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Fly Fishing Column - Basic Safety Precautions

By Bill Luscombe, 🕔Mon, Mar 21st, 2011


In all my fly-fishing classes I constantly repeat to the students the need to protect their eyes, and themselves when fishing.

One of my students once related a short story to me. Apparently one of his friends had gone out fly-fishing last year and a light breeze had kicked up during the day. He had been merrily casting away when the crosswind caught his fly and pushed it sideways slightly. That was all it took. The fellow ended up in the hospital with a fly hook in his eye and a detached retina. It was a costly mishap that could have easily been prevented.

That started me thinking about another student from a class I taught years earlier that had lost a friend during a fishing trip. The friend had been wading in relatively turbulent water and had lost his footing. He was swept away by the river and ended up lodged under a logjam several kilometers downstream. It was suspected that his waders had filled and he was unable to extricate himself from them or the river before he drowned.

These two stories prompted me to use this column to remind everyone about some basic safety precautions that we all MUST follow. The alternative could be very costly.

When you go fly-fishing you must wear eye protection, even on the calmest days. I hit my glasses once with a fly, thank God I had them on. I just nicked the outer edge of them, but it sure reminded me of how easily you can hit yourself. You only have one set of eyes and a slight crosswind or an errant cast could cost you one of them. Besides, you should be wearing polarized lenses when on the water anyway to better spot fish. Those of you who wear prescription glasses are normally protected all the time, but you should get yourselves a set of polarized clip-ons. Not only will your eyes be protected but you'll also see and catch more fish.

When you're wading, especially with the standard boot-foot, thin rubber waders, ensure that you are wearing a wading belt. Any standard belt will do, but you need it to seal the waders around your waist to keep the water out should you happen to fall in. Remember not to cinch the belt tight until you are about thigh deep in the water, that way you allow the water pressure to push the air out of the waders. You don't want a lot of air in the waders, as they will act like a balloon if you fall in and will tend to flip you upside down. All you want is to keep the water out so that you don't get pulled under or have your movement restricted by up to one hundred or more pounds of water in your waders.

Those of you who wear neoprene waders have several advantages over those who wear the thin, uninsulated types. Neoprene waders act exactly like a wetsuit when water gets inside. Once the water heats up it stays warm. So when you get wet you can last a lot longer without becoming hypothermic so long as the warm water is not replaced with cold. Neoprene, by its very nature, floats because it is impregnated with air cells. When you fall in it will tend to float you rather than remaining at neutral buoyancy. The other advantage to neoprenes is that they usually fit closer to the skin than the standard waders. This gives you a better profile in the water and less surface area exposed to the current, thus reducing the pressure against you and lessening the chances of having your feet swept out from under you.

It is important to remember that when it comes to wading, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure. The first rule of wading is not to wade any deeper than you feel comfortable with. To go any further is simply stupid. Many people have lost their lives pushing those extra few yards into the river. Remember, if you feel uncomfortable or unsure, stop!

Neoprene waders, wading belts, and polarized sunglasses are all designed with safety in mind. Be smart and use them wisely. You get many opportunities each year to fish the right, safe way, but you may only get one chance to do it wrong.

Bill Luscombe has been hunting and fishing for most of his 42 years. He has been flyfishing for 20 years. He instructs flyfishing, and has done so for the past 12 years. He also instructs the federal FSET firearms course and the BC CORE hunter training course. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and has been writing freelance since 1987. He has been published in BC Sport Fishing Magazine, Outdoor Edge, BC Outdoors, Western Sportsman, Island Fish Finder, and the BC Hunting Guide.

Bill Luscombe was born an army brat and raised in Ladner (Delta, BC) where he was raised hunting waterfowl and pheasants. He presently resides in North Cowichan on southern Vancouver Island where he has lived and worked full time as a professional forester since 1982.

He presently works in Nanaimo for the BC Forest Service and continue to write the fly-fishing column for BC Sport Fishing Magazine as well as contributing articles freelance to various outdoor magazines in western Canada. Bill Luscombe is also a BC Director of the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association.

"Catching fish is not hard. You simply need to understand what makes them tick. If you think like a fish, you will catch fish. It´s as simple as that."- Bill Luscombe

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