I would presume that all of the readers of this column are planning to do some fishing in the coming months. Many of you have probably already spent more than a few hours wetting a line, but it's never too late to review a few basis safety tips. Each year here in Montana a few folks head out for a day of fishing and never come back. It can happen to you unless you listen up and practice a few simple safety tips each time you head out to your favorite fishing spot.
Boating accidents account for most of the fatalities associated with fishing. Your favorite trout stream or bass lake can kill you, and despite your warm feelings toward that special place it has no concern for you. It will kill you with impunity and go right on rolling along as if nothing had happened. If you approach any body of water with those facts in mind you just might survive to fish there another day.
Complacency and carelessness are the two major factors that result in boating accidents involving anglers. A few years ago a local guide with years of experience floating the Yellowstone River nearly lost his life during high water by being overconfident about his ability. The accident caused several hundred dollars' worth of damage to his expensive drift boat, but he survived with only a few bruises, and a badly wounded ego.
Always make certain that your boat is equipped with Coast Guard approved life jackets for each person in the boat. If you fish from a float tube or pontoon boat always wear a life jacket. They make Coast Guard approved life jackets that double as a fishing vest so my advice is to get one and wear it.
If you are using a boat with a gasoline or diesel powered motor make certain that you have an adequate fire extinguisher, and keep it accessible.
Whether floating or just out wading keep an eye on the weather. One of the biggest killers of people in the outdoors is literally a 'bolt out of the blue.' Lightening zaps the unwary every year. A couple summers ago a guide and his clients were walking back to their car when a bolt of lightning from a nearby thunderstorm struck. While everyone survived the guide's career was over due to continuing medical problems caused by the strike.
If you're on the water in a boat get off the water before the storm is looming overhead. Take shelter in a vehicle or a building. If there is no place to take shelter crouch down on the balls of your feet away from trees and other objects that might conduct electricity. Don't make yourself a victim.
Hypothermia is a very real threat to anglers. A quick dip in an icy cold stream or lake, a sudden drenching from a storm followed by a cold chilling wind can turn an otherwise pleasant outing into a life or death emergency. Hypothermia can happen even when the air temperatures are relatively warm. The symptoms include drowsiness, loss of coordination, pale cold skin, confusion, and uncontrollable shivering. Hypothermia is a life threatening condition and immediate action is necessary to avoid loss of life.
When possible get the victim into a building or other shelter, and, if possible, remove their wet clothing and replace it with dry clothing. Do not use direct heat such as hot water to warm the victim. If there is no available shelter get the victim out of the wind, keep them off the ground, and cover them with blankets, tarps or anything that can help them retain body heat. If they become unconscious and unresponsive you may have to perform CPR or rescue breathing. You can use your own body heat to warm the victim. Cover the head and neck of the victim since these are areas where heat loss is the greatest. If the victim is conscious you can give them warm non-alcoholic fluids. As soon as possible contact emergency medical services, or transport the victim to the nearest emergency medical center.
The opposite of hypothermia is heat stroke or heat exhaustion. The body becomes overheated and begins to shut down. Heat stroke is a life-threatening situation, and heat exhaustion may escalate to heat stroke if not treated promptly. Proper hydration, wearing a hat, and avoiding overly strenuous activities during the hottest part of the day are the best ways to avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
The sun also presents another more common problem to anglers in the form of sunburn. Hats that protect the neck and ears, long sleeved shirts, and sunscreen liberally applied to all skin that is exposed to both direct and indirect rays of the sun are the best protection against this threat.
Many of these situations can be avoided by taking a few simple precautions before you head out into the field. Know your limitations and don't exceed them. Check the weather forecast and be prepared to take immediate action if conditions become threatening. Go prepared with the proper gear including life vests if you are on the water, rain gear, a windbreaker, jacket and hat. Drink plenty of non-alcoholic beverages, wear a hat, and use sunscreen are all good tips to make certain that you enjoy your time outdoors and that you survive to enjoy it another day.
Reprint from June 2008