Sun04202014

Last updateTue, 04 Nov 2014 9pm

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Wear your life jacket — it will save yours!

The weather has warmed up substantially, and that has all of us who enjoy fishing eager to get on the water. The first fish of the year taste so good, and the familiar tug of the fish on the end of your line is the best therapy for a long, cold, nasty winter. Some of us have already partaken of the local waters. I have, and let me tell you the fish sure fry up fine!
Each year as we tow our boats down the road and dunk them for the first few times of the season, we have to get back into the groove of doing things. By the end of the summer we can all hook up, tow, offload and run the boat in our sleep. But now things are different. We forget some of the simple things. Not only do we forget some of the simple things such as putting the plug in the boat, removing the motor tie down or hooking up the battery to charge it, we also forget important things that could save our life.

Wearing your PFD or personal floatation device is very important. It is important year-round, but in my opinion it is even more important now when the water is still cold, the weather is not hot and we are still relearning the intricacies of our boat and handling of it while on the water.
Spring floods from the heavy rains we have had, high winds and such have added many new logs, pieces of wood and other pieces of debris to our favorite fishing holes. As I type this, the Rappahannock River is full of debris and is way over its banks. All of these variables can add up to an unexpected swim in the water if we are not careful. Even the most careful among us can have an accident. Given the fact that it is still cold and not as many anglers are on the water, the chance you will readily get help if you fall in at this time of year is much less than, say, the middle of the summer when it seems like everyone is on the water.
It is reported that cold water can strip your body of heat up to 25 times faster than cold air can. Most of the body heat lost is through the head but struggling to stay afloat accelerates heat loss. Even strong swimmers can drown in minutes if they fall into cold water and have to try to make it to shore. Some swimmers that have fallen into cold water did not make it 100 yards before succumbing to the depths.
Unlike the summer, when you can take a plunge and be relatively comfortable, many who fall into ice-cold water give an involuntary gasp and, therefore, suck in water. Furthermore, those with heart issues can end up with a heart attack from the sudden increase in heart rate due to the cold.
As stated above, the cold water soon incapacitates swimmers, and they lose heat rapidly. Wearing jeans or Dockers and a jacket is not going to cut it. Wearing a PFD is a good first step. You won’t have to struggle to remain afloat. However, wearing Polartec or thermal clothing will help immensely. Fishing with a partner is advised. It is amazing how fast the cold can numb your extremities and render you useless.
This past January I went duck hunting and forgot my waterproof gloves. Wanting to save my warm fleece gloves for rewarming my hands, I decided to just use an old pair of work gloves to set my dekes. Within minutes my fingers and hands would not move. I stared incredulously at my hands and willed them to move, but they would not. I had to stuff them into my coat and warm them slowly until they would barely move, and then I was able to hold a handwarmer and rip it open with my teeth. My buddy chuckled at my predicament when I could not even grasp the motor pull rope to start it. It was a good lesson to both of us about how fast cold water can do you in. I had not gotten anything wet other than my hands and they had not even been totally submersed!
Don’t let the warm weather fool you. If the water is still chilly, then you can become immobile in a few minutes. People fishing or boating during the month of May have succumbed to the cold water and drowned.
It is a good idea to keep a stash of warm, dry clothes on hand in your boat as well. Nothing chases a chill away faster than dry clothes and warm, bright sunlight. Should you fall overboard and are unable to get back into your boat, stay with the boat. Passersby are more likely to see a pilotless boat and come looking than see a person bobbing in the water alone. If you must remain in the water, don’t thrash around more than you have to. Cross your legs to retain heat and float along keeping your arms around your torso to conserve heat as much as possible. If two of you fall in, stick together to conserve body heat.
Wearing a PFD could not be easier these days. Gone of the days when all you could purchase were bulky life jackets. Today life jackets are slim and form fitting. Some of the newest models are not much larger than suspender straps and self inflate when they are triggered by water pressure. Here is one last tip concerning PFDs. Tie a whistle to your life jacket in the event you go for an unintended swim; you can get attention in your direction quickly. Don’t become a casualty this spring. Wear your PFD!

Mark Fike 

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