After recounting my mishap last week of falling off my boat backward and just missing hitting the Basalt dock at San Luis with the back of my head, I had a lot of feedback from other anglers about similar situations.
First, several pointed out all the guys they remember that have died at docks from all kinds of unexpected causes. One related how a friend barely survived a fall after he got hung up in the crab-pot lines just under the surface and couldn’t get untangled. Hmm … you know how many lines some docks have underneath them? Never thought of that before!
In another case, two friends of mine were fishing the San Luis Forebay and heard someone call for help. They saw an elderly guy hanging onto the side of the dock out near the end. The dock is pretty high so the guy couldn’t reach to grab the top – a good 2 1/2 to 3 feet up – so he had to cling to a pillar while exhausted and unable to swim in his waterlogged clothes. After his rescue, the guy told them he couldn’t have held out much longer! He had fallen as he stepped into his aluminum boat, which floated away before he could grab hold. Funny thing, the Forebay dock is very good with a nice high platform, but in retrospect those very attributes were the nearly-deadly aspects of that accident.
Another scenario that a buddy called to my attention is the lack of concern that West Coast anglers have for falling out of their boat in winter. Having fished in the Great Lakes area, he said many wear gear that not only protects from drowning but also freezing water. Falling in by yourself may go beyond just a matter of floating but also of keeping yourself from going into hypothermia until help arrives. Good point.
I also heard about a famous angler – a professional athlete – out bass fishing in his bass boat in the winter on the Delta with his two young children. After he fell in off the front of the boat while wearing a fully insulated full body suit, the kids were found alone and crying. They said their Daddy had gone down into the water but never came up. He was an NFL player in great shape, too!
Have you ever seen how heavy a regular, fully insulated body suit can become in seconds? Think you’re good enough to reach your boat’s side and hold on as your suit gets heavier and tries to pull you under? How the heck could you ever get out of it fast enough, especially with layers of clothes underneath? Guys who have seen it firsthand tell me that once a guy gets his suit or a heavy jacket waterlogged, it’s almost impossible to climb back in (even when you have some kind of ladder) because of exhaustion and cold.
Even having two guys in the boat trying to pull a third one back in is nearly impossible thanks to the combined weight of everything. It’s almost always necessary to get back to shore before rescuing the victim. It’s bad enough in warm weather, but add in some freezing water and you’ve got added problems! I cringe when I see guys out fishing in cold conditions in overloaded aluminum boats, sometimes with children, all bundled in heavy clothing but with no life jackets!
Next time you can, try getting into your boat from the water. Some bass boats are pretty low slung, so you wouldn’t think it would be that tough. But add a hundred pounds of wet stuff, and do it while you’re out of breath and choking on water, then imagine having a broken rib or some other injury. Boat hulls also are slicker than you think, especially when wet, so you may not be able to grab hold of something … assuming your boat is close and not drifting away!
There’s lots more to consider, too! Yes, I’m making a bunch of changes right now. Have a plan and be proactive. Never give up!
Roger George is The Bee’s fishing expert. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org,