Fishing for Trouble
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 JOHN T. JONES
Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 142nd Field Artillery Brigade
Arkansas Army National Guard
In my 10 years with the Arkansas Army National Guard and eight years as a law enforcement officer, I have encountered numerous hazards and situations that did not turn out how I planned. Fortunately, they’ve never led to a serious mishap, which I credit to my heightened situational awareness I have at work. Most of my near misses happen off-duty, when we tend to let our guard down. This story is a good example.
Let’s face it — relaxation is important. Since winter is here, I think it’s necessary to address the fly fishermen out there. At home in Arkansas, winter is the prime time for catching monster brown trout on the White River. With it, however, comes some hazards such as high water flows and cold temperatures.
A few years ago, I drove over to Mountain Home, Arkansas, for a weekend of fishing. I did not take my drift boat because the Army Corp of Engineers posted the generation schedule online, which indicated prime wading conditions. As any tailwater fisherman will attest, you never know 100 percent what the generation is going to be. As you’ve probably guessed by now, the conditions were not perfect to wade fish. But I drove two hours and was determined to get some time on the water.
It was a perfect day for fishing. The weather was below freezing and the sky was overcast. I had sufficient layering, but I did not have my studs in my boots because I usually spend most of my days in a drift boat during the winter months, chasing that illusive unicorn with 8-inch flies. I also did not have my wading staff.
I was fishing around Buffalo Shoals since I was wanting to swing my two-handed fly rod. The water was swift and the rocks were slick. As always during the winter, I wore my wading jacket. It is built to inflate with air if you fall while you’re wading. It also keeps water from filling up your waders, which is extremely dangerous in swift conditions, especially in the winter months.
I was out on the shoals, doing my best to fight the water. I’d cast, step, cast, step. Then it happened; I stepped into a hole. Before I knew it, I was floating down the White River. Luckily, my jacket did its job and kept me afloat. I was able to keep the water from filling my waders and dragging me under. Once I got to the bank, I gathered what gear I could salvage and started the mile walk back to my truck. Getting out of the water was only half the battle, however. That walk was miserably cold.
Sometimes when we do things often, we forget the dangers. If I would have worn another jacket, there is a good chance I would have drowned that day. I wasn’t prepared for those conditions. Even if I had the studs in my boots and wading staff, I probably should have just canceled the trip. I was lucky. We talk about personal protective equipment for a reason. It was created to save your life.
The combination of moving water, slippery surfaces and icy temperatures is dangerous. Hypothermia is the biggest risk, but drowning is right up there too. Keep in mind the following tips to ensure you survive your winter fly-fishing adventures:
- Always tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return. Offer as many details as possible.
- Prepare for the worst. Bring backup clothes and a fire-starting kit in case you take a spill or your waders leak.
- Dress much, much more warmly than you think you should. Even on sunny, relatively warm days, you will cool down fast when standing near, and especially in, a river, despite neoprene waders. Wear heavy fleece pants and jackets and avoid jeans and other cotton pants or undergarments. Cotton absorbs moisture and won’t insulate when wet. Combine a breathable raincoat over a down vest or jacket. A heavy wool or fleece cap is also a good idea.
- Keeping your fingers warm is the biggest challenge. Use thick fleece fingerless gloves with mitten tops you can pull over your exposed digits when you don’t need dexterity. Yes, you can cast and reel line with mittens.
- Use a wading staff. Even if you never consider one in summer, a staff is vital in winter, when boulders ice up and banks are especially slippery. Remember, in winter a slip and fall into icy water can spell disaster.
- Bring a thermos of coffee, tea or hot chocolate. After a few hours in the cold, it’s easier to warm up from the inside out than from the outside in.
Source: Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks