Saturday, March 21, 2015

Paddling thoughts while the fish ain't biting...

Yesterday I went yellow perch fishing. I took 4 rods with 3 rigged for bass and 1 for perch, I ended up bass fishing after about 30 minutes of trying for perch. I had a great time caught a few fish on a custom painted shad rap by Bait Mafia in a cool color I call voodoo. I was fishing the tailrace portion of Etowah river and I couldn't help but think about the dangers that are associated with these stretches of water. The first and most remote is a dam failure. If this happens it is my belief that no matter where you are, it is your time to go. There would be nothing you could do but attempt to ride the flow. On the other hand there are many things that you can do that will increase your odds of survival in the case of an accident. The first is wearing your pfd. I don't want to sound rude but you are stupid if you do not wear a pfd, at all times. I also keep a knife handy in case I have to free my self from fishing line, an old trot line etc. The third is what I call a turtle rope. This is used in the event of capsizing. Its a simple loop of anchor rope that I keep attached to one or both of my kayak's side carry handles. I keep one of those cheap extra large carabiners from Walmart clipped to it and after capsizing, I can toss the rope over the top to the opposite side of the kayak, grab the rope , while bracing my feet on the kayak's gunnel and pull. If you practice and get this to work this is the best way I've found to self rescue while in a large fishing kayak. I also use the turtle rope to attach to limbs and roots on the bank instead of anchoring at a fishing spot. There are a few extra things you can do like having a dry bag with clothes, a firestarter, food and water or anything else you may need. I have a story and this may or may not have happened to me...This lake we were fishing was a very placid one. Beautiful as it was nestled in a valley surrounded by the Appalachian mountains. We were walleye fishing and had been on the water since 10pm. We stopped fishing around 3am, unloaded our sleeping bags and tarp for a guerilla camp lakeside. It was cold and had been spitting snow all night. Surprisingly, I slept great under the stars that night and woke up to a clear cold morning. After having coffee and some oatmeal we set out to fish. As the day went on, we moved further up the lake. This lake was actually the second of 7 on a chain of lakes all separated by dams. By around 2 pm we were only a few hundred yards down from the dam. It was clear how far the water rose when released because of the waterline about 2' above the current level. I'd been on rivers with much higher fluctuations than that so I wasn't worried much about a huge flow catching us. At a bend in the lake, which at this point was only a small river, there was a deep hole. I was going to fish this spot before I headed back to the ramp about a mile away.I was standing in my kayak and the wind was blowing me backwards. I was aware of my distance from the bank because I knew I was being blown fast enough that if I hit the bank it would probably toss me out. What I wasn't aware of was the submerged tree between me and the bank. When I hit the log it stopped me instantly causing me to fall. I tried to land in the center of my seat but ended up on the outer edge. This caused the boat to roll...me out and it over. The water was 42 degrees and I felt it. As I tried to regain my footing in the 4' of water I realized something had a hold of me. My pfd was keeping my head above water but I could not get my leg free. A limb had went in my pant's side cargo pocket and was twisted tight locking my leg in an awkward position. I gave it a huge tug and ripped free. I used my turtle rope to roll the kayak over and reentered it. All but one rod was still in the boat and I easily fished it out of the shallow water. My biggest concern now was the risk of hypothermia. My plan was to paddle without stopping until I reached the ramp. As I made my way down the lake with my adrenaline flowing I heard the sound of the water release warning horn at the dam. As I caught up with my buddy the water started to rise too. I told him what had happened and he assured me he'd keep a close eye on me while we paddled out. I made it to the ramp without any complications, changed clothes, loaded up and headed home. Only when we were talking about the trip did the possibilities of those few chain of events hit me. My pfd quite possibly saved my life, the clothes I had on kept me warm even when wet(I did stop and wring out all of my clothes) My turtle rope made rolling the kayak much quicker and easier and god had my back because if I had been in the same predicament 15 minutes later...caught on that limb with the water rising ...that fun paddle trip on that beautiful mountain lake , as peaceful as it was could have been disastrous. Please, before you go on the water have a plan...basic knowledge about hypothermia, dam generation info, some basic survival gear, don't stand in your boat in windy or rough conditions and for God's sake, wear your PFD!!! Peace.