Mar 10, 2014

Cold Water Fishing

By: Barb Carey

Spring is just around the corner and just as we patiently awaited first ice, we now wait for those rivers to open. Walleyes will be rushing up the rivers followed by anglers who could possibly ice fish and open water fish on the same day. Safety is often a second thought as the excitement being on the open water consumes us. I recently had unintended cold water swim and learned the hard way that safety must always come first. 

On a recent trip to the Wolf River in Fremont WI, I was standing on the casting deck of my Lund Pro V, mesmerized by the cadence of my vertical jigging technique. I was fishing in 15 feet of water on an inside bend and no other boats were in sight. I decided it was time to move, swung my jig in and secured it to the eye on my rod. I stepped down off the casting deck and as I did so, I caught my foot on something. The next thing I knew my rod went sailing in the river and I lunged forward and tried to grab it. As it started to sink in the water, my finger tips just grazed the handle and I reached a tiny bit more. The next thing I knew my feet were going over my head and I did a cartwheel right out of the boat. It all happened within a second.

All I could think of was, “I can’t believe I’m in the water.” The outside temperature was 50 degrees and the water temperature was 45 degrees. I hung on to the side of the boat and the feeling of disbelief would not pass. I had winter boots on, multiple layers of clothing, a heavy jacket, and no life vest. 

I had a friend in the boat with me and told her to drive the boat into shore as I hung on the side of the boat. The trolling motor got hung up on a stump and the boat was stuck there. I worked my way to the back of the boat holding onto the starboard side. I attempted to get back into the boat by hanging onto the transom. It just so happened that I felt a stump in the water and could get one foot on it and stood up. Balancing on one foot, I tried to push myself up. The boat shot backwards and knocked me off the stump. Being in my mid 50’s and having a variety of prior joint surgeries it didn’t take long to realize that there was no way I was going to be able to get back into that boat. The Lund Pro V rides high out of the water making it a great big water boat, but without a ladder I didn’t have a chance to get back in. 

Eventually I swam to shore by laying on my back and kicking my feet. An over head stroke was impossible with all the clothing on. Since I was on my back I could not see how far shore was at and one point began to panic. I began to think of the famed ice angler, Jim Hudson, who had fallen in the ice and died the year before. That moment of panic caused me to struggle but I quickly gathered my wits and kept kicking. Eventually I made it to shore, but with the high banks and muck I wasn’t able to go up on shore. 

My fishing buddy was eventually able to get the trolling motor up and get the boat into shore to pick me up. I felt very lucky and still found myself to be in shock about falling out of the boat and landing in the water. We made it to the landing and I was fine, except of course for my damaged pride and lost St Croix pearl. 

Since that ordeal I have a new outlook and safety is always the top priority. I have always read the stories in the paper where anglers fall in the water or have an accident, and usually the outcome is not good. I still feel lucky that it wasn’t my time to go and the lesson learned needs to be shared. 

When fishing with someone in your boat, be sure to give them a quick lesson in

operating your boat, just in case. It is easy to assume people know how to drive a boat but many people do not. Each boat is different. 

Always wear your life jacket or at the very least have your life jackets and throw cushion out of their storage compartments and somewhere on the deck. Buy yourself a decent life jacket that you don’t mind wearing. If you buy an inflatable life jacket, be sure to buy a recharge kit at the same time. I had one but the humidity had caused mine to inflate so I could not use it that day. 

Have a rope handy. You can always tie a loop in the rope, have the person in the water put their foot in it , secure it to a seat post and use it has a ladder. (I wish I had known that trick that day). Get a ladder for your boat and if ordering a new boat, make sure a built in ladder is an option. I have heard stories of other anglers who fell out of their boat, even in warmer water, and could not get back in and were lucky to be found by a passerby. 

Keep your cell phone in a waterproof case or a plastic bag while it is in your pocket. If the phone is still dry, you can always call 911 if you are alone. My new I phone was wrecked in this incident. The money I spent to replace that phone would have bought a lot of fishing gear. 

Consider buying a suit that floats. Striker Brand makes a variety of high tech clothing for all weather conditions. Their suits are warm, wind proof, water proof and have several venting options that allow you to stay comfortable so you don’t get to warm and take it off. Their ice fishing suit has a removable liner and then you have a floating suit for spring, fall and winter. They are also the only company that makes floating suits for women and children. ( They are not considered floatation devices, but they will float you in an emergency. This was my first purchase since I went for a swim and knowing I will get three seasons out of it, made it well worth the money.

Never fish alone, especially on the ice or in cold water conditions. If you insist on it, at the very least be around other anglers and keep your life jacket on. Don’t get so excited about the fishing, that you don’t pay attention to safety issues. If you are fishing the Wolf River near Red Banks and snag a St. Croix Pearl, it’s probably mine. The best advice I can give is to have a plan for every emergency that may arise and mentally go over the plan. You want to be able to react with clear decision making and not be stunned thinking, I can’t believe this just happened.