause death. This is not just a winter problem. It can occur in other seasons, too. It’s usually brought on by a combination of cool air, wind and wet clothes. Evaporation causes a rapid heat loss, and this leads to a drop in body temperature. The first sign of hypothermia is mild shivering. This is the body’s way of trying to warm itself, and it’s also a warning signal of trouble. If something isn’t done to reverse this situation, the shivering can become uncontrollable, and the victim starts losing feeling in his arms and legs. His speech becomes slurred, and his thinking gets fuzzy. If his body temperature continues to drop (75-80°F), he will slip into a coma and possibly die. If you start shivering, don’t ignore this signal! There are two things to do: remove the cause of cooling (wet clothing); and restore body heat. This can be done by replacing wet clothes with dry ones, drinking warm fluids, eating energy-rich foods and by warming next to a fire or other heat source. You must stop the loss of body heat and restore it to a normal level. If the symptoms progress to uncontrollable shivering, get medical help fast. Remember, hypothermia is a killer.

The Danger of Drowning

 Drowning is a constant danger to fishermen. Each year we hear tragic stories of anglers who have fallen out of boats or off the bank and were lost. This danger is easily avoided. Following are commonsense rules for making sure you won’t become a drowning victim. Wear a life preserver—Using a life preserver is the “ounce of prevention” I mentioned earlier. Very few anglers drown while wearing a Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD). Whenever you’re in a boat, you’re required to have such a preserver with you. You’re not required to wear it, however, and this gets many lackadaisical fishermen in trouble.

Accidents happen when you least expect them, and they happen quickly. If you’re not wearing your life preserver, and your boat suddenly overturns, you probably won’t have a chance to put your PFD on. Always wear your PFD when the boat is running, and zip it up or tie it. Also, it’s a good idea to wear it even when the boat’s not running, especially if you’re a poor swimmer. A vest-type preserver isn’t bulky. It’s comfortable, and it won’t interfere with your fishing.

A better option may be an approved inflatable-type PFD that’s worn like suspenders. If you fall out of the boat, a quick tug on a lanyard activates a CO2 cartridge that instantly inflates the PFD. Bank fishermen should also consider wearing a PFD.

Especially if you’re fishing along steep banks, tailraces, docks, bridges or similar spots. Children should never be allowed dose to such spots without wearing a securely fastened PFD.

 Don’t overload the boat—Never put too much load into too small a boat. Little boats aren’t meant for heavy loads, especially when there’s a chance of encountering high waves, strong current, etc. This lesson absolutely applies to all fishermen and other boaters. Always be certain that your boat is seaworthy enough to handle rough water. All boats are rated for maximum loads. Before you leave shore, figure the total weight that will be carried in the boat, and don’t overload it. Also, be certain that you distribute the weight evenly throughout the boat.

 Don’t drink and boat—The statistics tell a sad story. A majority of boating accidents involve alcohol consumption. Drinking and boating is just as serious as drinking and driving. (Many states now have laws against the former.) The bottom line is, don’t drink and boat!

Avoid known danger areas—Tailwaters, dam intakes, rapids, waterfalls and other areas with strong currents or underwater objects pose special dangers to fishermen. Never fish where posted warnings or your commonsense tells you it’s unsafe. Be alert to sudden water releases when fishing below dams. After a hard rain, avoid streams prone to flash flooding.

Avoid unsafe ice when ice-fishing—Each fall a few anglers go out on new ice too early, or try to stretch the spring season by fishing on ice that is thawing and rotten. Incidents of fishermen breaking through thin ice and drowning are all too common and could be avoided if anglers would learn to be more cautious. Here’s the rule to follow: two inches of new, dean ice is safe to walk on. Anything less is dangerous. Also, don’t walk on ice when you see air bubbles or cracks. When walking on new ice, have a partner follow a few feet behind, or you follow him! The person walking behind should carry a length of rope or a long pole to pull his partner out if he breaks through the ice. Take a long-handle chisel and tap in front of you to make sure the ice is solid. But again, if there’s any reasonable question that the ice is unsafe, don’t go out on it! Veteran ice fishermen wear PFDs when walking on ice and carry long nails or pointed dowels in a handy pocket. If you break through, these can be used to jab into ice at the edge of the hole in order to gain a grip to pull yourself out.

The Danger of Flying Hooks

There are three times when hooks fly: when you’re casting (or when your buddy is casting); when you or he snatches a hung-up lure out of a shoreside limb; when you or he is fishing with a surface lure, and you set the hook and miss. These “flying” hooks can be hazardous to anglers who happen to be in their path. Be alert when you’re casting, and also when others are casting. If your bait snags on a bush or limb, don’t get impatient and yank. My to flip your bait out, and if it won’t come, go get it. Sunglasses or clear safety glasses will protect your eyes from flying hooks. I wear sunglasses during daytime fishing, and I wear safety glasses when night-fishing. I particularly enjoy night-fishing with topwater lures for bass. Most strikes, however, are heard instead of seen. If the fish misses the lure, and you rear back with your rod, you’ve got a hook-studded missile flying at you through the dark.

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