Taking things and routines for granted can be a recipe for disaster. As an example, I’ve heard that docks are one of the most dangerous places at a lake – and after my encounter with one last Saturday, I now understand why they have taken so many lives!
It was early last Saturday, right after the heavy rain, as I waited to launch in the cold behind another boat at the Basalt ramp at San Luis. Backing my boat in, I parked and walked back in the mud to head out.
Alone, I put my muddy shoes in the boat, pushed off in my socks, then stepped onto the side of the Fiberglas hull to jump down into the cockpit. That’s when my right foot squirted out from beneath me and I fell backward. In that instant, I grabbed for the windshield with my left hand, somersaulting over the port side of the boat, just missing the dock. (The judges gave me a 9.5 for technical merit and a 2.5 for artistic interpretation).
I entered the water upside down, rolling over on top of myself as I went down! Temporarily disoriented, I remember looking up at the surface about 3 or 4 feet above me! I had two instant and distinct thoughts: 1, How embarrassing, and 2, Headlines read – “Fishing columnist drowns at dock from stupid move!” I clawed my way toward the surface, while my heavy coat tried to drag me down. As I came up, the boat was floating away and the dock had no handles. Funny, trying to reach up onto the top of the dock seems so simple. But weighted down, I struggled! I was already freezing and helpless, and I was just at the end of the dock. Surreal.
Just as I finally got a grip on the top of the dock, a guy came running down the ramp. He couldn’t have lifted me up and out, so I just worked hand over hand to get back to shore a distant 25 feet away. Exhausted, the adrenaline was pumping. I couldn’t feel anything. The west wind had blown my boat away, but I saw it was veering onto a rocky point, so I waded out and climbed back inside. Incredibly, I had put a fishing suit in the boat earlier. It saved me.
I took inventory. I had my wallet and keys, but my cell phone was toast. OK, I had survived and I was fairly warm (except for the wet underwear and no socks!), so why not go fishing? That’s when the random thought hits me that it would be just my luck to catch a big striper and have no camera. An hour later, I’m laughing after landing a very nice 14-pounder. Yep, it was inevitable!
Putting it in my livewell, I ran over to another boat to try to get a picture and was asked: “Didn’t you fall in at the dock?” Yes, I replied. “Did you hear,” he answered back, “that 10 minutes after you left the same guy who helped you also fell off the dock, too!” Two of us in 10 minutes? He was fishing nearby so I motored over to my rescuer, Dan Ledieff of Clovis. He explained that he was just holding the boat rope when a wave rocked the dock, just as his drifting craft pulled him forward. His buddy Jack Tolmosoff said he stepped forward, slipped, and down he went.
Wakeup call! Innocuous as it seems, docking is probably the most dangerous part of a fishing trip. First, transferring to or from a moving object onto a surface possibly covered with oil, ice, mud or water can get you. Falling on a hard surface with edges can stun or incapacitate you in a second while the cold and the water finish the job. Second, in cold weather, heavy clothes can drag down the strongest swimmer just feet from help. Third, keeping your life preserver on till you pull out of the water – and putting it on before you launch – may be irritating, but it’s is a smart habit to develop! Be on guard!
Funny, as I docked to leave, I found my heavy jacket that floated away laid out on the dock for me! I had somehow survived my fall, found my jacket, and got the fish! But I still hate the cold. Never give up!
Roger George is The Bee’s fishing expert. He can be reached at email@example.com,