Night Fishing – We Need To Talk

Night fishing … Quite a few of my customers do it. And those of you who night fish have probably endured my lectures and admonitions about safety. I’m self-aware enough to know that it annoys many of you… 🙂

But Night Fishing Safety really is an issue that needs to be addressed. Because as we go into this Thanksgiving, a local family is going to have an empty seat at the table, and I hope somehow that talking to you, my beloved customers and friends, might at least bring something positive out of this terrible tragedy.

If you’re local, you may have read about the 33-year-old man who lost his life almost 3 weeks ago on the night of November 1st. As usual, the news stories that came out only gave so much information.

My husband Steve got the call around 11 o’clock that night to assist in the search for a drowning man near the Cotter bridge. Taking one of our boats, he got down there as fast as he could in the pitch black darkness of that night.

There were quite a few people helping in the search, even a helicopter was called out to search the bank, but to no avail. The man was found just as they were calling off the search for the night, several hours later. He was probably only 50 yards from where his own father saw him go under the water for the last time.

The news story simply said that he had “gone out into the river to retrieve some fishing equipment that had fallen into the water”. This is simply not accurate… How do I know?

The young man’s mother called me shortly thereafter. Amazingly, she simply wanted to thank my husband for helping bring her son back to her. She even apologized for throwing what she thought was, in her grief, “a fit”.

I was truly blown away by the graciousness of this woman… How could someone who just lost her son be worried about tracking down and thanking the members of the search/rescue party?

As we spoke more, she related the entirety of the story to me. Out of respect for her privacy , and that of her family, I won’t go into much detail. But she did tell me that the worst part was the mean comments by people, calling her son “stupid”, and making statements that he “didn’t respect the water” and the like… Her son was not stupid. Even though he currently lived in Marion County, he just did not know the river could rise like it did; “respecting the water” had nothing to do with this tragedy.

The news story also did not go into the other details that were all factors in this terrible tragedy… A medical emergency of another family member that he was fishing with, and the fact that he had been out and back to the same spot just shortly before. And it was very dark. And he may have not come back exactly the same way he went out. And the water had come up between the time he’d crossed and come back the first time, but in the dark, no one could see that. All these were factors to a more or lesser degree.

There are numerous takeaways from this tragic story… The first one is don’t assume that people you see fishing know the dangers. They might not. And you can be friendly without being intrusive, and just make sure that they are aware. I wonder how many other people saw him that night and didn’t say anything to him, figuring that he knew the dangers?

A life vest/jacket/inflatable… Anything is better than nothing! Depending on numerous variables, they may not be able to completely offset a pair of waders filled with water, but it might buy you enough time to save yourself. If you’re going to fish at night, just wear a PFD, please!

The next thing is… A SHARP KNIFE! I know that most of you wear a wading belt on your chest waders, to help keep the water from getting in, should you fall. Then again, some of you prefer to wear hip waders. Either way, you can fill up with water that will drag you down to the bottom in no time at all, and you don’t have to be that far under the water to lose your life… Being able to get to that sharp knife and cut those waders off of your body may be the only thing standing between you and a premature meeting with our Lord. A waterproof flashlight to allow you to signal for help if you’re able is not a bad idea, either.

Another thing to keep in mind is, that although fishing alone is never a good idea, especially at night, having people with you is probably not going to save you either, which is why you have to do everything you can to be in a position to save yourself if the need arises. You’re simply not going to float indefinitely, if at all. The river has current, whirlpools, undertow… it is NOT like floating in still water. And if your waders fill up, you’re in that much more trouble.

Additionally, the water is COLD, typically between 48 to 52 degrees. It will shock your body but you have to do everything you can to remain calm.

At the end of the day, I think it’s human nature to believe that when someone drowns, we can somehow distance ourselves from the tragedy, or better yet, convince ourselves that nothing like this could ever happen to us, because we “respect” the water…

And before I talked to this man’s mother? I must admit, I sort of had that mindset myself.

Well, all I can say is… It ain’t necessarily so, my friends. We weren’t there, and the info we were given was in no way a real representation of everything that went on that night.

So, instead of distancing myself from that tragedy, I’ve tried to do the opposite… to embrace it in a way, and try to feel, just a tiny little bit, of the pain and anguish this family is going through.

Why?

So maybe I’ll be a little more careful next time I’m out… Or, maybe I’ll go ahead and say something to that person out on the water instead of just assuming they know the things that I do about the river… So I don’t forget to really take the time with our guests that are new to the river, and make sure they understand how to stay safe.

And finally… just to try and salvage something positive out of Joshua’s passing…

Rest in Peace, my Brother in Christ.

Your White River Trout Diva

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